Monday, September 27, 2010

Color Me Impressed

It’s been a wonderful tour. I’m waiting for my flight home (via Los Angeles) from cozy, foggy Eureka and so have a little time to tell you about an unexpected and delightful adventure last week in Washington during the Men’s Fall Knitting Retreat.


WonderMike, host of the popular Fiber Beat podcast, is the driving force behind the gathering; and one of his many strengths is finding unique outings for us. Last year, we visited the Moonshadow Alpaca Ranch in Auburn. This year, he arranged for us to try our hands at indigo dyeing at Earthues in the Ballard section of town.

Now, I have a confession to make. I went to Earthues with only the mildest curiosity about what I might see. I love to knit, obviously. I enjoy spinning, when I can get to it. But though dyeing seemed interesting in theory–I certainly have enjoyed my visits to Lorna’s Laces and admire my friend Carol’s work at Black Bunny Fibers–I had very little desire to get my own fingers into the pot.

We were advised to bring along fiber to dip, so at the last minute I casually tossed a few odd hanks of blah stash wool into the suitcase. Word was that the neighborhood around Earthues is full of interesting shops, and I figured I could prowl through them if the dye studio turned out to be a snorefest.

Once through the door, it took all of fifteen seconds for me to lose my mind and begin fantasizing about planting a guerilla dye garden in the park near my apartment.


Calling Earthues a dye studio is like calling Disneyland a kiddie pool. The company was founded by Michele Wipplinger, a visionary dyer with almost a quarter-century of experience, as a home base for her mission of promoting and supporting the worldwide use of natural dyes.

There is a retail space (as of this writing, open Monday–Friday from 1o am to 5 pm), gorgeous and beautifully stocked with naturally-dyed fiber products from around the world, including a selection of yarns and beautifully printed cottons in fat quarters. They also offer gift items, objéts d’arts, and even some notions–I lucked into a beautifully carved wooden needle case and crochet hook I’ll photograph when I get home.



Beautiful light and sources of inspiration are everywhere.




We spent most of our time in the educational area with Michele’s passionate, charismatic business partner, Kathy Hattori. While Michele travels a great deal to consult and teach, Kathy keeps things buzzing in Washington State–managing the shop, fulfilling commissions, teaching classes, and–during our visit–deftly guiding 30 guy knitters through the ABCs of natural dye in one short afternoon.


I learned a lot in a hurry, including that indigo (above) looks a lot like basil and marigolds (a flower I have always detested) produce a lovely yellow dye.

It was like finding out the smelly, annoying kid across the street is secretly a concert violinist.

After our introduction, we moved into the yard where four big pots of indigo awaited. Since this was, of course, a group of guys, we were interested (and perhaps slightly disappointed) to hear that our own indigo experience would not require the use of pee.

One by one, we dipped and watched as our yarns turned from white


to green


to blue.


At the end of the day I had two skeins of yarn and one shin that were dyed several exceedingly fetching shades of deeps blue.

My assumptions that the natural palette would be limited, muddy and fugitive turned out to be utterly incorrect. Turns out you can, in fact, make brilliant and lightfast colors without recourse to petrochemicals; nor does Earthues use heavy metal mordants of any kind.



I was so impressed I went back later in the week on a free afternoon to hang out with Kathy some more. When I told her about my budding interest in quilting she showed me a fascinating project undertaken a few years back by another dyer at the shop. She had subjected a rather insipid selection of quilting cottons to systematic overdyeing in a series of natural hues.


The word "magic" is as overused these days as Lindsay Lohan's prescription drug plan, but it's the only word that seems appropriate.

Since my dream of of planting an indigo patch is likely to remain a dream, I was particularly interested to learn that in the 1990s Michele pioneered extract forms of natural dyes; they allow you to play with the process even if you aren’t ready to grind your own cochineal bugs or grow your own woad. Earthues sells the extracts in little kits and pots, and I know with fatal certainty that I’m going to have to try them out. Happily, they already sell some products online and there are plans to expand the range of Web site offerings in the near future.

If you find yourself in the Seattle area, for goodness' sake head over the Ballard Bridge (the Number 17 bus will take you there from downtown) and knock on the door at Earthues. If you care about fiber in any form, you really ought not to miss it.


Julie Kwiatkowski Schuler said...

Oh how wonderful! I always assumed natural dyes would be more in the "dirt" family, too, as I've only dyed fabric with tea and onion skins before. How lovely! Still, I'd rather just knit and leave that all to someone else.

dale-harriet said...

