WHITE GUM WOOL INTERVIEW
I CHAT WITH NAN BRAY ABOUT MY DESIGN PROCESS AND THE NEW COLOURWAYS
In celebration of the 10 Year Anniversary of White Gum Wool (and almost 10 years of Augustbird and White Gum Wool collaborating), Nan Bray invited me to have a chat about my design process, creating colourways and my experience working with White Gum Wool.
Here is the interview. Enjoy!
NAN: Hi Rebecca, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.
REBECCA: Hi Nan thanks for having me.
NAN: So it's a pretty exciting time for White Gum Wool. It's our 10 year birthday and there are all sorts of this happening, some intentional and some lovely accidents. But one of the things is that you have designed a couple of new colours for us and it's made me think about all the ways you have been involved in the business, since almost its inception.
You were the first hand-dyer to contact me to say could I use your yarn as a base, and I argued a bit and you persuaded me that it was a good idea. So that opened up a whole world of hand-dyers that now use White Gum Wool as a base. And then I had been doing a little bit of hand-dyeing.. enough to realise that doing a multi was way above my pay grade. So when I went back and asked you if you could do a multi for us you were really excited about it and have since done three multi designs for us.
You also twisted my arm, quite hard, to start a 5ply Silk Merino blend and I was a little bit worried about that just cos I thought "yet another ply and blend" a bunch of things I didn't know. But of course its turned out to be a bestseller and a lovely edition to the range, because the silk takes up the dye in a different way, so you get that pretty heathered look.
So yes, you've been pretty instrumental and now we've got the new colours.
So I thought we'd start today by getting you to talk to us a little bit about your design process and share with us a little bit about what that's like for you.
REBECCA: Ok well my design process is pretty fluid and organic. Its not very scientific or like super chemistry and measuring so much.. its more this organic process.
I guess its sort of three main phases:
The first phase is kind of like the brewing phase.. its not the procrastination phase its the brewing phase! And that's when the concept is there and it's just kind of ticking away in the background… which could go for quite a long time. It's there and it's sitting there for a while.
Once I move through that I get into the exploring the ideas. Say I'm designing for a type of tea for example, I'll be drinking that tea and thinking about how it makes me feel and how it tastes, that sort of thing. Or if it's music I listen to the music, if I'm doing a book club or something I'll read the book. So I kind of experience the concept more so than making Pinterest colour boards, that's not really mo style. So I’m just digging into it.
So like with Apple Blossom when I was working in this phase, we've got some apple trees and I was spending some time with the trees and just hands on the tress with my eye closed and just getting really in tune with it. So that's a really fun part of the design journey that I go through.
Then after some time of doing that kind of thing I'll move into the actual creative design with the dye pots. And that's where I take everything that I've moved through and then I get really tuned in and really plugged into what I'm doing and that's where stuff happens and we see what comes out of that.
NAN: That’s really interesting. I hadn't really appreciated particularly the middle phase. I know in the passed I've tried really hard not to tell you what the yarn should look like, but to say “Here's the idea and I just need it to some how capture the essence of that”. Probably the least structured commission from me was the one that ended up being Rose Hip because I remember I said “We haven't got a multi that works with the greys, Gum Grey and the Quarrystone, could you do something?”
So can you talk a little bit more about that particular process, for Rose Hip, what was that like?
NAN: It didn't have a name.
REBECCA: No name, nothing! And it's always challenging for me when there's no framework or boundary or theme to get plugged into. So initially I was just playing around, which was fun, and we did have some back and forth about it. But once we went into the direction of botanicals, back to my other process, I had something to explore. So then I was going for walks in the bush and feeling…
Around where we are, I think its very similar on the farm, everything is sort of brown and green and subdued and then you get these little lovely orchids or berries or whatever that really pop out. So I was trying to tune in a bit to that joyous feeling when you see these little pops of colour or shape out in the bush. And that was kind of how I experienced that when we didn't have a particular plant that we had sort of worked out. So I was kind of doing that and thinking about that joyous feeling when I was dyeing up those samples for that.
NAN: Its interesting I hadn’t heard you use the word joy about that colour but I was just looking at, I did some minis of the 10ply because I needed photographs of them, and I took a photo of the mini and the colour just...pops out at you. I was just like "I know it's pretty but it’s really joyous, in that colour.”
