Old Maiden Aunt Yarns

Studio 30. Ritchie Street. West Kilbride. KA23 9AL. Scotland. info@oldmaidenaunt.com

the yarn factory

i don’t know about you, but until i started doing this full time, i have to admit i had a bit of an idealised notion about the life of a yarn-dyer (or anyone who does “craft” as a job, probably!). as Karie discussed a couple of weeks ago, the rise of craft bloggers and spaces like Pinterest has led to a very carefully curated image of the world of craft – it seems that (on the internet, at least) we all waft about gently in organic linen dresses, occasionally dabbing bits of colour on ethically-sourced wool, and spend the rest of our time knitting & taking pictures of flowers. in reality, and this month especially, i’ve mostly been singlehandedly running a yarn factory.

one day's worth of yarn dyeing!

one day’s worth of yarn dyeing!

earlier this month, the marvellous Kate Davies released a beautiful new shawl pattern featuring my luxurious alpaca/silk/cashmere 4ply yarn, and the response to the yarn & pattern has been overwhelming. i’d learned a lesson from Kate’s last pattern release using my yarn, and made sure i had loads of dyed (& undyed!) yarn in stock this time around – and still, the demand far outstripped my supply!!

providing yarn support for designers is always a bit of a guessing game – it can be hard to predict what makes a pattern a “hit”. and even if you know a pattern is going to be big, it doesn’t always follow that people will want to make it in the recommended yarn, or even the suggested colourway. as a dyer, it’s a tricky thing to balance – do i dye tons of the yarn in advance, and risk that this time around, everyone decides to knit from stash, and i’m left with yarn that i’ve paid for up front that may or may not sell eventually? or do i wait until the pattern release and dye according to demand, which sometimes means that customers are left frustrated & waiting for ages for yarn to be ready? the approach i usually go for is something in the middle – make sure my stock levels are good, and make sure i’ve set aside some time to re-dye any colourways that go out of stock as quickly as i can.

of course, the best laid plans and all that – as with my non-work life, there are always interruptions, disruptions, and complications. extra work comes in that also need to be done within a certain timeline (in this case, an unexpected wholesale order from the lovely Loop!); other life things need to be slotted in here & there as well (laundry, dentist, walking the dog). there’s also a lot of things to juggle – each skein of yarn has to be prepped, soaked, dyed, rinsed, dried, photographed, skeined, labelled, and added to the web shop; there’s also emails to answer, orders to pack & label, and many (many!) trips to the post office. these things all take their own time, which takes away from the time spent actually producing the product that i sell.

dye pot

and then there’s the physical effort involved in yarn-dyeing. the photo above shows one of my dyepots (i’ve included my bosom for scale, & my bosom is Not Small). filled to the brim with a batch of yarn, water, & dye, it weighs roughly 20-25kg. & during busy periods, i’m dyeing 25-30 batches of yarn a day – that means deadlifting this weight easily over a hundred times a day (from sink to burner & burner to sink; lifting the yarn out to add the next layer of colour to the pot, possibly multiple times; rinsing the dyed yarn; hanging the wet yarn to dry). this month alone, i’ve probably dyed somewhere between 400-600 skeins of yarn. add to that the extra layer of creative exhaustion that comes from making the same thing over & over (& over!) again, and suffice it to say, it gets pretty tiring.

please don’t get me wrong – it’s an amazing & astounding thing that so many people want to buy what i make. when i first started doing this, i would never have believed you if you had told me this was what my business would become. (i probably wouldn’t have believed you if you had told me i’d be doing this as a business, but that’s another story!). but in this world of carefully curated craft blogs, it’s easy to forget that behind each business is often just one person, doing most or all of the hard work themselves.

it’s true, i do get to spend my days putting lovely colours onto lovely wools, but there’s not so much wafting about – it’s pretty arm-aching, back-breaking labour. and i do own at least one linen dress, but it’s often splattered with dye & damp with sweat. and yesterday’s instagram photo was of lovely flowers, but they were pinched from someone else’s garden!! although this is hands down the best job i’ve ever had, it is definitely a JOB, and this month in particular, it’s been quite hard work.

holiday relaxing

so this weekend, instead of being in the studio, i’ll be here – i’m heading down to yorkshire for a well-earned weekend break with friends, where i plan to waft about, drink wine, knit, and take pictures of flowers….

(i’m away for a long weekend, so the studio will be closed friday 29th & saturday 30th may – any online orders will be posted out when i’m back on monday!).


5 Responses so far.

  1. Claire says:

    Have a lovely (and well-deserved) break Lilith!

  2. skeinqueen says:

    I hear you, lady. Enjoy your break!

  3. skeindalous says:

    May I say that all that work and toil and labor produces something that brings great pleasure to many, many people! Thank you.

  4. […] colour Lilith achieves is really quite remarkable and she wrote about what goes into this process here. I’m aware that I’m gushing a bit here so feel I should declare that I bought this […]

  5. Susan says:

    So impressive and beautiful. I would love to know what type of heating element you are using? The size is perfect.

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