Oh, Franklin - it's DELICIOUS! (I loved your comment about peeing; I take wicked delight in *knowing* that horse urine made its way into a lot of clothing some years back). And by the way - have you ever thought of taking up photography? you know, if you want a hobby? (She hobbles off, cackling wickedly to herself)

kelli ann said...

oh, so pretty.

WonderMike said...

Such a lovely, lovey recap of our visit to Earthues. Your photographs are a sweet reminder that natural dyes are not dull and boring but rather the OLD SKOOL way of making rainbows we can touch and feel.

Thanks for your sharing your story and your delicious photographs.

Anonymous said...

Wow, such beautiful photographs today. and a lovely column as well


did you or someone else dye the handful of skeins that day?

Jan E said...

I was a quilter (and fledgling fabric dyer) before I started knitting very well. Dyeing my own yarn has been a natural progression and I've been trying assorted berries that are native to central Texas (Yay!!--The Knitting Nest!). Must be all on a particular chromosome, don't you think? Often we craft-types cross the same intersections...

Crafty Andy said...

I have to agree that it was amazing. I enjoy my Kool Aid dyeing a lot , lol, but this is different. The Earthues goes to the beginnings of time when our ancestors decided the wanted to have color in their garments and more. Hand Dyeing is one of my favorite crafts, you are, I am , the artist and yarn is your canvas. I was so glad to have shared this with you and the guys. Love the pictures.

Anonymous said...

There's a great story about Earthhues in the current Spin-Off magazine, and it does tempt me to buy the mini-kit to get started!

Donna Lee said...

I was going to mention the article in Spin Off, too. It made me want to dye something, anything. I've never felt the desire before but their colors are so gorgeous.

BTW, what's happening with the 1,000 Knitters project? Will there be a book?

Unknown said...

How the heck did I not know about this place? My knitting group meets in Ballard! A field trip is definitely in order.

Also, Franklin, I thoroughly enjoyed the lace class at Weaving Works. It was great to meet you!

Lynn in Tucson said...

Oh...boy. I've been happy to content myself with my acid dyes but what a slippery slope this is!

Knitnut said...


While living in Seattle I never did get to Earthhues, although I had intended to... my loss.

Anyway a question, where those stainless or aluminum pots that were used for the dye??? I know you're a busy fella, but a response is appreciated.

Unknown said...

Oh, I wish I could go there to learn how to work with the dyes! The photos are exquisite and you can color me jealous that you got to dye with indigo--something I've wanted to do for ages but just don't have the space and time to do at this point in my life.

Thank you for sharing you trip with us! (and now back to figuring out how to do entrelac knitting...)

lorrwill said...

Well after that review they have better expand their website!

What a mind meltingly awesome adventure you had. You have a wonderful way with words and I laughed out loud several times. AND the photos rock.

Thanks so much for turning all of us homebodies on to this shop.

Anonymous said...

I love the bejeebus out of Ballard. And that photo - the one with the hands clutching beautifully-spun skeins of varying colors? Yes. Very yes.

Mel said...

I believe Hope Spinnery here in Maine uses primarily Earthues dyes for their own fiber processing.

Hrist said...

I love working with natural dyes, it's so nice to have somebody as famous as you take up the cause :)

Caroline said...

A friend of mine had a party focused on an indigo pot in her back yard. That is the most wonderful shade of blue ever.

Seanna Lea said...

That sounds like a fun trip! I have only done food-based dyes (umm, Wilton cake frosting colors), but even that has been fun. I can only imagine how much more fun it would be using quality materials rather than food-grade.

Wool free and lovin' knit said...

Wow, after that glowing review it will be impossible to get airfare to Seattle never mind find any room in the shop! Sounds amazing.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic photographs. I especially enjoy the baskets of buttons. Loads of pretty fiber, too!

Anonymous said...


Check out the natural dyeing groups on Ravelry - Plants to Dye For, and Natural Dyeing. I grew a dye garden (in Calgary) this year - Woad, Japanese Indigo, Madder, Bedstraw, Coreopsis, Rudbeckia, Weld. Tonnes of fun. I am so going to do a sig (urine) indigo vat next summer. Check out Maiwa Supply as well - Vancouver BC, but nice website and blog.


Anonymous said...

P.S. me again...until the mid 1850's there were no other options for textiles and fibre. For thousands of years that's how it was done. An extremely fascinating subject to research. There are amazing books and stories about cochineal, madder root, woad, indigo!


Evalyn said...

I needed this information - thanks for tellin us about Earthhue.

Janet said...

Via the comments I see that Stacy was at the lace knitting class at Weaving Works and her knitting group meets in Ballard. I was at the class, I knit, I live in Ballard - Stacy, where are you? Maybe we could meet at Earthues. What a great place and right on our doorstep. Thank you Franklin for your write-up and photos.

