One might think that the hardest part of being a natural dyer is, well… the actual dyeing. (I welcome any and all puns on the subject, though I defy you to come up with one I haven’t heard before.) But really, although it requires a lot of set up and some careful monitoring, dyeing is a fairly hands-off process with a lot of waiting around. I set it up, the I ignore it for several hours or a day.
There are several more time- and energy-intensive tasks in natural dyeing, and as much as I am theoretically enchanted by tedious manual labor, after a year of doing this, a few things are starting to get a little old. And besides, automation isn’t so bad as a replacement for handiwork…. if you make up the automation yourself. (It is also particularly handy if your husband is an engineer and your dad a mechanical designer.)
For example, I’m not sure if mom had any help thinking this up, but she started using a simple siphon to drain the bean water off her soaking beans. This is going to save me hours of scooping water by hand. Simply by positioning the end of the siphon right above the beans, we can get all the good water off the beans and none of the nasty grey water full of dye-dulling proteins.
Homeschooling four children over a span of 17 or so years means that plastic tubing from chemistry experiments might just be lying around your house.
Even more tedious and irritating than hours of messy bean-water scooping is that task that I do out of uprightness and a powerful affection for my customers: reskeining.
What is reskeining, you may ask? Well, when a dyer dyes yarn different colors, they do so by putting different parts of the skein in different colors. This results in the dyed skein looking like this:
Which is lovely, and might make you want to buy it – but it does not give you an accurate indication of how the yarn will actually knit up. To give you a more accurate idea, I wind each skein from one swift to a swift of a different circumference, which remakes the skein with all the colors blended together.
This gives you a much more accurate idea of what the color balance will actually be, and sometimes it that balance is very unexpected. And so far, I have been doing this all entirely by hand, meaning hours upon hours of work and very, very sore arms. Do you see how much I love you??
But after we moved, I couldn’t find my second swift. After literal hours of digging through every possible swift-shaped crevice in or around my house, I gave up in exasperation. But when we went home for twin-visiting, we had a decent amount of downtime at my parents house. My parents have K’nex. Lots of them. Do you remember K’nex? They’re like Legos, but useful for making actual things. Anyway, add a K’nex motor, two determined dyers, two engineers, and a lot of free time, and you get:
A motorized swift.
Its conveniently cruciform shape lends stability, and adds an arm for holding the yarn at a workable height. Reskeining a 480-yard skein of sock yarn, which used to take 10 minutes and leave my right arm really sore, now takes about 6 minutes of sitting and watching.
Fwoosh. If you can’t tell, we’re really proud of ourselves.