How do they hand-dye?
We read a lot about hand-dyed yarn – but how is it done? What does hand-dyed really mean?
Created in small batches by hand instead of by machine, hand dyeing techniques produce yarn that is original, artistic and full of character. Angie taught us all about how to dye yarn at home, and the science behind it – so we thought we’d look at some of our favourite producers and find out how they do it commercially.
Yarn dyeing in large quantities can be done by machine – yarn can be sprayed with colour, air jet painted and roller-dyed, and the resulting yarn is reliably consistent from dyelot to dyelot. Hand dyed yarn, on the other hand, produces artisan colourscapes that are unique from skein to skein!
Kettle dyeing & space dyeing
Kettle dyed yarns are submerged into baths of dye in small batches and simmered until the colours have been absorbed by the yarn, resulting in stunning tonal shades. Great care needs to be taken when heating wool to avoid felting and pooling colours – and the skill of the dyers shows in the incredible blend of colours that can be achieved by using different baths, fibres and water temperatures and dyes. Space dyeing techniques produce more specific multi-colours – dyes are painted or applied to separate areas of yarn to create a joyously variegated finish.
Manos del Uruguay
Manos del Uruguay was formed in 1968, with a mission to celebrate Uruguay through yarn and is run by creative women. The artisan process of dyeing in small lots in pots heated by wood fire or gas creates colours that are semi-solid, full of beautiful nuance and tone variations. The skeins can be dyed up to six times to build complexity and depth before they are dried in the sun.
Malabrigo and Manos del Uruguay are often compared and contrasted because they are both based in Uruguay but in fact their yarn offerings are quite different. Malabrigo is a family owned company who produce 17 different yarns in more than 300 colours, inspired by nature, landscapes, places, art and everyday life. They have developed unique hand dyeing methods that include kettle based techniques and hand painting – and environmental processing is very close to their hearts. In 2010 the factory added a flat-plate thermal heating system to decrease its environmental footprint and now water tanks are heated using the power of the sun, using as little water and as few chemicals as possible.
Madelinetosh, based in Fortworth, Texas, is the brainchild of Amy Hendrix, who began her adventure with yarn dyeing in her kitchen, sometimes layering colours two or three at a time, mixing and combining dyes in glazes and washes of colours. The result is Madelinetosh Yarns, creating over 200 different colourways with natural fibre yarns using traditional methods in small dye batches.
Fyberspates started as a hand-dying company in 2005. Strong vibrant hues are contrasted with soft metallic greys, and the fabulous hand dye recipes are created specifically not to distract from the fabric that is created when you knit or crochet this beautiful yarn. The Fyberspates dye recipes were created to make people happy from “skein to garment”, and it shows!
Knitting with hand-dyed yarn
When you knit with hand dyed yarn, you need to take a few things into consideration before you start. From making sure that you have the same dye batch, to getting your yarn wound and ready to use, Elizabeth Bagwell has some handy hints and tips to follow here, and she’ll tell you just why she loves hand dyed yarn so much here!
Explore our fabulous hand-dyed yarn selection here!
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Last updated: March 31st, 2016.