“Just Be Creative!”

Custom orders can be exciting… and daunting.  Dyeing can be an unpredictable process — the slightest change in acidity, temperature, or concentration can create really noticeable colour changes from one dyelot to another.  And it’s just the way life works that those unpredictable changes will always occur on that special order where the customer has a really specific result in mind!

So when a customer contacted me the other week and asked me to dye three custom orders for a birthday celebration for three knitting friends, I had a slight moment of trepidation.   But when I asked her what she had in mind, she put back at my ease: “Just be creative!” she replied.  That I can do!

The birthday girls’ favourite colours are red, purple, and green, and I spent all week letting my imagination run wild on that theme.  I wanted to do a few different colourways of each, and then her choose whatever yarns she liked best.

It wasn’t an easy choice.  Here’s what she picked…


Kristen’s HeartBeat


Jill’s Storm


Natalie’s Steel Leaf


I was having so much fun dyeing and just letting my creativity run free that I rather let it run away with me, and I now have quite a stash of exciting new yarns to put in the shop.  Look for them to start appearing Monday or Tuesday of next week!

Scenes from a Fiber Life: the Art and Science of Hand-Dyeing

Years ago, when I was a corporate buyer, I remember my boss explaining that buying was both an art and a science.  I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time — surely it was just a matter of knowing how much should be in stock and plugging in the numbers, wasn’t it?  It was simple.  What was he on about “art”?

I didn’t really get it until I’d been in the job for some time, and I found myself explaining some of the basics to our intern.  She was plugging in the numbers — just plugging in the numbers — and coming to conclusions that I knew would spend our money in all the wrong places.   And as I explained that there was more to it than just the number, that was the moment that I realised what my boss meant by “art”.  Over time, I’d been quietly and unconsciously learning to follow to my instincts as well as the numbers, learning to apply both art and science.  And when I watched that intern making those simple, novice mistakes, I began to understand the value of staying tuned into both.

Today I tried to duplicate Westerly, the beautifully shaded colourway from the Tradewinds quartet that I showed you last week.  And there I was, duplicating the recipe exactly when…  I just suddenly didn’t trust it.  My instinct told me the colours weren’t right.  My instinct told me to add a bit of this, mix in a little more of that…

My instict wasn’t right.  This is what came out of the dyepot…


It’s beautiful for sure, but it’s not Westerly.  And though I think I’m going to love it when it’s dried and reskeined…  there’s no denying that it’s not Westerly.


Which just serves to remind me that, even though dyeing is undoubtedly an art as much as a science, and even though a dyer’s colour sense is borne of instinct, it’s important to remember and never to forget the first rule of the second dyelot: even when you want to follow your instinct…


This Way the Tradewinds Blow

Last week I asked you all to help me choose one of the four Tradewinds to go forward with as a colourway for the shop.  As the responses rolled in, I was so pleased to see so many of you reply and it was really interesting to see which ones you picked.  Thank you all for your comments!  And please do remember to mention your comment on your next SpaceCadet order, so I can be sure to give you that $4 credit.

And so now, which one will it be…?  Well, technically, The Sea Below got the most comments — by one, to be exact.

The Sea Below

However, as the week went on and I was visiting the post again and again to read your responses, and I kept seeing the pictures… and looking the yarns here on my desk…  I realised that it was Westerly that was really calling to me.  So my vote would be for Westerly — one extra vote that brings the count to even for Westerly and The Sea Below.


So I think the only fair thing to do is to call it a draw and say that they both deserve to be in the shop!  The next step is to do a few more test runs and make sure that the recipe that worked for the first skein will produce consistent results for future skeins.  One that’s done, you can look for them to appear in the shop over the next couple of weeks!

She Likes Winter, Snow, and Ice: Shop Update

Megan was thinking of a cardigan, something simple, with a crew neck… maybe with snowflakes.  The kind of go-to cardigan that could keep her warm and cosy all winter long.  She was excited to get it on her needles, and asked me to dye the colours of Frost.

