At TNNA a few months ago, I discovered something I hadn’t realised before. Talking to several of my fellow dyers, I became aware that many of them have large collections of different dye colours that they work from. In some cases, dozens of different shades of powder that they use to dye their yarn.
That took me by surprise, because we don’t use anything like that many dyes. In fact, we use only 5 colours of dye: cyan, magenta, yellow, red, and black — the primary colours in the CMYK and RYB color models. And we then use these primary colours to hand-mix all the hundreds of other hues that we use on our yarns. When you look at a SpaceCadet colourway, no matter what shades you are seeing, they are all created from those five colours of dye.
And that’s when I realised that perhaps what we do at SpaceCadet is a little unusual. Instead of buying premixed colours from the dye manufacturers, we use only the primary colours — and mix all our hues by hand here in the studio. Every day, when we start to work, we start with only those five colours, but by the time we leave, there are dozens of stunning shades on our yarns. To achieve them, we constantly experiment — pouring in a base of this colour, then add a little of that colour, and maybe a splash of another, until we think we’ve hit the right mix. Then we submerge the yarn and see…
I started out this way for one simple reason: when I first began dyeing, I just couldn’t afford to invest in that many colours of dye. I sat down with my notebook and wrote the names of all they dyes I wanted to try — Pumpkin, Chartreuse, Salmon, Periwinkle… The list went on and on but, when I tallied up the price, I realised how quickly all those lovely-sounding colours added up. Disappointed, I told myself I’d have to make do for the time being with only the primary colours and I placed my smaller (but much more affordable) order with the dye manufacturer.
I always planned to widen my colour selection when finances allowed, but then an odd thing happened: I found I could make every colour I wanted myself! Good old colour theory and the primary colours didn’t let me down — by mixing those five colours in different configurations, I could achieve everything I’d hoped to buy …and more. By the time I could afford a whole palette of pre-mixed dyes, I realised I didn’t want them. The joy of dyeing for me was not about applying someone else’s colour to my yarn — it had become about making my own colours, creating them completely from scratch, and controlling the tiniest changes from one hue to another.
I guess, really, it was no longer just about the dyeing. It was thrill of hunt when I spotted a colour I wanted to recreate — maybe the searing blue of the sky on a clear day, the rust on an old Pittsburgh bridge, the grey of a tire left out too long in the sun — and I’d spend a little time really looking at the the object to reverse engineer the colour… then rush to the studio to try to capture it before the memory was gone. I’d mix a bit of magenta with a glug of yellow, throw in a splash of black, and… let the yarn soak it up and find out if I’ve hit it. No, if dyeing is about putting colour on yarn, this was so much more — this was about about the hands-on creation of every single shade I produced. And for me, that’s where I find real artistry when I’m dyeing.
Five years later, SpaceCadet could afford to buy all the colours I so longed for in the beginning, but we still mix from just five colours of dye I started out with. And it wasn’t until that weekend at TNNA that I realised that might be a little unusual. When you buy a skein of yarn from SpaceCadet, you’re getting the real artistry of our hands, our own colours that we’ve mixed just for you. In all honesty, I think that’s what our customers really value when they’re working with hand-dyed yarn — a real connection from one maker to another. And I have to admit, I’m pretty proud of how we make what we make!
Members of the Yarn Alliance receive gorgeous yarns in exclusive club-only colourways, fabulous gifts, the chance to order extra skeins, 15% off a future SpaceCadet order and so much more! Click here to see our gallery of colourways and to join this fab club.
Let’s Chat In Person!
I’ve fallen in love with Periscope — tune in and catch me live to chat about dyeing from primaries and ask questions about the Yarn Alliance! If you’re not on Periscope, you’ll need to download the app (click here for iOS or here for Andriod), then follow me by searching for SpaceCadetYarn. You’ll get a notification when I start broadcasting — when you do, hop on and start chatting with me live, right there and then. I’ll see you there!
