Hand-dyers are painters who use yarn as their canvas. Some work their magic on commonly available base yarns, while others seek out the truly rare or unusual. Many more try to find a yarn that falls somewhere in between those extremes, a yarn that is both unique yet accessible enough for them to keep a steady stock.
Local Color Fiber Studio is a two-person company based on Washington’s Bainbridge Island. The word “company” makes it sound like an office complex with cubicles and a loading dock, which isn’t exactly true.
In fact, a key part of Local Color takes place far beyond any physical structure at all. Using an acre of leased land, they farm or forage Japanese indigo, marigolds, madder root, coreopsis, onions, rudbeckia, red cabbage, and other materials that—with skilled hands—can offer up beautiful colors for textiles. Grape skins are sourced from a nearby vineyard (where one of them also works).
The only material they can’t grow is cochineal, the red-rendering bug that thrives in the more subtropical climates of Mexico and South America. Everything else comes straight from the farm. And it is a farm, with Finnsheep raised on the remaining five leased acres of land.
The two halves of Local Color Fiber Studio are former architect-turned-farmer Emily (shown here staffing their table at the Strung Along Retreat marketplace) and landscape designer-turned-dyer Tatyana. The pair has exquisite and prudent taste in yarn bases, sourcing materials that are relatively local to them and far off the mainstream path.
Most hand-dyers have a signature style, whether they mean to or not. The Local Color imprint is distinct, with all of the skeins carrying a flickering semisolid style in hues that span the rainbow of what’s generally possible with naturally dye. The colors are warm and cheerfully saturated, never garish.
The Columbia 3-Ply Worsted is the best base of its kind, sourced from Imperial Stock Ranch in Oregon. (Read our review of their 2-Ply.) You can see it here dyed with madder root, which gives a most satisfying depth of terra-cotta shading.
Emily told me she is particularly proud of their work with Japanese indigo (at left in the Columbia). It’s the most challenging (and rewarding) color to dye naturally. The label wisely reminds us that indigo tends to rub off at first, or “crock” as it’s called, and that we should use metal needles unless we want our wooden ones to become blue. After a few washes, the fabric itself will be gloriously colorfast.
They also offer Rambouillet yarns from Mountain Meadow Wool Mill, which sources its fibers from Montana farms. You’ll find other breeds on the Local Color Fiber Studio website, and I suspect the list will continue to evolve and grow with their business.
Each skein comes with a sweet little tag that lists the dye source and illustrates it in simple line drawing.
As with any unconventional yarn, you’ll pay a little more for Local Color skeins. Depending on the base, the yarns are currently retailing for anywhere between $16 and $30, with massive skeins of rug-thickness Scottish Blackface going for $60 apiece. The Scottish Blackface notwithstanding, the skeins are generous 100g or 4oz each.
The notion of a purely “local” yarn can be challenging because the yarn-making process has so many steps, and not all of them are possible to achieve in the same geographic location. Instead, I prefer to think of knitting “local” in terms of using yarns that touch people and companies whose textile values match mine, no matter where they are.
Local Color Fiber Studio has all the earmarks of a good venture. They are clearly “local” in that they are trying to source from their region. These are people worth following—and if you have a store, take note: they wholesale.