Kate Burge and Rachel Price are BFFs, real longtime besties—they used to ride their bikes to the Bellingham, Washington farmer’s market and sell their hand-dyed and handspun yarns. Now they have families, a yarn mill, wholesale and retail operations, and a giant, passionate following of knitters who love the colorful yarns of Spincycle.
When I teach, knitters have questions about Spincycle yarns, and Rachel was kind enough to answer them for me. Of course, I have a few thoughts of my own too.
RACHEL AND KATE twinning in Andrea Mowry’s Illuminate (which would be fantastic in Dyed in the Wool paired with Felted Tweed)
Jillian: How do you choose colorways?
Rachel: Once you start dyeing, it’s hard not to see color inspiration everywhere. Seriously, sometimes it’s exhausting! My phone is FULL of weird closeups of things, or pics of strangers wearing the most fantastic color combinations, or screenshots from movies (Wes Anderson, omg) or design blogs.
We have five dyers on staff now: Kate, Micah, and I are primarily in charge of new colorway development, but even our two junior dyers, Andy and Maya, see new things in the old recipes they are in charge of. If you are a diehard Spincycle follower, you’ve noticed that some of our colorways have evolved over time. So much of what we do in the dye house is really creative, personal work—aesthetic trends and personal preferences and even our moods on a given day come out in each colorway.
From left to right: Dyed in the Wool Rusted Rainbow and Family Jewels; Dream State Ghost Ranch
What is the dyed-in-the-wool process and how is it different from dyeing finished yarn?
With a dyed-in-the-wool yarn, we are quite literally dyeing combed wool that will later be spun into yarn. This is a pretty common way to dye wool for handspinning, which is how we got our start and why we developed the millspun yarn that we did, but it is an extremely fussy process compared to a “normal” mill.
So why do we make our lives so hard? Well, a few reasons. First off, we are not going for a nice, solid, evenly dyed skein of yarn. We love a slow color change, unpredictable and surprising color blends, and a thoroughly saturated strand of fiber. With kettle dyeing the wool before spinning, the color permeates all of the wool, so you don’t have to worry about the color rubbing off or fading with wear.
On the left is a sock yarn that was dyed after it was spun. The color doesn’t permeate the yarn in the same way as a dyed in the wool yarn. On the right is a dyed braid for spinning. Spincycle dyes their fiber first then spins it. The color is rich in a different way with this method, and the colors often blend in the spinning, giving the colors layers and depth.
How do you get your yarn to look like a mixed-up yarn version of confetti?
Well, I’m not going to give away all the secrets here, but we have been doing this for 18 years, so we’ve gotten pretty good at controlling the intensity of the color, as well as how much or how little the colors mix and blend. A few of our colorways only have two or three colors layered in, and a few have as many as eight, but most are somewhere in the middle. The more colors, the more unpredictable blends we get, which is why some of our colorways have a VERY wide range of variance. We also have a very specific way of layering on the color so that, in theory, each skein of yarn gets a good distribution of all the colors in that colorway.
As much as the magic happens in the dye pots, we have to also give it up for the random chaos of the plying process. We don’t micromanage the two or three bobbins that are feeding the ply side of the spinning frames for each skein, so the way that the colors meet up and part ways adds a lot to the uniqueness of each yarn! Sometimes we get those unicorn skeins where the colors in the ply match up all the way down the whole skein, and sometimes it’s just contrast, contrast, contrast all the way through!
These swatches are both Dyed in the Wool.
Dyed in the Wool is a 2-ply yarn (two plies of different colors), and Dream State is a 3-ply yarn (three plies of different colors). They have all of the knitting properties of solid color 2- and 3-ply yarns, with the addition of color. Need a ply reminder? Check out The Why of Ply.
What advice do you have for knitters on combining different colorways?
That’s a good question, and a tough one! When in doubt, I usually go with higher contrast between two yarns in the same project. There’s nothing worse than doing a lot of color work, just to realize that your motif is fading into the background! That said, with a motif that is easy for the eyes to follow and predict, like stripes or a repetitive geometric pattern, you can get away with lower contrast colorways. Beyond that, I just go with colors that I know make me feel happy and/or confident, with a definite consideration towards colors that complement the clothes that I have!
I used Dyed in the Wool Rusted Rainbow, and Family Jewels for this geometric slip stitch pattern. The colors are complementary—they are across from each other on a color wheel—so they have the highest color contrast. These colors also have contrast in value (light to dark) so they won’t fade into each other.
I use the same idea when I mix a Spincycle yarn with another yarn. Here’s Dream State Ghost Ranch in a slip stitch pattern with Atlas in Truffle. I relied on the contrast in value (light to dark) using a dark solid color to get the Spincycle to pop.
I have two pieces of advice from my own knitting when using Spincycle yarns.
Make sure to swatch when using an intricate stitch pattern. Some texture patterns and lace don’t play well with some of the Spincycle colors. I knit this simple lace swatch in Ghost Ranch, and I can’t really see the pattern.
And enjoy the process, especially when combining Spincycle colors. It’s the best kind of knitting adventure. You won’t be able to put your knitting down, watching the colors shift and combine.