The thing that makes yarn shows magical for me is, of course, meeting our customers in person. So many times, I’ve known someone by only name or Ravatar, and getting the chance to see them face to face at last is always such a delight! But there’s another aspect of shows that I really love, and that’s getting to meet and hang out with other vendors. They are some seriously cool people — makers and craftspeople I really admire — and, even though shows are hard hard work, there is a sense of camaraderie and sharing amongst the vendors that is really wonderful to experience.
And I want to introduce you to two I’ve really enjoyed getting to know. I think most of us who’ve caught the knitting or crochet bug have also developed a fondness for sheep and the farms and farmers who bring us their wool. So when I first spotted Ross Farm Fiber‘s booth at the Pittsburgh Knit and Crochet Festival a few years ago, I made a beeline, and immediately introduced myself.
I’m so glad I did! Amy and Scott (whose nametag sometimes reads, “Scooterpie the Shepherd Guy”) are just lovely — really warm and open, the kind of people who make you want to sit down with a cup of tea and your knitting and just natter the rest of the day away. Except you can’t, because you’re right in the middle of crazy-busy show, and there are customers everywhere and… yep, back to work!
But Amy invited me down to their farm, and last week I took her up on it. And do you know, it’s everything you’d want a small family farm to be! She and Scott took me on a tour of barns that had been in her family for generations, introduced me to their donkeys and Halflingers, small horses that followed us round, nuzzling my pockets for treats. And when they called the sheep down from the fields (and they come flying too!), Amy and Scott knew each ewe by name as they came pouring through the barn doors.
At Ross Farm, Amy and Scott raise rare and heritage breeds: mostly Leicester Longwools and Romneys, a small flock of Jacobs (I love Jacobs!) and another of Corriedales, and a handful of Cheviots, Shetlands, Tunis, and Lincolns. And the thing that really surprised me? They’re all watched over by their donkeys, who work in pairs to keep the coyotes at bay!
Oh, and then there’s Lilah Grace. But I’m guessing she’s not much of a deterrent to coyotes — she spent most of her time trotting out in front of me and the flopping down right in my path and begging to have her belly rubbed.
And thing thing I love most is their focus on giving their animals a genuinely happy existence. That have large fields with plenty of space to roam in the day, and comfortable barns to bed down in at night. Happy sheep indeed.
Ross Farm Fibers sells fleece and yarn — rustic and farmy and beautiful. It’s so different from the yarn I usually dye and sell at SpaceCadet — commercially spun yarn can never acheive the rustic-ness of farm yarn — but could I resist bringing some home to play with? Not a chance! And I knew I wanted to share a little of Ross Farm’s magic with my customers too so, SpaceMonsters, keep your eyes on your postboxes in February — you are in for a treat!
I know why you knit or crochet. It’s for the same reason I do — to slow the world down for a little while and ground yourself in the rhythmic click of the needles. And that grounding has to start with beautiful wool — a fiber unequaled by anything man can manufacture. When you visit a place like Ross Farm, you can see why.
We are in flat out dyeing mode right now to get ready for the upcoming shows and KALs in March. And I’ve got lots to tell you about them — new kits, new project ideas, and some really exciting exclusive colourways. But all that in good time. For now, I have some lovely images to share with you, and one small but very important announcement.
First, the images. Here’s a little glimpse of the studio this week…
You can see why I love dyeing, right? And now, the announcement…
As things have grown and gotten busier here at the SpaceCadet studio, one thing that just hasn’t happened is regular shop updates. I love dyeing the yarns, love coming up with new colourways, but when it comes to sitting down and photographing them, then uploading the photos to the shop, then typing in all the details… well, I always find myself drawn back to the dyepots and the shop update just doesn’t get done.
But that’s no good for you, is it?!? You can’t buy what’s not in the shop! So, I’ve decided to give you the best of both worlds. You can buy what’s in the shop — and shop updates will still happen — but when when a colourway or a yarn that you are just itching to work with is not in stock, you can now go ahead and order it to be custom dyed!