Spiminarian said...

I'm so incredibly jealous! I've never heard of this place, but am desperate to visit now. I started dyeing with nature's gifts this summer. I used wool that I'd cleaned, carded, and spun and dyed it with various flowers and things around our house. The results were astounding (I have pictures on my blog). I knit it into a stole for my pastor (who is into sustainable living and green lifestyles) and she adores it. I want to grow my own dye garden when I am living in a house and have a kitchen that is MINE rather than rented...

Laurie in Mpls. said...

I'm delighted that they are addressing the issue of mordants. Some of the things that have been added to natural dyes in the past are nastier than the synthetic dyes we have now!

Those are some seriously beautiful colors, too. I am a *huge* fan of any shade of indigo, and the others are awesome as well. As for folks who think natural dyes run the gamut from "mud" to "dirt" to "yellowish", there are several good natural dye books out with color sample sections. Yes, the color range is slightly less than the bazillions you can get with other dyes, but the colors possible have more range and depth than folks realize. I'd love to take up dyework in my copious spare time. *rolls eyes* Maybe in a few years... but I definitely HAVE to visit that shop if I ever get to that city! Have. To. And it's all your fault for taking such awesome pictures. ;)

Laura said...

Wow, Earthues looks like a wonderful place!

I've been furtively gathering dyeplants from the neighborhood alleys this fall (although I don't think anyone will really miss their pokeberry), so I'm looking forward to trying some natural dyeing soon. But indigo remains the unattainable Holy Grail - I think you need some outbuildings (WAY-outbuildings) to do a urine vat of indigo.

Anonymous said...

OMG, the colors of the overdyed fabrics and of their yarns are fabulous! I always thought of natural dyes as, um, natural colors a la dirt. Thank you for opening my eyes!

Barb B. said...

If you want to play with nature dyeing using your own raw material, make friends with a florist. Ask them for their trash. Eucalyptus and salal, and old flowers and just about anything can be fun.

Anna said...

I recently got to go to Sweet Georgia's studio here in Vancouver. It was like walking into a rainbow--she had so many beautiful colours. I wanted to buy everything but my budget limited me to fifty grams of Wensleydale roving in some fantastic shades of green and blue. I've done a little bit of dyeing on my own, but so far my sucesses are limited to food colouring, although I did get some interesting shades of brown out of coffee and tea.

MsAmpuTeeHee said...

Lovely post and the photos are gogeous. I went to a retreat this summer that was knitting, spinning, and dyeing. I was interested in the dyeing, but it did rank 3rd. It ended up being my favorite :-)

CeltChick said...

Your photos really take me "there", I keep checking for blue dye under my nails...
I checked out your feature in the Deep Fall Knitty, & can't wait to try out the stitch pattern on the cap!

Anna M. Branner said...

Indigo dyeing IS magical. Historically they used the urine of pregnant women, diabetics or drunks for the best color. (!)

Anna M. Branner said...

PS also check out EarthGuild in Asheville NC for indigo that does not need to use the vat technique. I have used it and have had great success. Its a little stinky but not so bad that a barn is necessary. :)

Sara in WI said...

Excellent post, Franklin! My spinning guild has a dye day every year and sometimes twice a year. I can no longer go because of my fibro and miss it! Thanks for sharing your fun with us!

Yvonne said...

OMG. Ballard has really changed since I grew up there. . .

Julie said...

What a cool blog post! I'm working on a simple short sleeved cardigan that I'm going to dye with coffee when I finish, and I just stumbled onto a great new knitting book entitled Denim People by Kim Hargreaves Seeing these beautiful dyes has got me dreaming about all sorts of future projects.

ana @ i made it so said...

hi franklin. you know, i go through life (at least the online version) floating around, knowing there are all sorts of wonderful places i like to visit... and then, somehow, i stumble onto this sort of place you have here, with pretty pictures and interesting words. and i think... how lucky i am to have found it, amidst the billions (jillions?) of blogs out there. so. thanks for that :-)

happy weekend to you. looks like i have some archive reading to catch up on........

MadCarlotta said...

Oh. My. God.

I have a budding interest in quliting too, but I am insecure in my ability to put together a pleasing bunch of fabric without copying something verbatim out of a book. I think overdying may be my answer.

Anonymous said...

Earthues sounds like a wonderful place! Too bad I live so far away (WI) or I'd visit for sure! I have been thinking of getting some of their dye extracts to try out, though.
Oh, and btw for Laura, I have an indigo vat in my house and it smells funny when you take the lid off, but the odor doesn't travel at all.

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