I had some knowledge of most of the manufacturing processes that making my yarn involved, but the process I probably knew least about was dyeing. Like most designers, I love colour, and I am very picky about the shades I use being just right. I had a very clear idea in my head about what I wanted my highland coo shade to look like, but very little idea about how that shade might be translated into a dyed yarn for hand-knitting. Tom and I suggested to Adam that we’d very much like to observe the dyeing process from start to finish and thanks to him, and our wonderful dyers, Harrison Gardner, we were able to do just that.
Harrison Gardner are another great Bradford textile company, based a short drive away from Haworth (we are really pleased that all of the processing of our fibre and yarn was done within a small West-Yorkshire radius). Harrison Gardner are a family company who have been expertly dyeing yarn since 1901. They dye yarn on the hank – a process that is ideal for our requirements, because of the nature of our yarn (high-quality 100% wool), and the consistency of the end result (hank dyeing is in some respects more time consuming and costly, but also allows colour to be absorbed more uniformly than other processes).
At Harrison Gardner we met Jonathan Harrison, co-director with his brother, Daniel, and part of the fourth generation of his family running the company. Jonathan is head of production, and has a refreshingly hands-on approach to all of the processes the company’s involved in, including colour matching, which was one of the things I was most interested in seeing.
I was able to show Jonathan what I wanted my highland-coo shade to look like, and the dye recipe was created by matching my requirements in an incredible machine. The machine generates dye recipes that can accommodate a fascinating number of customer demands and criteria, including cost, fibre type, and colour consistency across a range of different light conditions. These light conditions include daylight, tungsten light, and a wide variety of other artificial point-of-sale lighting methods commonly used by retailers (including the very particular kind of artificial light that is apparently used by Marks and Spencer). Once a colour recipe is created and agreed on, this is tested on a sample of the customer’s yarn in Harrison-Gardner’s dye lab (a neat operation that closely resembles the indie-dyeing workshops or studios many of you will have seen).
Its not just a matter of trusting the colour-testing and recipe-generating methods of the nifty machines – everything is double-checked by eye, and the expert dyers have to be happy with the result. Once they are happy, the recipe is scaled up, and then the fun begins in the large custom-built dye house next door.
This is the dye bath in which my highland coo shade was created! Jonathan explained that they use this particular machine for dyeing quality pure-wool yarns because the action of the wash is comparatively gentle, ensuring that none of the fibres are felted or damaged – even when the temperature in the dye bath is raised to boiling point. My yarn was arranged above the bath in 2 kilo hanks, and prepared for dyeing. Here it is!
The brown-y grey skeins that you can see at the end of the bath are there to offer further protection to my yarn against the swooshing and swirling action of the dye-bath. They are there to take up the flack, and ensure the fibre achieves maximum dye absorption with minimum impact. Keith (an expert dyer who has been working with Harrison Gardner for over 30 years) poured a bucket of highland-coo coloured dye solution into the bath, and then the hanks were lowered in . . .
At this point, as you can imagine, we were extremely excited! Jonathan then took us for lunch in the factory canteen, where we were treated to a superb home-cooked steak pie and peas which we ate outside in the sunshine. After a very pleasant lunch, we were able to return to the dye bath to see how things were doing. Here comes the highland coo!
As you can see, the yarn is very wet indeed, and colour can look very different when the yarn is dry. So to get a proper sense of the shade the yarn had now taken, we had to see a dry sample. Towards the end of the video clip, you can see Keith disappearing with a hank of the yarn that has just emerged from the dye bath. Keith took this hank to a small drying cabinet – very like a hair dryer – in which the yarn was dried. Together with Jonathan, we were then able to check the shade in the colour assessment cabinet (which also mimics a variety of light conditions)
I liked the result, but I did feel that it needed the tiniest amount of adjusting to look completely like the rich and rusty coo-like shade I’d pictured. Jonathan agreed, more dyes were added to the bath, and the yarn went through the process again.
This time the shade was absolutely perfect!
After dyeing is complete, the yarn hanks are dried – first in a sort of giant spin dryer . . .
. . . and afterwards in a specialised hank dryer.
I was particularly intrigued by the hank-dryer and its effect on the yarn we saw going through it . . .
. . .which was noticeably loftier and poofier when it came out than when it went in. Jonathan explained that this loftiness is a very important factor for yarns used in the carpet industry (of which they dye many), as well as yarns for hand knitting. When you see my yarn, the dyed shades have, I think, a slightly poofier handle than the undyed shades – this is a pleasing and natural effect of the hank drying process, and everything evens up in the blocking.
Finally, the dried yarn is wound onto cones . . .
. . . and sent a few miles down the road to the skeiners.
Now for the moment of truth: a finished skein of highland coo!
We had a fascinating day at Harrison Gardner, and we were really impressed with the commitment and interest of the lovely staff, and indeed with everything with saw. Best of all the dyed shades are exactly what I’d dreamt they’d be. It is a truly amazing feeling seeing the colours you’ve pictured in your head imagine become a woolly reality!
Thankyou so much for taking the time to show us the whole process, Jonathan! Tom is still dreaming about that steak pie . . .
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