Monday, July 29, 2013

Stained Fingers Dye Camp - The Experience

Last week I had the amazing opportunity to spend several days with Kim McBrien, owner of Indigodragonfly, the hand-dyed yarn and fiber studio a few hours north of my home. I joined four other yarnies for the 4 day long Stained Fingers Dye Camp: 4 days of learning how to hand-dye yarn and experimenting with color.

I'd booked accommodations at a newly renovated B&B, called Studio 23 run by a local artist Helen Vella. When I arrived, I was shown to a lovely room with a queen bed. I settled in, making use of the handy kitchen facilities upstairs to tuck away the lunch foods and snacks I'd purchased in town.

Monday morning, I tucked into the most delicious and bountiful breakfast I've had in ages! There was no way I was running out of energy after that breakfast: scrambled eggs, baked beans, bacon, mushrooms, fried cherry tomatoes, home fries, toast and fruit. And coffee - lots of coffee!

Then it was off to Dye Camp. After the first bit of orientation and safety lessons on mixing dye powders, we set to making 2 sets of sample dye cards in the shape of a color pyramid. Kim had provided us with 2 different shades each of the primary colors - blue, red and yellow. We followed the formulas on the color pyramid to vary the amounts of red, blue and yellow in each color sample. It was all very precise. When mixing dye powder, one must carefully calculate the amount of powder required, down to 1/10th of a gram and know the correct proportions of water to add. When mixing up the color samples in our pyramid, we were working with syringes that measured in milliliters, allowing us to blend exact shades.

Dye samples before cooking
We used small jars filled with bits of undyed sock yarn, adding dye and citric acid to each sample.

After cooking our samples, we were amazed to see that all the dye had been completely absorbed by the yarn, leaving clear water in the jars.

Dye samples after cooking: water is clear.

Once we had our sample card, labeled with the recipe for each base color, Kim turned us loose on her wall of undyed yarn and pointed us at the dye pots with the instruction to "Go experiment!"

Tensions ran high that first afternoon as we each tentatively began working with the dyes and dyeing pans. How would the different fibers react? What color should we choose? Would we cook it too long? What was the math formula again? When was the yarn done?

Slowly the yarn drying racks began to fill up:


And fill up:

 And fill up!

Okay, so maybe the racks didn't get that full in just one day. 

Safety first! Wearing masks while mixing
dye powder.
Day 2 we spent the morning learning to hand paint yarn and process it. After the initial lesson, Kim once again set us loose on the yarn. It was fun to watch each person's reactions to their own and each others' yarn as it came out of the dye pots and then as it dried. And Kim was there every step of the way to encourage us, help us with the math, and provide guidance about techniques for achieving the look we wanted. We also learned about her experiences sourcing yarns from around the world, working with mills, and trying to promote and support local companies.

I didn't have a particular goal for the camp other than to dye a bunch of sock yarn. I dyed a bunch of blue yarn first - my favorite color. And quickly learned that it's critical to ensure all your yarn gets exposed to the dye. It's extremely difficult to get even coverage and eliminate white spots on your skein. I ended up over-dyeing all but one of my skeins.

On Day 2, we got to see Ron and Darby in action, dyeing up pot after pot of Indigodragonfly yarns. It was stunning to see the pace and precision with which they were able to dye 140 skeins of yarn. Each one turned out gorgeous and exactly as planned.

My biggest "oops" of the week came on day 3. I had 2 goals for the day: 1) to over-dye some olive green yarn that had some white spots, and 2) branch out into Fall reds and golds on a couple of skeins. As my yarn heated up in the dye pot, I busily mixed up the dye for over-dyeing.  Once the pot was simmering, I dumped in the dye - only to realize that I'd dumped the dye onto blank skeins instead of the already dyed skeins I wanted to over-dye.

That's how I ended up with 4 skeins of olive green yarn instead of two. Then I decided that I didn't like the green and over-dyed it again with blue to create a peacock/Nova Scotia tartan effect which I was rather pleased with. 
Towards the end of Day 3, I was beginning to master the art of ensuring that all my yarn got equal dye coverage the first time around. In fact, we were all becoming quite proficient and confident - to the point of beginning to improvise and experiment. Unfortunately I had to leave camp after day 3 to go back to work, while the other ladies spent another day playing with yarn, fiber and dyes. 

Stained Fingers Campers modeling our yarn!
(photo (c) and courtesy of indigodragonfly)
I'm so glad I took advantage of this fantastic opportunity to learn more about all the hard work, skill and creativity that goes into creating hand-dyed yarns. It gave me a new appreciation for all those beautiful skeins I see for sale by independent dyers. It's not as simple as combining yarn, water, dye & heat. They have to consider who is farming and processing the yarns they source, build their knowledge of different dyes, how they react to various fibers and what colors they create. 

Then they have to master the techniques to create gradient yarns, self-striping yarn, solids, semi-solids, variegated, hand-painted, and whatever else I've left out. Each skein may get dyed multiple times to achieve just the right effect. Or have different colors added at just the right moment during the process to get a rich layered effect.

There's the photography, marketing and all the behind-the-scenes administrative work (shipping, receiving, responding to inquiries, keeping up with industry events, web site management, accounting) and so much more. 

Suddenly $25-35 for a skein of perfectly dyed yarn shipped directly to my home, ready for me to knit, seems a small price to pay.

Four days, unlimited dyes = a lot of yarn! And mine isn't
even included here since I left early.
(photo (c) and courtesy of indigodragonfly)

1 comment :

  1. ooh, what a fab post! i'm so jealous, i'm dying (sorry, sorry) to attend a workshop like this someday... i really enjoy dyeing yarn and fibre at home, would love to learn more. you're so lucky to have had such a brilliant teacher..!