What do you do when you see red? | Spin Off

What do you do when you see red?

4 years ago

What do you do when you see red? Primary Image

Norwegian mittens and gloves are a fun challenge for spinners, knitters, and even embroiderers. Photos by Joe Coca

Changing the pH of a cochineal dyebath creates a dramatic variation in the palette of colors.

The color inkakishibu only reaches its full bloom when exposed to sunlight.

In natural dyes, yellow and blue do make green.
A passion for color

Interweave's eMag Editor, Anne Merrow, is guest blogging today to introduce the newest in Interweave's group of interactive digital eMags for spinners, dyers, and other fiber artists, _Colorways. Colorways looks closely at all the ways color meets cloth. The eMag format uses photos to show you rich palettes, video to introduce you to the fascinating people who make color their professional passion, interactivity to bring you face-to-face with new experiences, and three downloadable PDF recipes for building your own skills as a fiber artist. _

The first issue of Colorways focuses on natural colors: artisans working in the old tradition of plant-based dyes; cotton growing in shades from pure white to startling green and mauve; a Seattle entrepreneur helping weavers use their natural colors in new ways; woad, the shocking blue made famous in Braveheart, serenaded by Alden Amos and Stephenie Gaustad. Explore the world of color in fiber—from tan to Technicolor—with Colorways.

Seductive color


I love soft cashmere, robust Romney locks, and silky kid mohair at least as much as the next spinner, but looking over the yarns and fibers in my stash, I have to admit that it's color that seduces me most.


Red calls out to me—stops me in my tracks. Do you remember the first time you heard that cochineal—the source of brilliant reds for hundreds of years before the development of synthetic dyes—is made from bugs? In an era when we can use powdered drink mix to dye yarns fruity red, it's hard to imagine gleaning shades of crimson only by coaxing it from crushed insects. (Legend has it that the red coats of Revolutionary-era British soldiers—the officers, at least—got their famous color from cochineal.) Even though dyeing with cochineal is an old process, there are still dyers who use it today, from modern dye studios in California to family weaving cooperatives in Oaxaca, Mexico.


It's more of a rust than a scarlet, but the fermented juice of green, unripe persimmons creates a color that's a bit shocking, too: Instead of fading in sunlight, the tannin-rich dyestuff known as kakishibu darkens and moves toward the sun, creating a deep pinkish brown where exposed to light.


During our interview in her Oakland store, Kristine Vejar said something that has changed the way I look at natural dyes. She pointed out that although green is the color most commonly associated with nature, it is one of the most difficult to achieve in natural dyes. Even deep green leaves typically create yellow or chartreuse. To make a true emerald green, she dyes fiber to a yellow color, then overdyes it with indigo.

It's more sage than emerald, but cotton (which we commonly think of as whiter than white) grows in green…and mauve, brown, and nearly red.

Whether you want to use natural colors in your work, grow colored cotton, support natural dyers, or marvel at the unexpected natural sources of color, the first issue of Colorways leads you on an amazing interactive journey.