Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dyers In Their Studios: Melanie of BlackTrillium Fibres

Rosaline Shawl in Lilt
This month, it is my pleasure to introduce Melanie Dilworth, the dyer behind Black Trillium Fibres, who will be providing the yarn for our very first Ficstitches Yarns Kit Club! I was introduced to Melanie's work when I was designing the Mystery Crochet-Along Shawl for the 2014 Rose City Yarn Crawl. They wanted us to use yarn from a local dyer for the sample, and I was really drawn to the rich tones of Black Trillium's colorways. I used two shades of her Lilt sock, a merino and mulberry silk blend, and loved it so much are using it for our first Kit Club kit.

During the yarn crawl this year, I connected with Melanie, and she invited us back to see her dye studio. We got to chat with her while she was working, taking recently dyed gradient skeins out of the oven, then hanging them to dry. All that before they are separated into smaller skeins for her gradient kits. So much work goes into one skein of hand-dyed yarn, I will let Melanie tell you all about it, in her own words....

I’ve been dyeing more or less formally since August of 2008, but really started to get a sense of myself as a dyer later, in November 2008. A group of us started dyeing together for fun with a little bit of yarn from our stashes as well as some undyed yarn we bought from Louet. Most everyone was dyeing Louet Gems fingering weight at that time, and a number of other Oregon folks were starting up dyeing operations around the same time. It seemed like a good idea, so we took it outside in the warm Oregon early fall weather and made a family thing of it. I was the only one who really wanted to keep dyeing yarn, so we split things up and I officially took Black Trillium Fibres off on my own.
My personal background is as a Seattle-ite. I went to University of Washington, originally for biology and then later for English Literature and Literary Theory. However, when I started dyeing I was very much a stay-at-home mother and had no particular career path I was working toward.

I don’t consider my chemistry background at UW a special experience, and I certainly do not consider myself an artist. Having an active knowledge of Organic Chemistry has helped quite a lot, though, as a dyer. I feel confident in my knowledge of proper uses of dyes to create a finished product that will retain its color and fiber quality over time. What I’ve found most inherently informs my dyeing palette is color theory and the ways that dyes and various chemical influences work together to create certain effects on wool fibers. 

A little Lilt Love in Snapdragon and Iced Teal
What sets me apart color-wise is what makes every dyer’s yarn unique: personality. 
There is so much room in the knitting world for dyers to express ourselves through
color, so as long as quality is there, beautiful colors and textures will always find an

Building a unique hand-dyed yarn from the ground up starts with where you get the yarn substrates. While there are a number of wholesalers in the US, none of them reliably sources superwash wool from within the US. My dyeing process requires superwash wool, which can then be blended (or not) with any number of interesting things and spun, plied and hanked at my specifications. I love the mill I work with because they’re a family owned company going back a number of generations, they’re extremely high quality and very smart in their business practices. They’re also constantly innovating, and while not everything they’re able to do works with my dyeing style, I know they’ll be around to supply my company with consistent yarns well into the future.

My dyeing style is fairly unique, and mathematically oriented. If I create a color I really like and want my stores to be able to reorder, I need to know exactly what went into the colorway and in what order it was applied. My gradient yarns, which are only available via because of their long processing time, are complex math because I want the transitions to be noticeable but logical. I also want there to be as little differences from one gradient batch to another, while also formulating and maintaining original dyestock recipes for each one.

The ultimate difference between buying yarn from myself or other hand dyers like me, and a machine-dyed yarn like Noro or Cascade, is that you’re supporting an individual’s livelihood rather than a manufacturing scheme. The handmade movement that really took up steam in 2009 and spawned the Maker Movement and the popularity of crowdfunding, built platforms such as Etsy and Kickstarter into household words is all about supporting what is good for the community. I work for myself, so what you pay for my yarn goes directly back into my community. I see it as my responsibility to make wise choices with the resources that have come my way, so I try to funnel what I can back into locally based organizations and companies, or to others that support their families in a similar way to mine.

Finding inspiration, choosing colors and naming them feels like a really organic process to me. I’ll often see something and think that it really needs its own color. A perfect example of this is Red Maple – as we were out walking one sunny afternoon the sun was shining right through the leaves on one of the dark red maple trees, and you could clearly see the green right through the red. That experience became a colorway that very evening. I think ultimately that means I’m channeling sources of inspiration from what speaks to me. Staying open in the moment, and being observant are really the two best ways I can think of to describe where my ideas come from.

Just The Facts
I have well over 250 repeatable regulars colors, 55 gradient colors, and a number of other varieties of things that don’t have names. I’ve pretty much lost count on the regulars (things like Hedwig, Nutmeg, Oz, etc) but some I’ve been dyeing since 2009 and they’re just as popular then as they are now.

I try to create several new sets of colors every year, as both a creative exercise and to expand my portfolio. I also work with a number of store owners to create colors for their needs, although I don’t create special order colors for individuals.

I use superwash wool bases, blended with things like silk, nylon and cashmere. All of my yarn substrates come from one mill in South America. My yarns are available on my own website,, as well as about 20 brick and mortar stores from Oregon to New York.

I think of myself as a purple person with a heavy dose of black (see my Black Trillium colorway, that’s pretty much me). However, my stash deviates heavily toward blue. I love wool and silk.

I learned to crochet when I was five, although my Gran didn’t teach me how to read charts. I learned to knit when I was 11, although it didn’t become something I did every day until I was in my late twenties. I’m self-taught in so many things (knitting, dyeing, sewing, music, quilting, wood working, gardening, etc) but spinning really took me for a drive. I had to sit down with an instructor to really get the concepts. I pretty much stink as a spinner, but it is a form of zen you can’t find anywhere else.

Link Up

Most photos ©ReCrochetions, from my visit to Melanie's studio, and yarn for our kits. The first photo is from Black Trillium's Facebook page, and the Rosaline shawl photo is ©RCYC LLC.


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