REBECCA: That’s good to hear!
NAN: That’s the banner on the post, that little mini in all of it’s glory. So I think your internal process does come through in terms of the end point of the design.
Now one of the things we wrestled with in the early days of doing multis is how to cope with the fact that the commercial dye process is much more limited in what it can do than what you can do. I think it might have been Wildflower that you said to me at one point, you were really frustrated, and you said "I just keep making things that are ugly!"
(Nan and Rebecca laugh)
NAN: And I think it was that you were trying to figure out how to do something that you thought Design Spun was going to be able to do. And we finally sorted it out that you needed to do the design and you needed to leave the job of reproducing it to Design Spun. You know I think it might have been Ashmore, I’m not sure. But that's really stood us in good stead because they'll figured things out. Like they've done two passes on their machine for instance on Ashmore to get it.
So can you talk a little bit more about, you know, it’s still got to be in the back of your mind that if you get it too complicated or too nuanced that Design Spun team is going to struggle with it?
REBECCA: Yeh I'd actually forgotten about that conversation but now that you mention it I do remember and I think the problem there and I think the problem always is with me is that I was probably over thinking it a little too much. Because yeh I was too much thinking about the end result which is not how I flow through the process so much. I was thinking, “How are they going to do it?” And I was trying to work it out, almost like a big complicated maths problem. And so I was probably getting too caught up in that, and not having that beautiful experience that I would normally have.
So I think that's something that we both learnt and I think another thing I learnt which definitely was with Wildflower, is that there is a bit of pressure with something being created into something that is permanent.
NAN: (Nan laughs)
REBECCA: Cos even when I hand-dye my repeatable colourways it's like well, it's not always going to come out the same. And this one might come out like this because I'm feeling a certain way, but this is like you're doing something and that's it, like building a house or whatever. So I think I can get a bit caught up in that and try to over compensate.
I think when I did Wildflower I sent you maybe a dozen options to begin with?? (laughs)
NAN: And I swatched every one
REBECCA: Because I was so anxious about how it was going to turn out or whatever, so I was going a bit overboard. But after that I think I kind of calmed down a bit.
(Nan and Rebecca laugh)
REBECCA: So I think it's just bringing it back to how I do things and trying to do it authentically rather than skip to the end. I think that's something that I learned. And I think, you know, when I've don't it I can hand it over and then it gets worked out from there.
NAN: Its interesting I hadn't thought about the fact that it’s kind of, it’s not exactly set in stone. But certainly the batch that they do is all repeated and there are a couple hundred balls of yarn that are all going to look alike..
NAN: And you'd like to feel happy that the way they look is more or less how you intended
NAN: Yeh I can see that that would be sort of a mental pressure that would conflict with your flow design process. So yeh that's really interesting.
So the other thing we were going to talk about it the difference between creating something that has a name or doesn’t. We've talked a little bit about that, was there anything else you wanted to say about that?
REBECCA: Yeh so I think we did sort of cover it that its easier for me to have something to hold onto initially when I'm working… cos I mean I could just go right up to the dye pot and just start dyeing things, and I'll make some beautiful things. But I find that if I haven't gone in there with a certain intention or a certain feeling then sure I could name them what ever I liked afterwards, but it wouldn't have the same meaning as coming in with something before hand if that makes sense? But it doesn’t have to be the specific name, like with Rose Hip, and some other things its more the theme… so that's coming through and then we're naming so its still got that connection. But if I was just to have nothing if it was like “Ok go and make some stuff right now!”…
REBECCA: …I’ll go and do it, and who knows what its going to look like, but then unless I can kind of think about how I was feeling or what I was thinking about when I was doing it, its going to be solely based on what it looks, like not what it feels like I suppose. Yeh.
NAN: It’s an interesting balance. The dyeing I did was quite literal. I was ok here's what this little fairy wren looks like, I want to capture that blue. So I kind of went straight from your first stage to the dye pot stage and when I got the right colour I stopped and that's a solid. But I think the first multi that you did, Silver Tussock, I remember we learn a lot about that it didn't have to be literally look like silver tussock grass. Which changes colour year round, it really wanted to somehow capture the essence of what it’s like to be a silver tussock plant. And when we got to that point I was like “Ok, ok, yes.”
