A Typical Day at the Dyes

I’ve been dyeing lots and lots of yarn lately. And I do mean a lot. Between the thirty-odd skeins for Knitting With Jane, my Aunt’s visit, and getting in fall stock. . . yes. You get the idea. So, here is what a typical day of dyeing might looks like for me.


First step is to select the yarns about to be dyed, and put them in to soak the night before the actual dyeing will take place. This requires decisiveness, planning ahead, and a keen sense of your own limitations. (“No, beautiful skein of laceweight, I’ll be tied up with all the other skeins and won’t have time to dye you. I’m sorry, truly I am, but I simply cannot squeeze you in.”) Technically you only have to soak yarns or fibers for about half an hour before dyeing, but I prefer overnight. Particularly if I’m working with a silk blend. Silk takes awhile to give up and pull in the moisture.

Then, the next morning, I rush through breakfast and hurry to get all the dishes put away. The sooner I can get started, the less chance I have of getting stuck without lunch – hunched over the twentieth pot of dye, growing faint and crazed.

Once the dishes are taken care of, and the kitchen is spotless, I get out my baskets of dye bottles and equipment and set up the counters. Inevitably, there’s a sort of hush that falls as soon as the items are out and ready to go. Partly anticipation for the good things in store, partly the result of my having forgotten to heat the water for color mixing. Once that last issue is dealt with, I’m off to the races and mixing my colors.


As a side note here – a dye morning usually means a special beverage of some kind. Most often it’s a soda of some sort, but the day I photographed, it was sweet tea in a brand new mug. Isn’t it pretty? (Yes, I bought another mug I loved. At World Market, if you’re wondering.)


First batch of color (or colors) mixed, I pour, dunk, paint, heat, or whatever else is needed. The first skein of yarn goes onto the stove or in the oven, and it’s back to mixing, mixing, mixing. Really, what can take the longest is mixing dyes to achieve the perfect colors. Every time I rush, I wind up with strange colors that really don’t make me happy. Not this purple yarn, though. That one behaved beautifully.


The mixing and dyeing process usually lasts in the neighborhood of two or three hours, and involves six or seven skeins of yarn. Sometimes it has grown to four or five hours, depending on the amount of skeins I’m dyeing. About three-quarters of the way in, fatigue sets in, and with comes all sorts of volatile color-related emotions. Picture, if you will, the weary dyer, staring down at the yarn which just came out of the pot and realizing that the blue dye expanded and made the scarlet yarn purple. (Imagine violin music here, too, and the proper degree of soap opera angst.) And if a second yarn goes “wrong” – oh goodness. Life isn’t worth living! At least, not until later in the day when everything is cleaned up and I am once again myself.

Once the yarns – perfect or character – are done dyeing, they get hung up on a wooden rack to dry and be admired. This is one of the really pleasant parts. As the day goes on, the rack fills up with colors. In fact, I recently had to buy a second rack, just to hold all the drying yarns.


By the time the last yarn is done, I’m dragging myself about the kitchen. But I still have to put everything away, haul the wet towels back to the laundry pile, and replace whatever I displaced from the kitchen counters. Then, and only then, do I get to grab a refill of my drink, and collapse in a chair.

2 Responses to A Typical Day at the Dyes
  1. Aunt Debbie
    September 26, 2011 | 4:16 pm

    I like your posts on dyeing. How familiar it seems to me!

  2. MangyCat
    December 12, 2011 | 11:21 am

    I love how, even though I have no idea what the dyeing process is about, your storytelling about your day is still a highly-interesting read. :o )

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