Eisaku Noro is the genius behind the glorious hues of Noro Yarns. Juliet Bernard spoke with him about his life and work
We meet the legendary creator of Noro’s spectacular yarn colours
THE YARNS created by the brand Noro are more than just something to knit with. They are a completely immersive experience, combining amazing colour combinations and fibres. Every moment you work with a Noro yarn is completely unique, as is the project you are making.
No wonder, then, that knitters all over the world become addicted to trying and buying Noro. My own stash of Noro is pretty substantial. I’m not sure what I am going to make with it, I just know I am intoxicated by having the yarns. Of course, other spinners do produce variegated and self-striping yarns, but none has managed to achieve the amazing blends of colour and fibre that founder Eisaku Noro creates.
Mr Noro is a real master of his craft. After graduating from Matsuzaka technical high school in Mie prefecture, on Japan’s main island of Honshu, he worked for 18 years with two different spinning companies. Both produced specialist
woollen yarns, and he gained experience across all aspects of each business, from the actual production processes to managing people. He had a deep desire to create his own yarns and develop his own creativity, however, so he decided to establish his own company.
From vision to reality
I asked him how he goes about developing a new yarn such as Noro’s latest offering, Hakone, and how he decides on which fibres to use. “First, I always try to create new yarns that we have never created before,” Mr Noro says. “I want people to be surprised or feel a sense of fun when they see Noro yarns.
“‘Beautifulness’ when a fibre is dyed is the most important thing to me, and this informs my decision-making when I select fibres. Each type of fibre has many attributes, such as length, thickness, colour and so on. I can blend them in my brain without physical tests, using my 60 years of experience in this industry, and decide what to use to realise my images and ideas.”
Once Mr Noro has settled on his fibre selection, his thoughts turn to colour. “It is very hard to describe in words, but I create colours based on my feelings. Let me explain my history: I liked to paint when I was a child, and I still do. My first year at a junior high school, I won the gold prize in a drawing competition in which all of the students took part. This gave me a lot of confidence in my paintings. During vacations I spent most of my time painting at home.
“My art teacher tried to persuade my parents to encourage me to become a professional painter, and I believe my sense of colour is extraordinary. I may not have taken up this career, but years ago a French man came to me and told me that my yarns were paintings in themselves.
“What influences my colour sense? I must say it is the great nature of my birthplace. I grew up in one of the most unspoiled areas in Japan, so from a very young age I was able to learn not only its colours, but its sounds, tastes, smells, touch and its scenery. I am quite sure these experiences are still the source of my creativity.”
One of Noro’s most popular yarns is Silk Garden, an eclectic blend combining silk, mohair and wool. Each fibre takes the dye in a slightly different way, giving the colours multiple layers in each shade. There is a range of yarns in the family, from the original aran-weight Silk Garden to a 4ply and DK, and Sock and Solo solid colours which are lightly heathered. Silk Garden is now 20 years old, and Mr Noro recalls the challenges he faced bringing this yarn to the market.
“I wanted this yarn to combine the lustre of mohair and silk, with the softness of wool. Mohair and silk do not have scales on their fibres, so it is difficult to get them to bind together when you spin them. I was told that to spin a yarn like Silk Garden, which contains mohair and silk in such high quantities, was impossible - that was the accepted knowledge in our industry. However, I was sure nothing was impossible, so I started to create my own way to spin these fibres. It was a tough challenge indeed, but I was able to find a completely new technique by looking at it from a different angle. It has been over 20 years since we launched Silk Garden, and part of its enduring appeal is that there are no similar yarns available.”
With his 60-year career, Eisaku Noro can be called a master of his craft. What does he regard as his particular successes? “I have to say everything that is embodied in the Noro brand. I was able to hold fast to my principles and develop an original way of spinning, an original way of running the company, and an original way of educating young craftspeople. I still have plenty of ideas which have not been realised. I am going to implement these step by step, and I am sure those will be worth the wait for Noro fans,” he tells me.
Something for us all to look forward to, then, and maybe some of us will get to meet this incredible man in person. “I do not have any concrete plans at the moment, but I hope I will be able to visit the UK in the future. I am only 80 years old now - there are still 20 years to be 100 years old.”
Eisaku Noro oversees colour selections at Noro’s HQ in Aichi, Japan
Eisaku Noro has been working in the yarn industry for 60 years Bales of vibrantly dyed fibre at the Noro factory 1 ‘Ygritte’ from the Game of Hues collection 2 Sixth & Spring has published a range of pattern books using Noro yarns 3 A colourful design...
Noro has developed new spinning techniques 5 Kureopatora is a light and lofty DK wool 6 Designs from The Mirai Collection showcase the lovely silk-viscose blend 7 Patterns in The Art of Colour book exploit the striking colour changes of Noro yarns 8...