It would have white, of course, and a soft silver grey, and…  and… ah yes, that lovely cool blue of winter shadows.  I couldn’t wait to get started!

The key was getting the balance right: the amount of white to blue to grey, and the intensity of the colours.  Frost can be soft and light, or it can hard and crisp; sparkling bright in the sun, or shadowy and blue.   I wanted to make sure that Megan got the Frost that she had in her mind, so I dyed it twice and let her choose.

This is Megan’s Frost:

I loved pulling the yarns out of the dyepot, seeing how the colours came together.  But, better than that, Megan loved the colours — she said her yarn was exactly what she was hoping for.  And I can tell you that nothing is so nice for a dyer to hear!

The silver-grey Frost and more skeins of the shadowy-blue Megan’s Frost are in the SpaceCadet’s shop.

Maybe I’ll Become a Cook

Sometimes it’s good to push yourself outside your comfort zone.  And if it works, it’s such a boost to the ego!  And when it doesn’t…  well…

Well, indeed.  Last week I pushed myself right out of my comfort zone and straight into yellow.  I don’t do yellow a great deal — it’s just never been a personal favourite of mine.  But yellow is a great colour — sunny and bright, and filled with warmth.  It was time to tackle yellow.

And, while I was pushing outside my comfort zone, I decided to shake things up even more by trying a new dyeing technique.  It was something I’d never tried before — indeed, I’d never even seen it done before — and I got excited about it as soon as I thought of it.  The technique would create very short bursts of colour — just one, two, maybe three knit stiches long — and unusual blends of shades.  I couldn’t wait to try it.

And so I took a deep breath and mixed up my yellows…  and in went the yarn.

And what came out did not thrill me.  The yellows were beautiful, but The Technique had not worked the way I had expected at all.  The short bursts of colour were there, but were much more ragged at the edges than I had hoped, and the shading was simply too haphazard for my tastes.  I pursed my lips and shrugged…  Chalk it up to a learning experience and be done with it, I thought.

“I like them!  They’re interesting.  They’re… earthy!”  Turning these yarns over in her hands, my friend clearly saw something in them that I hadn’t spotted at first.  And she was right.  The shades are earthy, and the colour changes aren’t ragged as I first thought, they’re organic.  And the yarns, I suddenly realised, are beautiful.  Even if they weren’t what I was expecting and are completely outside my comfort zone.

So here they are!

The idea behind this one started as Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, but when it finally dried, I realised it makes me think so much more of Sunflowers, of their lovely golden yellow petals and dark seed-centers, of the earth they sprout from and the sun that nourishes them…

And this one… this one…  I am trying to think of a good name for it, but time and again, all I see is Pasta in a Garlic Pesto.  Even though the colours are exact, no matter which way I turn it, no matter how I look at it, that’s the only thing that comes to mind.

You know, if this dyeing gig doesn’t work out, maybe I could become a cook…

Dyeing Disaster, Last Minute Save

This yarn was a dyeing disaster.  I was aiming for Garden In Spring, one of my favourite colourways, and the colour just went all wrong on me.  I pulled it out of the dyepot and… Oh no! The pinks were crazy-bright, the greens were just plain ugly, and the purples totally non-existent.  I have a picture of it…  I can’t even show it to you, it was that awful.  It was embarrassing.

I set it aside and decided not to think about it for a few days.

When I finally went back to it and turned it over in my hands (cringing, cringing the whole time), I realised what I wanted to do with it.  I thought I knew the shade that would salvage it.  I mixed my colours and in went the yarn.  And a little while later, this is what I lifted out…

I had hoped to salvage it — instead, it has been saved.  It came out so much better than I could have hoped!

There’s one skein in Astrid DK and one in Celeste Fingering weight.  And now I just have to decide if they go in the shop or…  if I keep them for myself!!!  I may have to think about this for a spell.

Boy oh boy, it is soooo tempting…