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Hand-Dyed Yarns

Woolfiend Hand-Dyed Yarns


My Dyeing Story

Emily Swenson

I felt like writing this particular post today for a few reasons - one, because I felt compelled to talk about dyeing with someone.  Two, because I think it's an interesting bit of information about myself.

I started knitting sometime in 2015, after getting back into crochet for a few months.  I thought about dyeing, but I really wanted to design my own projects.  As it turns out, I like to knit mostly stockinette projects, and I don't like ripping back or re-knitting anything.  So, being a pattern designer as a hobby was out of the picture.  I did not enjoy it enough to pursue it, and I have tried it several times since, but each time I fail to muster the necessary wherewithal to complete a single design project.

I started looking into dyeing, and dyed a skein of yarn (that was also my first skein of handspun) in 2015.  I forgot about it for about a year, then went to Rhinebeck 2016.  This was the first time I had been to Rhinebeck, and I got to see a lot of indie dyed yarn, as well as the plethora of natural yarns that were offered for sale/petting at the festival.  I decided to go home and ask my husband if I could have a few hundred dollars to start a yarn dyeing venture.  He obliged, and I decided on a name - Woolfiend Hand-Dyed Yarns.  I knew I didn't want to be a huge company, but something more like a hobby business that generated a small profit.

I bought a few skeins and started testing.  I found that I liked dyeing, but those first few skeins were ROUGH.  I thought I could take a little sampler pack and dye it with the same citric acid you use for canning tomatoes - I had some in the basement, and put it to the test.  I don't know whether I burned the yarn with heat, or something different, but it smelled so bad.  I had ruined it.  I kept on, though, and created my first sell-able skeins.  I opened my Etsy shop, and took some really crappy pictures with my phone, and did some really crappy editing on them.  The skeins sold, but I still look back on those very skeins and cringe a little.  Not that they were lower quality, in fact they're the same quality as what I sell currently.  They were just my baby skeins, and they were made before I knew how to speckle yarn correctly, or which colors bled, or how to get the dye to break, or what temperature to set the yarn at.

An oven-dyed skein - "Forsaken"

An oven-dyed skein - "Forsaken"

I dyed as much as I could.  This was really before a lot of the advice that is out there now, and a lot of trial and error went into this little venture of mine.  I decided that my very favorite method to dye with was my oven.  It resulted in crisp speckles, and vibrant colors.  I still love dyeing in the oven, and most of my colorways are done that way.  We have a double oven too, which makes it efficient for me.

I had just reached the peak of my yarn "career" when I had to close my shop.  I came back a few weeks ago, but I am a different person now than when I started dyeing.  As much as I love to knit, the lure of dyeing yarn isn't as strong as it once was.  I came back to the community to see a flood of indie dyers.  I think almost everyone who knits is an indie dyer now!  Some larger indie dyers and commercial yarn producers are going out of business. 

Two recently dyed braids - "Blossom"

Two recently dyed braids - "Blossom"

So, now I have to grapple with a few questions.  Where does this leave me/my business?  Did I make a mistake (for my business, not my life) by going on maternity leave?  Are my products and my brand truly unique?  The last question is the hardest for me to answer, because I can't lie and say they are.  Most dyers get their yarn from the same two places, maybe three, and all that wool comes from the same place(s).  What can make me unique, and what can make my brand unique?  While answering these questions I started spinning.  A lot.  I have always enjoyed spinning, but this time I came back and it just made my heart sing.  There's almost more of a rhythm to spinning than there is to knitting, in my opinion.  I shouldn't compare the two, because that's silly.  But, one thing I noticed was every skein I spun came out different.  My heart swells at this realization (yea, I know, DUH, Emily), and it made me look at dyeing in a whole new way. 

It's fine to have your yarn come from a large supplier and to dye it for a consumer, and any project they make with that yarn will be unique in every sense of the word.  However, at this point I'd rather dye fiber.  There are so many reasons why, the main one being that I feel like it adds a little more to the community.  I want spinning to be a part of knitting, and fiber prep is an important skill set.  I feel like spreading that knowledge is so important, and modernizing the craft is just as important. 

All that to say, I feel like dyeing fiber today.