If you’ve ever tried dyeing yarn at home, you know it’s sort of like a combination between baking, chemistry, and painting. Our handpainted yarns are some of our most loved colorways, both for our customers and for us!
A quick overview of how we dye our yarns: any of our solid or semi-solid colors are dyed in large (20-100 pound) batches in a dye vat.
This month, hand painting became a family project at the mill – we don’t currently have a master dyer on staff, but many of the handpainted dye lots were running out – so, time to get dyeing! That’s the way it works in a family business.
Peggy (owner of Brown Sheep and hand painting expert) compares the “recipes” for hand-dyeing to old family recipes — just because you have a copy of the recipe, doesn’t mean you’ll be able to perfectly reproduce the result! Think cinnamon rolls or homemade bread — there’s a lot that goes out outside the lines of what’s written on the recipe card. It takes a bit of finesse to dye multiple colors onto a skein of yarn in a way that can be reproduced for an entire “batch” of skeins.
Each individual color needs to be pre-mixed, then poured carefully onto the yarn one at a time. We want each color to be distinct, but we also love the ‘intermediate’ colors that happen where two shades mix together.
After dye is applied, the yarn goes into an autoclave – the same kind of device used for sterilizing lab equipment. The heat from the autoclave causes the dye to “heat set” or chemically bond to the wool.
Then, the yarn goes through multiple rounds of rinsing to remove any excess dye. The wool absorbs a ton of moisture during the dye and rinse process, so it goes through several steps to dry out. Finally, the yarn is packaged into a hank, skein, or ball!