By Kristi Cameron
Cornelia Blümli uses ingredients plucked from nature to make the dyes for her brilliant knits—and helps preserve a centuries-old tradition in the process.Read More:
"I grow onions for food, but the skins give a yellow color I like very much for dyeing," she says. "I find walnuts in my neighbor's garden and use them to make brown. From another neighbor's garden, I gather pomegranates after the winter, when only the skin is left, and use them to dye things gray."
Cornelia, who first knit three styles of striped glovelettes for our Fall 2012 line, started dyeing the wool for her Cornblume designs in 1999. In addition to the ingredients she gathers or grows in her own small garden, Cornelia purchases cochineal (red) from the Canary Islands and indigo (blue) from El Salvador. This passion for natural—and whenever possible, local—materials shapes her entire process, down to the fiber she favors. Cornelia makes most of her designs in Spanish merino, which comes from mills around Barcelona and has a rustic quality.
Her collaboration with EILEEN FISHER began in 2011 when our color designer, Chris Costan, saw Cornblume products at a natural dye conference in La Rochelle, France. "Her colors were quite vibrant, very polished looking, so the fact that everything was dyed naturally was amazing," Chris says.
That fall, Susan Young, who oversees our manufacturing, organized a visit to Cornelia's workshop and was able to witness firsthand the simple means by which she achieves her rainbow palette. "It's a lovely process," Susan says. "Cornblume is part of the devotion to the art of natural dyes, to the heritage and study of that art, that's happening all over the world."
The dyeing takes place in a brick shed with exposed rafters, where she boils plant matter in open pots, with bits of fruit skin and leaves floating to the top like soup stock. After the yarn soaks in this bath long enough to achieve the desired shade, Cornelia line dries it outdoors or in her studio atop a whitewashed farmhouse. It's here that she winds each skin into a ball by running the yarn over paraffin wax, before finally guiding multiple colors through a knitting machine to make her designs.
It takes about forty-five minutes to knit and finish each pair of glovelettes—and that doesn't account for the dyeing time. Cornelia needed six days to dye the wool for our yellow-and-blue stripe glovelettes, eight days for the red-and-gray stripe, and twelve days for the multi-stripe. EILEEN FISHER commissioned one thousand pairs of glovelettes from Cornelia this season—as many as she could produce in our timeline, and no small feat for a one-woman operation. "It's new for me to work with such a big company," she says. "It forces me to progress."
Cornelia keeps alive a tradition that has been around for centuries—one that EILEEN FISHER is eager to help preserve. "If these art forms can be integrated into EILEEN FISHER product, that makes our line even more interesting," Susan says. "As a manufacturer, I don't usually fall for romantic notions, but when I see a story as authentic as this one, I'll totally go for it."