Saturday, August 30, 2008

Hear that squealing noise? Those were my brakes.

This past week, I've been going through some major changes. I have to stop dyeing the way I have been.

For the time being, I can't use the Ciba dyes inside my house. I'm too concerned about traces of the dye getting into my system and into my family's system. I mix the powders in the little laundry nook in my bedroom (wearing gloves and a respirator), but I have some concern about the powders spreading out into the sleeping space. I mix the dye stocks in the laundry room too, which involves opening and closing a lot of jars, all of which have dried dye on the edge, which can spread more powder.

I handpaint the fibers in my kitchen. I put down a big shower curtain with a towel on top of it, but still, splashes occur, and since I'm still opening and closing plastic tubs with dried dye around the edge, there's probably some powder spreading. In the cooking area.

Step 1: No dye in the house. It's on my covered front porch now, in a big wooden bin.

Step 2: Figure out how to colour fiber without going back on Step 1.

So this is where I am. I see two options: use new dye, or dye outside the house.

The new dye possibility is Wilton's. Wilton's is an icing dye, available for purchase at Michael's Craft Store. It's expensive, but it's a cost I don't mind eating if it makes a difference. The reports on Wilton's aren't great, though. It's very difficult to manage (some of the colours -- several of the colours, in fact -- split like crazy, making predictable results hard to achieve), and it's not as light- and colour-fast as the professional grade dyes. I know of one Etsy seller who is very successful using it, but I'm skeptical. And my early experiments have not gone well. I'd post a picture of the bad, bad colours, but it's just embarrassing. Also, there isn't a decent black with Wilton's.

i just got tipped off about a "Green" dye with no heavy metals in it. I have contacted the company about their MSDS sheet and am waiting to hear. We'll see.

The other option is to dye outside my house. This would involve having someone else mix my dye stocks (I'm sure I can find a teenager who will do it for the right price), and having me retreat to my covered front porch to mix my colours and paint the wool. I would dye using a crock pot and maybe this cooker I found at Canadian Tire. I hear Felicia of Sweet Georgia uses an outdoor turkey roaster, and I'll be emailing her about that. The downside of this option is that a) it's cold and damp out there for most of the next 6 months, and b) it's a bit expensive, what with cooking outside and all the heat waste that implies.

Whichever of these options I choose, it still means that I'm pretty much only making enough fiber for my own spinning purposes. I can't see doing production dyeing with these methods. I might be able to do some fiber sales in the form of carded batts, and I'm willing to try to expand that, but so far my batts haven't been big sellers.

No fiber sales, that hurts. Fiber sales is 80% of my business right now, and for the past few months I've sold close to $1000 worth each month. Putting a total stop to that will hurt my bottom line, and I'm not doing this business as a hobby. It's a valuable part of my household budget.

The bright side is that, if ever there was a time to really push my yarn sales, the beginning of autumn is it. And I have 5 knitting classes starting in a few weeks; hopefully that will become a more significant source of income. And teaching? Completely non-toxic. I can do lots of that, and no protective equipment is necessary.

So that's where I'm at -- going out of my tree, more or less. Any attempt at helpful information or friendly hand-holding will be appreciated.


Uli said...

Wow, I hope you can get it worked out....... I'm one of your biggest fans. You've got such awesome colour sense... but the health of you and your family is most important if there could be issues there.

Chris said...

Is there a space elsewhere you could rent cheaply or for free (maybe in the basement of your LYS?)? You could also try setting the dyed fibre using a microwave instead of a stovetop method, so you just need a plug-in. That allowed me to work on a table in my basement instead of in the kitchen. Oh - I just realized you mentioned the crockpot, which would work, too. I don't know how they compare for setting dyes.
I'm so sorry to hear of your plight - I would offer to share my space but I'm in Winnipeg so that doesn't help! Good luck.

anisaguine said...

Have you considered maybe outsourcing the setting of the dye? Like, using someone else's space and going in, painting/dyeing, then running away while they set everything?

Or, you could paint and mix solutions outside, then seal everything in oven safe, hopefully as airtight as possible containers, and then cook it in the oven or wherever you do the job now. Then take it out the door again let it cool outside and rinse it out outside. Don't unseal uncooked wool or dye in the house, just apply the heat.

And I hope you've tried out citric acid already instead of vinegar?

YummyYarn said...

Thanks all. I'm panicking a lot less at the moment. I have successfully done a couple semi-solids outside, and I'll shop for a turkey roaster to use outside, later this week. I even have a volunteer who will mix my dyes for me, and I have a line on some "green" dyes, ones that are still hopefully high quality acid dyes with no heavy metals in them.

I've considered studio space and hiring an assistant, but I'd have to probably double my production to pay for it. Now, I could double production if I had a space, but I could only do that until summer, so that's an idea for a couple years down the road maybe.

And after last winter's respiratory issues, I did investigate the vinegar issue. I discovered that a) vinegar is an irritant but not otherwise harmful, and the dyes themselves don't put off fumes, and b) I use too much vinegar. I use better ventilation now.

It looks as though the acid dye outside strategy will be workable. Workable at what volume remains to be seen, but at least my own spinning supplies are assured, and that's the biggest thing right now.

Thanks, everyone, really -- the comments and suggestions are helpful and kind.