Brewing Up a Batch of Custom Hand-Dyed Wool
I was standing in Maggie Casey’s shop, Shuttles, Spindles & Skeins, when she handed me a braid of hand-dyed wool with a tag that read “The Hummingbird Moon.” I gave her a skeptical look. The braid was a riot of color, completely unrestrained in its palette. It included true, bright colors, blotches of black, and patches of white. At first glance, it looked like the epitome of “clown barf.”
Maggie shook her head. “But look,” she said, handing me a skein of two-ply handspun. The skein had distinct flecks of color that came together in a harmonious colorway, free of the muddy look that disappoints many of us who fall in love with hand-dyed top. Self-taught dyer Michele DiPrima has developed her own methods of applying color to fiber and yarn, and the resulting handspun yarn looked nothing like I expected.
The spinning group at Shuttles worked with Michele on a custom colorway, which they spun as part of their annual challenge for 2017 (see “Challenge Accepted!” by Maggie Casey, Spin Off, Summer 2017). Each of the dozens of handspun, handknitted, or handwoven projects used the hand-dyed wool in a different way, all of them spectacular. I’ve never seen such uniformly beautiful results from such different uses of the same handpainted fiber or yarn. Subtle or bold, they all looked great.
Spin Off decided to get in on the action, too, and we worked with Michele to develop our own exclusive custom colorway called Bubbling Brew. “Creating special colorways is one of my most favorite things to do,” says Michele. Assistant Editor Elizabeth Prose and I got the chance to sample some, and here’s what we discovered.
SMALL BURSTS OF COLOR
Many dyers apply color in bands several inches long. On a short fiber, that band can cover many drafting lengths. However, Michele often applies her dye in spots less than 1/2″, so every draft of the fiber pulls forward two or more colors. Similar to speckle yarns, the small areas of color keep individual colors distinct, not muddy.
I very rarely see hand-dyed wool with intentional areas of white. Instead of soaking the dye into every strand of fiber, Michele allows space between her dyes, which lightens the overall effect and prevents muddiness where dyes touch each other. “I think the white tends to tame down the craziness sometimes,” she says.
Michele’s choice of superwash BFL and superwash Targhee as her fiber bases complements her dyeing style. “BFL and Targhee are my most favorite wools to spin, and when I found superwash in those breeds, I knew that those fibers would dye up so beautifully,” Michele says. “Superwash just sucks in that dye; you get these bright colors, and that’s what I really wanted.”
The colorway that The Hummingbird Moon designed for Spin Off is dyed on a base of U.S.-grown Targhee. Crimpy, springy, and lofty, Targhee has come into its own recently as a fiber for handspinners (though I hadn’t seen a superwash variety before). The Targhee wool used here is organic, with a micron count between 22 and 25 and a staple length of 3 to 5 inches.
Featured Image: Bubbling Brew undergoes a magical transformation from super bright to harmonious. Photos by George Boe