When you see a nice handmade sweater, you know it took a while to make.
The knitting or crocheting is just part of it. (A fun online calculator at www.lovecrafts.com estimates how long anything from a basic scarf to a blanket, baby booties or patterned garment would take you; figure on 20 to 80 hours.)
Before that, however, there are those who make the yarns. Indie craftspeople are doing new things with wool and other fibers, including recycled plastic, as well as with dyes.
Samantha Myrhe, owner of RavensWood Fibre Co. in Nova Scotia, Canada, began a dozen years ago with a few sheep, and her third generation of lambs was shorn this fall. She sells her yarns online and at local markets, and gives her original dyes original names, like Sea Glass, a blend of dreamy water hues; Fireflies, with starry, night sky colors; and Autumn Drive, evoking a ride through a fall forest.
“Dyeing is chemistry,” she says. “Although the process we use is a simple, heat-and-acid-vinegar process to set the colors, the chemistry behind it involves the binding of a color molecule to a wool molecule. More or less molecules, more or less intense color.”
She found that using water from the local municipal system created unpredictable colors, so she turned to well water instead. Still, there’s an element of chance: more rain means more minerals in the water. “More minerals mean my reds may be more orange, my blacks break and go to gold. It’s crazy,” she says.
Myrhe has a good group of reliable, “stable” colors, but also what the indie dye world refers to as OOAKs: One of a Kinds.
“The magic of what the dye gods give me that day,” she says.
Different fibers take dye in different ways. Alpaca hues tends toward pastel, as it doesn’t absorb as much color. Nylon and silk soak up dye, and when blended with merino wool, give beautiful color depth.
Some dyers are exploring other types of wool, including yak, cashmere, and Australian Polwarth sheep, which has a strong, silky character good for many woven projects.
Wool gets high marks for sustainability; as the International Wool Textile Organization notes, it’s renewable, biodegradable and recyclable. Around the world, many farms, studios and workshops are producing yarns and other textile products using techniques with a gentle environmental impact, including recycling water and using few if any additives.
Britt-Marie Alm, who runs Love Fest Fibers in San Francisco, offers small-batch yarns sourced from sustainably operated workshops on the West Coast, Nepal and …….