Why I love hand-dyed yarns
Hand-dyed yarns are often more expensive, yet so many knitters rave about them. We asked Elizabeth Bagwell to give us the low down on what makes hand-dyed yarns so special.
Every now and then, I see a work of art or hear a piece of music or read a book, and I think: “Wow. If only I could paint / play piano / write novels, that’s exactly what I would have wanted to make.” For me, and many knitters I know, hand-dyed yarns give that same feeling. While the big manufacturers create workhorse yarns that are great for all sorts of people and all sorts of projects, independent yarn dyers are working by hand to create the unique pieces that make my heart sing.
Hand-dyed yarns are made in small batches. They’re often made at the kitchen table, or in a workshop with maybe a dozen staff. They’re sometimes made in collectives, where people work together to turn the fibre they raise into beautiful yarns. Sometimes, the fibres come from far away: Australian merino might be spun in China and hand-dyed in England. Sometimes the yarns are practical and machine washable, sometimes they’re delicate and rare.
In all cases, the yarns sell on their colour. The colourways are designed by the dyer (or sometimes the original dyer, if they’ve recruited help) and usually express their own personality and passion. After a while, you start to recognise particular dyers’ work. Dyers express their own ethics through their work, too. They might use only natural dyes or they might donate proceeds from a particular colour to charity.
Each skein of hand-dyed yarn is unique, just like each hand-knitted item is unique. You might knit the same pattern a dozen times, and yet each one will be slightly different. This is the sock where you forgot to stop, and it’s got two more rounds of rib than it’s mate. This is the hat where you ran out of yarn, and improvised stripes. This is that hat you stayed up all night to finish. This is the mitten you wove love into deliberately, and your own hair by accident.
Hand-dyed yarns are beautiful. There are some skeins that are so stunningly gorgeous you’ll want to weep, and then whip out your credit card. There are skeins so lovely, you’ll give up buying art and just display them around the house instead (or is that just me?). And the best bit? Just as every dyer and skein is different, so is every buyer and knitter. So you’ll find the perfect skein this year, and knit it up, confident that the next one will be along in a minute.
Last updated: August 15th, 2014.