Working with Hand Dyers

Many moons ago when I wrote the book, Contemporary Irish Knits, I featured a section on Irish Hand Dyers. At the time it was a very new field in Ireland and there were only a few dyers operating. The 2 companies I featured were Hedgehog Fibres and Dublin Dye Company and both are still operating today. In fact anyone who likes hand dyed yarn will know that Hedgehog Fibres is a pretty huge operation now! In the next few weeks I’ll be featuring the HUGE number of dyers that are now dyeing in Ireland on this blog; all producing unique, amazing yarns.

So how does hand dyeing work?
Most dyers start with a white, undyed yarn (know as the base) and then use their own dyeing techniques to dye the yarn. This technique can range from semi-solid colours, through to wildly variegated yarn right into speckles and gradient yarn. The type of yarn base they use will impact how the yarn can be dyed. Most dyers use superwash yarns because to get big colour variations in the yarn and speckles you have to use superwash. This type of yarn has a coating on it so it doesn’t absorb the dye as quickly allowing you to sit different colours in different places that will stay exactly where¬†they are put! However, if you’ve got a non-superwash and you put dye on it, you’ll see that it’s absorbed much more quickly and spread through the yarn, this will create much more subtle blended colours. A newer dyeing technique you see a lot of now is single skein gradient yarn. This uses a single skein ‘blank’ of yarn that is pre-knitted. This rectangle of fabric can then be dyed moving from one colour to the next. This is an example in one of Easyknits ‘Sushi Rolls’.

So what is hand dyeing and what advantages does it have for you as a knitter and me as a designer?

I’ll start with me as a designer. When I started out hand dyers were my biggest supporters. The very first dyer to offer me yarn support was Jeni from Fyberspates and that vote of confidence was a big boost for me. With hand dyers because they are also creating a product with their own hands and have a lot personally invested in their product promotion and support is also personal. It creates a very symbiotic relationship where the designer and dyer support and promote each other. It’s far easier to shout about how great someone else is than to do it yourself, so working as a team works much better than working alone.
For you as a knitter when you buy hand dyed yarn you are getting a unique product that’s a lot of fun to knit with. Hand dyed yarns add an extra dimension of interest to your knitting, think of it as another artist working with you while you knit!

There are a few things to keep in mind as you use hand dyes though. Remember that these are created individually or in very small batches. This means that the concept of ‘matching’ a colour lot doesn’t exist. You can deal with this in a few ways; either use hand dyed yarn in small projects, combine different colours so that you’re not matching colours or for a single colour project alternate skeins. To alternate skeins with an item that’s knit flat you start at the beginning of the row and work 2 rows of the first skein colour and then you work 2 colours of the next colour. This way if there are variations between the skeins they’ll blend nicely. If you’re working in the round it’s a little more difficult. Usually I use a side seam as the spot to alternate, you do however have the option of alternating every round rather than every 2 rows. One final option for alternating colours is to ‘blend’ the colours between the join. so when you reach the last 10-20 g of your skein begin alternating until you’ve used up the original skein. This way you won’t get a hard join of the new colour but you also don’t have to mess with 2 skeins for the entire project.

So why do you like to use hand dyed yarn? Do you have a favourite?

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