When we receive your order, we’ll get to work dyeing your custom yarn. Now, because each yarn is created by hand, we do ask you to allow 4-6 week for your order to be completed but, in truth, we always aim to beat that and get your yarn out to you as quickly as possible. That timescale is really there to allow for busier times of year and the more complicated orders. The best thing about the whole dyeing process? Packing those lovely bundles of yarny goodness in their boxes and sending them off to become exciting new projects!
So there you go — one tiny little alteration that brings enormous change and wonderful news!
And here, before we go, one last image from the studio. I just love these greens against that rust, don’t you?
And I am panicking a little. The trouble with a show that’s bigger than anything I’ve ever done is that I’ve got absolutely no idea how much yarn we’ll need. So a few weeks ago I decided to start dyeing and just not stop. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing ever since.
One week! And there is so. much. to. do. And I don’t know if I have enough yarn! So I gotta get back into the studio but, before I do… here quick, come take a look…
Coming to Rhinebeck? Come visit us at the Melissa Jean Designs booth. Hope to see you there!
The heat’s getting to you too, right? We’ve been in the high 90s for weeks now (…well, it feels like weeks anyway) and the longer it goes on, the less I seem to be able to think. I mean, I’m squirreled away in an air-conditioned office so I shouldn’t even notice the heat and yet… oh, as that mercury climbs, my ability to focus just seems to vapourise.
It’s not just me, right? It’s you too…? Tell me it is, because the temperature is set to hit 100F (37C!) this weekend and I think I’m just going to melt into a little puddle of uselessness right there on the floor — and I kinda need to know you’re right there with me!
Tour de Fleece
So when your brain is melting into mush it’s probably best to concentrate on the simple things, right? Tour de Fleece couldn’t have come at a better time, and I’ve given myself permission to spend a little quality time with my (most beloved) Lendrum. I’m spinning some top that I dyed absolutely ages ago that, when I pulled it out of the dyepots, I didn’t like at all. I shoved it in a bag and promptly forgot about it. When I finally came across it again about a month ago, I realised I can’t even remember what the fiber content is…. merino? superwash? merino/alpaca? I have no idea but — I’ll tell you what — I am loving these colours now. What was I thinking?!? Here’s my progress, day by day…
The SpaceCadet’s Swag Shop
Wait!, you say. You’re in an office? You’re not in the studio? Well, in truth, this job is split pretty evenly between the dyepots and the computer. And while most of the time I’m elbows deep in yummy yarns and dye, summer is the ideal time to get a little behind-the-scenes work done on all the great ideas I come up with throughout the rest of the year.
And I’ve been working on some really exciting stuff too — I can’t wait to show you! Most of it’s only in the beginning stages, but I can share one really cool thing with you… At every festival we do, at every trunk show, people are always telling us how much they love the SpaceCadet (we love him too!), and then someone always asks, can I get a SpaceCadet t-shirt? I’ve never be able to offer them one before, but I now I can! Check this out — the SpaceCadet Swag Shop! SpaceCadet t-shirts, tank tops, tote bags, and all kinds of cool stuff… Squeeeeee!!!!
Oooh, and there’s one other thing I can do even when I’m melting in this insane heat… How about a shop update? There’s some incredibly rich colours in this one, and a few one-of-a-kinds, so click here to have a look before they disappear.
I’m mad busy at the moment getting ready for TNNA this weekend. If you don’t know what that is, it’s The National Needlearts Association’s Summer Show, and it’s one of the most fiber-fantastic (and fiberista-fantastic) events of the entire year. We’ll be shopping for new yarns, so we can do a major revamp and extension of the SpaceCadet line-up later in the season. Exciting or what?!? Stay tuned for updates.
I love the gorgeous vibrant patterns — I mean, who wants to hide her knitting away? A busy floral on the outside and, inside, stripes or polka dots to balance. I’m kind of a sucker for dots — they make me happy! — so I turned this one inside out.
Yep, they’re fully reversible! And with a drawstring that I’ve tied in a loop so I can knit with the bag over my arm.
I got them from CristineCreates on Etsy. I meant to only get one… but I kinda couldn’t help myself. You know what I mean… right?
Y’know, I… I couldn’t just have my projects sitting there naked, could I?