The Art of Hand-Dyeing

I’ve been thinking about colour a lot lately — about what draws us to it, about what makes us shy away. And, most interestingly to me, what is it that pulls some knitters and crocheters time and again hand-dyed yarns?

yarn, knitting, hand-dyed, indie dyer, crochet
Lucina fingering weight yarn in Carnival

Hand-dyed yarns are very different from the rest of the yarn universe. One thing that struck me at TNNA is that there were only a handful of indie dyers scattered  amongst the rows and rows of big yarn companies.  And the big yarn companies were very impressive, with their extensive line-up of yarns in every colour imaginable.  They sell dependability, repeatability, a yarn you can reach for time and again.

Whereas the magic of hand-dyed yarns lies in something completely different.  It’s something about freedom, the pure abandon of colour that might submit to the knitter’s will or might… might just turn wild and uncontrollable.  Hand-dyed yarns are about their untamed individuality, their uniqueness…  With hand-dyed yarns, you never really know what you’re going to get.

knitting, hand-dyed, crochet, indie dyer, yarn
Celeste fingering weight yarn in Baroque

So, as I watched them for a while, the hand-dyers at TNNA, busy chatting with LYS owners, I suddenly saw the dilemma…  For the indie dyer who wants to grow her business, there is the temptation to emulate the big yarn companies and to aim to pull those wild hand-dyed colours under control, to create legitimacy in a bigger marketplace by moving her line toward more predictability and controlled results.   But I suspect that what initially drew every hand-dyer into her craft was a desire to delve into the colours and go where-ever took took her.

knitting, yarn, crochet, hand-dyed, indie dyer
Celeste yarn in African Violets

So, being pulled in both directions, which way does an indie dyer go?

I think the answer comes back to the customer — to you.  The real question is, why do you buy hand-dyed yarns?  Why do you seek out indie-dyers when there are so many wonderful, established yarn brands in your local yarn shop? And I suspect the answer is that you are a very special kind of knitter or crocheter.  You are an adventurer.  And buying hand-dyed gives you a yarn that is like no other yarn in the world, which acts as a base on which to create your own art — the unique work of your two hands.  I think that people who buy hand-dyed yarn do more than just follow a pattern — they see the creation before it is created, they see the colours intertwined, they are drawn to the challenge of taming a yarn that they’re not quite sure will bend to their will.

In short, I think the knitter or crocheter who buys hand-dyed yarns is an artist herself, no less dyer whose yarn she works with.

So tell me, why do you buy hand-dyed yarns?  What is it that draws you to them?  And do you believe that when you create with them, you are also an artist?

knitting, yarn, crochet, hand-dyed, indie dyer
Celeste yarn in Carnival

3 thoughts on “The Art of Hand-Dyeing

  1. I enjoy hand dyed yarns because I enjoy supporting a PERSON rather than a company when I can. Seeing one of my very favorite hand dyers at TNNA terrified me a little bit. I want her to be successful, yes. But the volume that could come from a great TNNA could crush a one-woman company.

    I don’t feel like an artist in any of my hobbies. Yes, I create things, but I’m better at following a pattern than I am at creating from scratch. Everyone has different definitions of these things and while I enjoy what I do, I don’t know that it’s particularly creative if you know what I mean.

  2. I buy hand dyed yarns (or hand made anything else) because they have, well, soul. Mass-produced yarns just look flat and lifeless to me. I like the thought that this yarn was created in someone else’s hands. AND, if it’s someone I know and like, well…You can’t buy that for any price.
    I’ve thought alot about the art/craft thing and I’m probably in the minority but I put myself solidly in the craft camp. I feel that there’s nothing wrong with being a skilled craftsman. I worked hard to develop and hone my skill and I’m proud of it! I could say alot more, but I don’t want to steal your soapbox. 😀

  3. I am drawn to hand dyed yarns because they are often the best blendings that I see. I am excited when I see them and begin to imagine what they will look like in a project. I recently dyed my first skein and I am hooked. I am planning projects in my mind and will now try to perfect my technique so that I may create the colorways that I want for particular projects

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