Inspiration: Elspeth Darling Weiss
Not long ago my daughter, Ellie- a Business Major focusing on sustainability and management, came home from college and told me I’d have to stop wearing black, she informed me that the dye process is terrible for the environment. I am decidedly not a Luddite, however she got me to thinking- I am mindful of what I put into my body, how can I do better about what I put on my body? Building on a long fascination of dyeing things with plants and food waste (it started with Easter Eggs and red onions!), I was amazed with the colors I could get from plants- simply beautiful. Pairing them with gorgeous bases is a joy. Plant based dyeing was not going to be a sacrifice, it was proving to be a enjoyable journey that I could not wait to expand. I decided to open The Darling Yarn Company, Ltd.
To get it right: I first set about identifying the best colorfast and lightfast plant dyes for wool and alpaca yarn. To do this I wanted the best yarn bases to work with. My yarns are sourced from suppliers who not only create an even, well spun base with few joins (if any), but also put a premium on sustainability and fairtrade. So with my yarn and my dye stuff in hand, I applied what I knew. As I went along I checked in on the internet to find what others may be using and I read a lot including Jenny Dean (the foremost plant dye expert). Trial and error came next (error- you really cannot dye well with turmeric, really). I dyed samples, dyed more samples, left them in sunny windows for weeks and months on end. I had friends test knit different bases. I put the yarns through a washing machine with regular detergent and regular wash cycles several times and I chose what dyes stayed put. (By the way, I do not recommend doing this to your finished pieces). I am able to answer the concern most raised, “don’t plant dyes just wash out?”. In short, NO! Remember people have been dyeing with plant dyes for thousands and thousands of years. There are many great options for colorfast and lightfast plant based dyes that provide a big variety of bright colors, soft muted colors including wonderful grays and golds (my favorites). I found these gorgeous color right outside my door (and in my pantry) and half a world away.
The process: Each dye I use is extracted using non toxic methods. I extract some of the dyes myself, others I purchase from companies that practice sustainable methods and support small producers. In fact I was thrilled to find a plant dye extract producer in Seattle that also makes available a great library of knowledge for tried and true methods to use natural dyes. Additionally, to protect my own health and because I want everything that goes down my drains to be safe, non-toxic and meet the safety guidelines for my state, I use food grade mordants and non toxic additives. This is very important to me, this is why I started dyeing with plants to begin with. My dye stuff includes madder root, marigold, hibiscus, avocados, logwood, daffodils, onion skins, rhubarb, fustic, ivy, acorns, walnuts, goldenrod and indigo. I kettle dye in my small workshop in my garage and use a variety of methods to get beautiful colors that you will enjoy working with. The yarn is thoroughly washed once dyed and cured, however, some skeins may have a little plant debris left behind, just remove as you knit. Some dyed skeins will appear more solid, while for others I take full advantage of using the kettle and allow for more variegated saturation. Skeins are completed in batches of about 5 and can be mixed within dye lots. However, each skein is One of a Kind (OOAK) for your OOAK project. The Darling Yarn Company plant dyed yarns are exclusively available at The Artful Yarn in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.