But that actually brings me to another question that I didn’t actually prepare ahead of time, but I think would be a really interesting one for you to talk about. And its not that I want you to tell us secrets of your trade, but one of the reasons that I came to you for the multis is that I realised that making a multi that looks good when its knitted up, as apposed to just looking really cute in a skein, is a whole art form in itself.
Can you talk to us a little bit about what’s involved in that or how you think about that?
REBECCA: Yeh.. So there’s different techniques that people can do, so you can for example go the other way and get something that is a striping yarn for example, but then if you are doing a variegated yarn or a multi that’s what you don’t want. So with those self-striping yarns they’ve got really long colour sections because you’re going to be knitting in that colour for a while. The challenge with multi coloured designs is you don’t want pooling to happen, if possible, which is when those colours match up. So its good to avoid those really long patches of colour. And so that’s something with the way I dye things, they’re not hand painted, they’re kettle dyed, so they are in the pot and it’s to do with where I put the colour and where its placed in the pot as well has a lot to do with it.
Also the way I dye I only really use primary colours as well. I know there are a lot of dye brands out there that have like 50 different colours, and all these amazing colours and they look so beautiful but I use blue, yellow, red and black. And mix the colours so I think that could be a help as well because I’m mixing the colours so they’re not always coming out the same, and there is more variation.
So they are probably some of the contributing factors as well. And because of the way I dye, with kettle dyeing you get some overlap as well. So you’ll get little sections where theirs a little bit of blue and a little bit of green and so you’ll get a bit more of a complex range of colours I guess, so that’s all really helpful to prevent that pooling effect. Which you can never promise it won’t do it, but they are all things that I think really help with that and help it look nice when its knitted up as well because the colours are all blending together a bit.
NAN: And then going to the tonal Rose Hip as apposed to Apple Blossom which are kind of two ends of that spectrum. So the tonal process could either be easier or a whole lot harder in terms of keeping the pooling from happening. Which is it? Its it easier or is it harder?
REBECCA: Generally tonal ones are easier because even if you do get a bit of that effect you’re not going to notice it as much because it’s all similar colours where as if you have something like really contrasting, like three contrasting colours it’s going to be really obvious when say the orange is always kind of coming up next to each other. So I think even though its kind of a similar technique, its less likely for that kind of effect to happen in something that’s more tonal cos its kind of just shades of the same colour.
NAN: So we might just finish off then with you talking a bit about what have you really enjoyed most about working with WGw in terms of doing designs?
REBECCA: OK how long have we got??
REBECCA: Look its always an absolute pleasure to work with you Nan, I feel very blessed and privileged that we’ve had so many projects together. You’re a real inspiration to me, I think we make a pretty good team. And it’s wonderful to be a small part of your process and journey and also the movement that you’ve created. So I feel very lucky to be a part of that.
I was thinking the other day specifically about working on the colours with you and I was thinking that the best part comes straight after the worst part (laughs) which is waiting for the colour to arrive!!!!!
REBECCA: So we do all this fun amazing work together and off it goes and then I’m like.. what is it a couple of months of not sleeping!?! Because I’m waiting to see if its come out all right. And then almost never do you tell me how its come out, so I’m waiting for that parcel to arrive..
REBECCA: And then when it does arrive it’s like.. I’m like a kid at Christmas opening that box… and having a look. And its a really wonderful experience to see it there made.
NAN: I imagine its a little bit like the way an architect would feel when they design a beautiful building and then they go away while its built, and then they get to walk back in and go “Wow, it turned out well didn’t it?”
NAN: This time was particularly, what’s the word, frustrating for you because I deliberately didn’t say how I thought it came out, because I didn’t want to prejudice you. I sent you your parcel and I sent a parcel to my friend in Berkeley in California, on the same day, and her parcel got to her like four or five days before yours got to you, because yours went by way of Queensland to South Australia!
REBECCA: (laughs) Torture! Torture!
NAN: So from here on out its express post and hopefully we’ll do a better job of it.
Thank you so much Rebecca for taking the time to do this it’s been a great enjoyment for me and I’ve learned things I didn’t know. So thanks for the interview and thanks for all the design talent and work, I really appreciate it.
REBECCA: Thanks for having me and thanks for all your support over the years.
NAN: Its a pleasure. Alright see you later.