I was writing up notes for the 2 people who will be helping me at Edinburgh Yarn Festival this year, and it got me to thinking about questions I’ve been asked over the 10 years of doing events around the country about how/why I dye the way I do, along with some other queries. So I thought I’d jot them down in a blog entry – perhaps you’ll find the information useful when you’re planning to use Ripples Crafts hand dyed yarn in a project.
I use a variety of techniques when I dye. Some result in colours which are repeatable, and some result in colourways which are not. Let us start with the ranges I call Hubble Bubble and Assynt Storms. These 2 methods of dyeing are perhaps the most visibly spectacular in the Ripples Crafts range.
These 2 techniques are ones I use mainly on the Reliable Sock Yarn base, purely because who doesn’t love brightly coloured, wildly variegated socks? Both methods (and these are 2 distinct methods) result in hanks of yarn which are unique and unrepeatable. There will be differences even when hanks are dyed together in the same batch. This is because the technique used results in what looks like random dyeing, but in fact there is thought given to the colours used and how they may mix and meld to form further colours in the dye pot. The mixes of colours that I choose to use can result in complex colourways which can sometimes look like layer upon layer of colour on a hank. It is my creative/fun side of dyeing, and while keeping recipes for this range of colourways could be interesting, they do not really help in recreating exact colours. I dye between 2 and 5 hanks at a time using these techniques, and because I have done hundreds of versions of Assynt Storms and Hubble Bubble, the different batches and colours do not get given individual names, but rather are just called “Assynt Storms” or “Hubble Bubble” and then allocated a number. I simply could not think up enough names to give the number of hanks that I dye. I have also been known use these methods on the Quinag and Burras bases, and have recently been dyeing some of the laceweight yarn using these methods too.
Next, I do a range of colours which fall into the “glazed” category of dyeing. This is when one colour is glazed with another (and sometimes a third) to achieve a lovely depth of shades. So, for example, a colour that I dye which would fall into this category would be The Dark Sea Storm:
Again, every hank will be slightly different as when you glaze with the second colour it can strike very differently on each hank you’re glazing. Generally speaking I can replicate them, but with the proviso that they’ll never be exactly the same as each other. Other colours that would fall into the glazed category would be Copper Beech, Jewelled and Gabi’s Dream Green, to name but a few. The resulting colours are deep, variegated, and complex. Ideal for garter stitch patterns, of course, but can also be used for more complex lace knitting patterns without the fear of losing the stitch pattern visibility. One of the advantages of buying and working with hand dyed yarn is that the dyer has a freedom to choose and mix colours – a freedom which, at times, may not be available to large scale commercial dyers. For example, I can experiment on just a few hanks as my set up is small scale. Sometimes the experiments work and I go on to repeat and repeat the colours, and other times the colours produced are not popular, and they quietly disappear off the shelf.
Then – I do a range of “almost solid” colours. This category would include colours such as Poppy, A Slice of Lime or Ripe Rowan Berries, or the example above which I have yet to name. I never describe them as “Solid” colours because they’re not absolutely solid. Again part of the charm of buying hand dyed yarn is of course the range of colours available, but also the slight variations of colour and shades that you can find in one hank. So while a hank may look like a solid colour, quite often once it is knitted up there will be variations of hues. I always recommend that, if you’re planning to knit a larger garment using one of the colours from this range, you alternate hanks while you’re knitting. So knit a few rows from one hank and then a few rows from another. This way you won’t get a stark defining line when you change hanks if there is a difference between hanks. I am a small scale dyer, and for the more solid shades I dye no more than 4 or 5 hanks at a time, depending on the base that I’m dyeing and the weight of the yarn. Some bases take solid shades better than others. For example the Quinag base, 100% Bluefaced Leicester, takes the more solid colours very well, whereas the Burras base, a single ply merino yarn, takes colour in a less solid way, and this results in a more semi solid shade across the hank.
The final technique I want to cover is one where I dye blocks of colour onto a hank. Again this is done mainly on the Reliable Sock yarn base, but occasionally I added these colours to other bases. So, for example, I recently dyed one of my most popular block colourways (which also includes a bit of the glazing technique) – Assynt Hill Tartan – on to the Na Dannsairean yarn base.
