What Makes An Indie Dyer?

I have had to have a long, hard think about this topic, since the purpose of this blog is essentially yarn reviews with a focus on independent dyers. There are loads of options, suggestions, criteria, but in the end – I needed to come up with my own checklist in order to be able to say what yarns I’ll write on, and what I won’t (and that isn’t to say I won’t do commercial yarns periodically, especially ones that might not be on everyone’s radar, but the focus of this will be indie dyers).

So, what are my operating criteria?

The yarns are not dyed in a mill dye vat, but by hand in small ( <10 skeins at a time) batches.  Commercial mills use different processes to dye their yarn which allow for incredibly similar dye lots over hundreds, if not thousands, of dye lots. Yes, there will be variation – but an independent dyer does not have access to the same level of facilities and machinery that a commercial dyer has. Most independent dyers either hand-paint each skein individually, or a kettle-dyed batch is somewhere between two and five skeins.

The dyer produces smaller batches of yarn in general than a commercial facility can. Whether it’s a dyer who works from his/her home and spends all day every day dyeing in order to do sell it on weekly website updates, or who sells at trunk shows or fiber fests or some skeins to their local yarn store, or someone who dyes on the weekends – they can’t produce the thousands of skeins of evenly-dyed charcoal grey yarn needed to stock a chain of craft stores.

The dyer does not own the flocks and mill the wool themselves. There are some individuals who work with mills to have yarns custom-spun, or custom-dyed, for them (such as Kate Davies’ Buachaille and Millarochy Tweed, and Daughter of a Shepherd’s yarns) but the yarns are still milled and dyed in commercial vats. At this stage of the blog (and my thoughts), I am not sure what I would call Kate Davies or Daughter of a Shepherd: small-scale custom lines, maybe? And this is a criterion I am struggling with.

The size of the operation is really hard to pin down, but it needs to be on the smaller end. I can’t say “family-owned” because companies like Lion Brand, and Malabrigo, are family-owned and are very commercial; companies like Sweet Georgia Yarns and Madelinetosh – while they have global stockists – are still checking in at low numbers of employees. As with any company, finding out solid employee numbers is hard. I want to include the one man dyeing yarn in his garage, as well as the person who has a couple friends to help package and mail the envelopes.

Then, there is one criterion I am working on expressing, but I don’t have it clear and concise yet. I think there needs to be one – or at most, two – brains behind the colourways. At more than  two people, you’ve got a group of independent dyers, but they all have to fit the same “vision” for a dye studio’s colourways and ideas. If I look at two skeins from two different dyers, I should be able to tell they come from two different people’s ideas. If they are two different solid reds, I’ll still have an idea of what “red” means to A, and what “red” means to B. Too many dyers means a group – and if one of them is beholden to another one to “approve” everything, I think this is the point at which the idea of “independent” – “I work without anyone else’s approval but my own” – disappears.

Are there any special criteria you have for an indie dyer? Is an indie dyer only one person, dyeing out of their garage? At what point do you consider a dyer commercial?


Written: January 28, 2018 – because I probably will revisit this idea over time as my thoughts develop!

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I've bounced around the world as tourist, exchange student, and now with a spouse visa in my passport. I've flirted with over a dozen languages, having longer and more intense affairs with some, and long-term relationships with a handful, even today. I have studied linguistics, history, and anthropology, worked in the fields of international relocation, cross-cultural training, and teaching ESL/EFL. Currently I do consultant work as an EFL teacher and as a proofreader/editor.

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