Dyes Mixed by Hand, From Primaries

Tucked away in the description of my yarns, right down there in the last paragraph, are these words: “Each item is individually hand-dyed by the SpaceCadet, using professional grade acid dyes which are mixed by hand from primaries”.  That last bit is really important to me — mixed by hand from primaries.  Every colour you see in my yarns and fiber has been created by hand, conjured up from only the primaries and black.  It’s both the entire reason that making hand-dyed yarns excites me so much and the source of more than a little pride for me.

I see a colour in my mind (or, more usually, several colours together) that I know I want to dye and I start dissecting them.  If it’s a purple, is it a red purple or a blue purple?  If it’s a darker shade, I gauge how much black is needed to darken it.  If it’s lighter, I work out the dye-to-water ratio it requires.  And then I calculate in the personality of the fiber — every fiber takes dye in its own unique way, so the same colours can come out wildly different.  And taking all that together, I mix up the dyes in the way that I think is going to create the colour I see in my mind, submerge the yarn, and… wait.

And the moment that I pull the yarn out again, and see whether my calculations — and my instinct — were correct, that is the most exciting moment in the whole dyeing process.  When I get it right,  I go a little wild, grabbing friends, family, any passers-by and saying, “Look! Look! this is the colour I was going for and this is what I got!

Thinking abou this the other day, I wondered if all this excitement wasn’t really a bit ridiculous…?  I mean, really, it’s just colour.  Painters do it all the time, don’t they?  And they not only mix their own colours but then go on to create something with them.  They don’t just sit there crowing over all the little puddles of colours they’ve created on their palettes!

But then I realised that, unlike painters, when I mix my dyes, I’m doing it blind.  The colours in the water are sometimes a good indication, but often not.  And besides, the insides of the dyepots aren’t white so what I see in them is always distorted anyway.  No, there’s no way to know if the colour is right until the yarn goes into the water.  Dyeing is a one-shot deal.

So when I pull the yarn or fiber out of the dyepot and it’s exactly the colour I had envisioned, it’s pretty darned exciting.  For this yarn, I imagined cornflowers, that lovely soft violet-blue that seems to be everywhere this time of year.

Merino and Silk Laceweight Yarn in Cornflowers

When I lifted the yarn out of the dyebath, I knew I’d nailed the colour.  And, yeah, I am really proud to be able to say I mixed these colours by hand from primaries.

4 thoughts on “Dyes Mixed by Hand, From Primaries

  1. I don’t blame you for being proud of that color. It’s not actually A color. It looks like it’s really at least two colors that run together producing lots of in between shades. And since the original two colors are so close together, they visually mix when viewed and produce a third color!

    That’s magic!

    I love periwinkle blue, the kind where you can’t quite decide if it’s really blue or lavender. But that shad is hard to find. Too often, the color winds up looking hard, and I don’t like that. This is soft and beautiful. Here you’ve used blue and lavender together to produce this third (visual) shade, and it’s one of my all-time favorites.

    Is this going up on your Etsy shop, and if so, how much is in the skein? You DID dye more than one skein, didn’t you? What is the fiber? Homespun Handknit (the new one) has a small shawl in this shade, and I’ve been looking for something to make it, or something similar in because the color is SO beautiful. The color in the book is called wisteria.

    I’ll check your shop again soon, but feel free to give me first crack at it.

    1. Johann, your comment has absolutely made my day. And you’re right, there’s almost nothing so magical as the subtle shades that develop when two colours run together.
      Yes, that skein is going in the shop, probably tomorrow (today rather got away from me!). This one is a merino/silk blend and, no, I didn’t dye any more skeins, because I had to see how this one came out first, but I don’t think it will be a problem to repeat the colourway — and I’m so in love with it that I certainly plan to, in several different kinds of yarn! I can’t wait to get cracking with it!

  2. Dear Spacecadet

    I really admire your ability to make all these wonderful colors. This is true art, and belive me, you are gifted.

    I am still thinking on that green gras color, maybe I order some of that merino (for knitting sticks 3 – 4 mm), and using it for another project than first planned for. I am so in love with that color, I think all knitting projects will be fantastic.

    I really admire the deep violet and this new blue color too, I really wish I had the opportunity to spend a lot more money on yarn… 🙂

    Have a nice summer and please enjoy us normal people with more of your art.


    1. Anne-Kristen, I am so delighted that you love that colour so much and your comments never fail to put a smile on my face! Thank you! I’ll be dyeing more yarns in Freshly Cut Grass soon — as well as the fingering weight that’s in the shop now, keep your eyes open for it in a DK yarn and in an absolutely luscious merino/silk lace weight.

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