I’ve spent quite a lot of time this week working on colour development and thought you might be interested to read about it - Claire and Debbie were, anyway, as they saw the work in progress and were wondering what on earth I was doing. They also had the unbridled joy of watching me flicking really slowly through my wildflower book to find the plants I was looking for and check their names. I do talk to myself whilst I'm doing this (yes, and I'm only 33) so I think they've learned to just ignore my ramblings. 

This week I was concentrating on oranges. I’ve had a number of what you could class as ‘orange’ shade recipes for years - well I’ve had many of my recipes for years - but I haven’t used them much recently. 

Let me start by telling you a bit more about the actual dyes. I buy my dyes as powder pigments, and I use the primary colours plus black and brown. It’s the bare minimum of base colours that you really need. Actually you don’t really need brown if I’m honest but I’ve got in the habit of using it over the years, so that one stays. You can buy a really wide range of pre-mixed colours as powdered pigments, but I mix every single one of mine myself. I’d like to say it’s something to do with authenticity, but it really comes back to the fact that when I started out I was very, very poor (destitute, you might say) and I had no money to invest, so I had to buy the bare minimum when I could afford to. That meant not over-buying anything, including dye. It forced me to be creative with my mixing though, so I’m glad of it. 

Anyway, so I have those, and in order to avoid using dry powder all the time (it’s not good to breathe it in and it can easily contaminate yarn that’s in the dyepots) I dilute them into liquid form at a specific concentration. Then I use those for mixing my colours. 

Now.. you’d think that once a recipe is set in stone that’d be it - it’d stay the same indefinitely. But that’s really not the case at all. I’ve talked about this previously, but for a start the powder pigments are also mixed and made by humans and they vary from batch to batch. Some can actually vary wildly - when that happens it ruins any recipe that contains that colour! That does get me complaining though. On the whole they just vary subtly. There are other points at which we get variation in colour too: I’m human and I mix my colours, so although I use measuring equipment, there are still undoubtedly small variations when I measure out colours. Then there’s the variegated/dappled colourways - they’re even more open to variation because as I said - I’m human. Although I think that that’s part of the artistry and the attraction of hand dyed yarn; wouldn’t you say?! 

Finally, things like water temperature, water pH, and the yarn itself also affect the colours. For example, Bluefaced Leicester is a much more yellow fibre than say merino, and so the colours come out warmer. I used to try and accommodate that by tweaking the recipes for use on BFL, but I’ve since decided that’s a waste of time - it’s not really worth it. 

So all this should give you some context for when I say - I was working on my oranges this week because I’d noticed that a few of them had become increasingly similar, and I was finding that offputting. I really needed to go through all of them and compare them, and tweak any recipes I felt necessary. It’s quite an in-depth and time-consuming job, so it’s something that can get put off for… well, months, at least. 

Here are some of the results of my work this week. These are the finalised colours - at least until next time I need to review and tweak the recipes!

On the left we’ve got Bog Myrtle; this is the most red of the set, in fact it’s a bit of an add colour in my opinion but I really love it! Next from the left we’ve got Oatfields. Last time I dyed both this and Falling Leaves (which is much more golden-brown and less orangey) they were almost indistinguishable, which is really what prompted this big recipe review. So Oatfields has been brought back to where I wanted it - more orangey gold. It’s inspired by fields of oats in a glowing sunset. Now I’m going to skip to the right hand side and work to the centre - we’ve got Wallflower which is the most orange of these, with a lovely glowing yellow undertone (it’s hard to capture that in photos). This was Crocosmia, but I’m trying to keep my hand dyed shade names different to their mill-dyed counterparts even if they’re the same colour.. so I have finally got around to renaming it. I love this colour, but it is quite rich. It definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste! So on a whim I also created a lighter version of it (second skein from the right). It’s not literally the same recipe halved, because that doesn’t generally work (that’s another blog post I think), but it is a lighter, softer orange. More of a sping-spring-time shade compared to the richness of Wallflower. I’ve named this lighter orange Cloudberry after the orange berries. Finally, in the centre we have a colourway called Grace. It’s so named after a rose.. as are many of my colours! I dyed this to check that it’s not too close to Cloudberry (and a few other shades, e.g. Mellifer and Apricot Tulip). It’s hard to tell in the pics but they’re actually pretty dissimilar - Grace is much more yellow than Cloudberry. In case you’re wondering, Mellifer is a light honey colour, and Apricot Tulip is of course much more peachy. 

So there we have it. That’s the story of these five skeins. There are many, many more - this isn’t a straightforward process and a lot of sample skeins go through the works before I arrive at the final ones that I’m happy with. And I will admit here that yes I do have a lot of very similar colours across the board. I have lots of greens, lots of blues, lots of purples, even more pinks, and so on. But again - that’s the joy of hand dyed yarn. We can choose colours for the fact that they’re just slightly more orangey or yellowy or golden than something else and are therefore just the right shade for the project or the person (if that makes sense). 

--- Victoria 


  • Thank you for the information, always like to hear more.
    Do you know the book Mauve by Simon Garfield? It’s not too long and is well worth a read – all about discovering that dye. Fatal for some 😱😕

    Elizabeth Davis on

  • A great read. Very informative and intriguing, who knew so much thought and time went in to hand dyed yarns.
    As always lovely colours even though I’m a pink, purple and blue girl

    Barbara Curwen on

  • Dear Victoria,
    That was such an interesting read.
    I love your colours. I found your beautiful yarns in Loop just over a year ago and have been following Eden Cottage since the beginning of this year when I knitted the Picadilly Shawl in Hayton Red Kite and a warm, soft pink that I cannot remember the name of. It was an utter joy to knit and i’ve recently used Hayton in Rambling Rose to knit a shawl for my 3 week old granddaughter. She’s out in her pram wrapped in it as I type this. Just the best yarn I’ve ever used.
    I bought one of the subscriptions for the potting shed parcels, what a delight! I must apologise for not having thanked you before for the first two parcels. My daughter was not well for the last few weeks of her pregnancy and had a very rough delivery 3 weeks ago. Life is chaotic but I have the yarns with the cards etc by my bed to enjoy in quiet moments.
    I hope to get to an event and see your tempting stand and meet you all in the next year or so but in the meantime, thank you.
    With warmest wishes to you all and Happy Christmas,
    Lou Hodgson
    P.S. I’ll try and post a picture of Katherine in her shawl later. X

    Lou Hodgson on

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