Our hand-dyeing process


We aim to be transparent about our business and processes

If you would like information on anything not covered below, get in touch.

Low-impact dyeing process

We have developed our dyeing process specifically to minimise the water, energy and chemical footprint of our hand-dyed yarn. As such, our techniques are unusual, and lend themselves to the distinctive styles that we are know for. Other styles, like very flat solids, and fibres like untreated wools are not suited to our processes so we tend to avoid these.

Soaking

Prior to dyeing, yarn and fibre is soaked in a warm water to help it absorb dye evenly. Soak water is re-used throughout the day.

Applying dye

We use a number of different colour techniques, often in combination to create our more complex colourways. Information about how to reproduce our different colour effects at home can be found in our publication Little Book of Yarn Dyeing.

  • Hot-pour: Beakers of hot dye solution are poured only soaked yarn in trays, creating a mottled effect. We use an industrial kettle to heat water efficiently, and to a consistent temperature which helps us achieve consistency between batches.
  • Dip dye: Sections of yarn are dipped in buckets of hot dye solution for a seconds or minutes, creating variegated effects. Up to 24 skeins are dyed in the same batch using just 3-4 litres of water per colour.
  • Immersion dye: Skeins are fully immersed in larger buckets of warm dye bath for up to an hour for semi-solid colours. Water is re-used several for further batches by adding more dye.
  • Speckling: Small amounts of dye powder are sprinkled directly onto soaked yarn.

Fixing

A temperature of (85-100°C) is required to fix the dye to wool and other protein-based fibres.

  • Steam-fixing: We steam-fix the vast majority of our yarn using an electric commercial kitchen steamer. Steaming is extremely efficient – only 3-5 litres of water are heated and this is reused for dozens of batches before the steamer needs to be cleaned. Because the temperature of steam is higher than that of boiling water, steaming takes just 15 minutes and we have found it to be the most reliable method of fixing.
  • Boiling: Boiling uses more energy and water (minimum 1 litre per skein) than steaming so we only use this method to achieve dark/deep colours on Alpaca, which requires prolonged heat heat to maximise dye absorption.

Rinsing

Yarn is rinsed in cold water to remove citric acid and any residual traces of dye. We check the pH of our rinse water and reuse it if it is still around neutral.

Drying

An efficient gravity spin drying is used to remove the majority of water from the yarn. Yarn is then air-dried naturally, we do not use powered dryers.

Dye chemicals

Dyes

The majority of our dyeing is done with ‘Procion MX’ brand reactive dyes. Reactive dyes are intended for cellulose fibres but also work well on wool and silk. We choose these dyes over more popular acid dyes because they are non-toxic (many popular acid dye colours, especially blues and blacks, contain heavy metals like chromium and are actually very toxic), and we have found reactive dyes to offer better colour fastness on wool. For more information about the chemical processes involved in dyeing, please see this detailed explanation of dye chemistry.

We use two acid dye pigments for our neon colours. Both are non-toxic and have other uses as colourants for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, household cleaning products as well as being used as environmental tracer dyes in waterways.

Auxiliary chemicals

  • Citric acid: We use food-grade citric acid to create the acidic environment necessary to fix reactive pigments to protein fibres.
  • White vinegar (acetic acid): Sometimes used instead of citric acid.
  • Common salt (sodium chloride): Salt is a ‘levelling agent’ or ‘retarding agent’ often used to slow the absorption of dye to create flat, even colour. Although a common household chemical, in larger amounts salt in waste water can cause environmental problems. For this reason, we don’t really dye solid colours and rarely use salt in our dyeing process.
  • Fibre lubricant: A bit like fabric conditioner, we sometimes use fibre lubricant to protect delicate fibres (like baby alpaca) during the dyeing process.
  • Urea: Urea is an organically-occurring, non-toxic chemical that is highly soluble in water. We use it in small quantities to help dissolve certain pigments, especially yellows, which are not as soluble as other colours.

Consumables

There are no single-use consumables in our dyeing studio. We do not use plastic wrap (cling film/saran wrap) in our fixing process. Protective equipment, like gloves and masks, has a natural lifespan, but these are the only items we dispose of into landfill.