back to the beginning

at the start of 2017, Old Maiden Aunt marked a huge milestone – ten years in business, celebrated with the publication of my first ever book.  and the realisation that i’d really been doing this for that long came as a bit of a shock – when you quietly work away at something day after day, you don’t always notice the time passing.  and when it becomes as much a part of your life as OMA has become of mine, it’s easy to forget just how much time you’ve spent doing it.

like any skill or craft, the longer you spend working on something, the better you get at it – i feel pretty confident now in my dyeing, and am usually fairly certain how i can get a specific result or colourway to come out.  however, the reverse can also be true – sometimes you focus so much on one technique or one way of working that you forget that there might be other paths to explore or other ways to approach your craft.  and it’s a tricky thing to balance, especially when your craft is also your business – i know which colourways are successful sellers, and exactly how to make them, so spending time trying other things that may not be successful is hard to justify when there’s rent/mortgage/bills to pay.

recently, however, things have gotten a bit tricky.  the dyeing technique i’ve used since the beginning (kettle-dyeing to build up mutiple layers of colour) involves a lot of water, a lot of very large pots, and a LOT of heavy lifting.  and after ten years of lifting heavy pots over & over, day after day, suffice it to say my back is not very happy with me.  and over the past year or so, it’s been making its unhappiness known in the strongest terms!!

not only do i love what i do, i depend on it for a living.  and i want to be able to keep doing it, and keep loving it, for at least another ten years (& hopefully more!).  but it’s becoming obvious that my current way of working just isn’t sustainable long-term, and i need to start exploring different ways of dyeing yarn that will be kinder to my back.


so, i’ve had to go back to the beginning, and start re-learning how to dye. over the past couple of weeks, i’ve been working on a couple of new colourways using low-water immersion dyeing – which is exactly what it sounds like; the yarn is dyed in a shallow, wide pan with considerably less water (& far less weight to lift!) which long-term, will be much easier for me to do day-to-day. low-water immersion dyeing uses roughly 4-6L of water per batch; my standard kettle-dyeing pot easily uses more than twice that, and the larger pots i use for bigger batches probably three times as much. & while i re-use water as much as i can, that’s not just a lot of weight to carry, but a LOT of water being used that could be reduced. you can see the difference in the photo above – my normal kettle-dyeing pot is on the left, and the low-water immersion pot is on the right.

the new colourway “like a hummingbird” has been dyed using this method, and i’m really happy with the results (& since the first couple of batches have already sold out, i think others might be happy with it as well!). but here’s the problem – the less water you use for dyeing, the less the dye can penetrate fully throughout the skein of yarn. and while that works really well for some types of colourways, i’m not sure how well it will work for a lot of my current range of colourways. kettle-dyeing allows the yarn room to move around, which means the dye can get through the skein more fully, and give a tone-on-tone or subtly variegated effect (which is what you can see in most of the colourways in my range).

like a hummingbird

over the next couple of months, i’ll be working my way through most of the colourways in my current range, and trying to figure out which of them i can translate into this new technique. i’m hopeful that i’ll still be able to reproduce most of my core colourways; i do have plans to discontinue some less-popular colourways already as i have a few new colourways i’d like to introduce (and as much as i’d like to keep dyeing ALL THE COLOURS, it’s really not feasible to keep expanding my range indefinitely!) but that won’t be happening immediately, and definitely not without warning!

it’s quite a scary prospect to make changes to how i work after such a long time using the same technique. i hope that enough of you can stick with me – i know that i’m known for doing a certain type of colour, and i really hope changing the way i work doesn’t lose me customers! but long-term, i would much rather be able to continue to work doing what i love – even if it’s been modified slightly – than to try and continue working as i am and ending up unable to do it in a few years.

you can find “like a hummingbird” in the web shop – i’ll be working on getting it dyed up on more bases, but for now it’s just on the merino sock. & here’s a sneaky peek at the next new colourway (more on that soon….)

fully completely

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