Depending on the garment you’re making the block dyed yarns can give you different results. If you were to knit socks, for example, using 60 stitches and 2.5mm needles, then you’ll get approximately one row per colour. But it depends on your tension and the number of stitches in your garment. Currently I do not dye any long colour repeat colour combinations which some dyers do and which result in broader stripes, depending again on the number of stitches you have in your project. It simply doesn’t suit my method of dyeing and there are other dyers who do an excellent job of this form of dyeing. Another method of dyeing I do not commonly do is what some refer to as speckled dyeing. When dyeing Assynt Storms or Hubble Bubble hanks, speckling may sometimes occur, but I don’t set out to produce speckled yarn per se.
Moving on to the yarn bases which I use, the question I am often asked is “is your yarn British”. Well the question is not simple. It depends what you define as “British”. Some of the fibre used in the yarn is grown in the UK, i.e. it is sourced from small British flocks through the British Wool Marketing board. Most of my yarn is not spun in the UK. However my main yarn provider is based in the UK and provides employment to a number of people in the UK and abroad. They also maintain an ethical stance which sits well with me, including providing education programmes for some of the farmers who provide fibre for the mill. An important point to make is that none of the merino in my range comes from sources that practice mulesing.
The dyes that I use for my yarns are called Acid Dyes. Using acid dyes means I can recreate colourways again and again and while they may not be identical they will be close to the original. Acid dyes also have the reputation of being long lasting and do not fade easily. There are always exceptions of course, and if you leave a piece of acid dyed textile lying in direct sunlight then there may well be deterioration to the colour. I try very hard to make sure colours are fixed well, but again there are exceptions and certain shades are prone to some bleeding of colour more than others (looking at YOU turquoise) and for this reason I always recommend handwashing of garments made with hand dyed yarn to avoid any colour run disasters occurring. The term “Acid Dye” can sound daunting, but the acid is what fixes the colour to the wool/fibre, and the acid which I use to achieve this is citric acid – the sort of compound used in Bath Bombs or home made lemonade. The level of acidity is very low. I could use vinegar if I preferred – but the lingering smell precludes that alternative for me! On the subject of water, I should mention that I try to recycle as much as I can during the dyeing process. Water is not something which is in short supply where we live. It rains a lot in the Highlands! And our water supply is about a mile from our house in a beautiful loch called Water Loch which we walk to often. But there is no harm in being careful about your resources, and so soaking water becomes rinsing water or dyeing water rather than simply being discarded.
Another common question is “Can I come and see where my yarn is dyed” and the short answer is YES! I am based in a part of Scotland which many consider remote, but which I consider the centre of the universe. If you are touring or holidaying in the Scottish Highlands and plan to visit an area called Assynt, then I won’t be far away from where you will be staying. Perhaps you’re planning to drive the North Coast 500 route – well that route goes past the bottom of my drive. If I am at home then visitors are most welcome. I have a small dye shed and I am a tiny operation, and it won’t take you long to look around the dye shed, but sometimes it is just really interesting to see where the hub of activity is based. So many who visit leave the dye shed with comments such as “NOW I get why you dye the colours you do” or “You are so fortunate to have so much colour inspiration on your doorstep”. And of course you’re welcome to come and have a look at the yarn I have in stock and you may want to go away with a memento of your visit to this part of the world. It is always best to get in touch with me to make sure I’ll be here, but I also have a sign at the end of my road now, and generally speaking if the open sign is up I am in. There are times I forget to take it down though!
So …. there you go. A long blog entry, but I wanted to cover some of the questions I get asked about my chosen profession. If you have any burning questions feel free to ask. I don’t promise to answer them as of course I protect my intellectual property vigorously, but if I can answer I will.
Just one final thing. Well two really. I am now up to my elbows in the dye pots preparing for Edinburgh Yarn Festival in March. However I am still updating the shop from time to time. I do not do weekly timed updates but rather add stock to the shop as and when I have it ready to add and when I’ve been able to get reasonable photographs taken. So pop back from time to time to have a look. And finally, I’m very excited to be taking Ripples Crafts to the international show stage this year. My application for a stand at Woollinn in Dublin has been accepted, and so I’ll be heading across the Irish Sea to Ireland in May. It seems appropriate that as Ripples Crafts celebrates its 10th birthday we spread our wings a little and head abroad. To keep abreast of other shows which I will be doing it is always best to keep an eye on my Ravelry group where I add shows as they are confirmed.