CYO Caroline: A Funny Thing Happened While Dyeing…

Today I thought it would be fun to share with you some of the lighter side of a dyers’ life. When I first started dyeing professionally, people told me many things about what the business would be like. They warned me about the long, long hours, the back breaking physical work (who needs a gym when you spend 10 hours a day lifting 50lbs over your head!), the various pitfalls of being self employed (like no benefits) and so on. They also told me about how satisfying it would be, and how creatively fulfilling it would be, and they were right on all these scores. But no one ever mentioned there would be a funny side to being a dyer, or that it would worm its way into everyday life in quite the way it has! So let me tell you about some of the funny things that have happened along my journey as a master dyer.

One of my favourite stories comes from the period when I was building the business and wasn’t working as a dyer full time yet. I supplemented the dye work with working as a quantitative sociologist. This meant I was lucky enough to participate in a two year study on the effects of micro loan programs for immigrants. The question we asked was would a micro loan program significantly improve the ability of an immigrant to get into the Canadian labour market at the same or equivalent level as the person had enjoyed in their home country. The sad reality for many highly credentialed immigrants is that once they come to Canada their accreditations are not valid and they end up having great difficulties getting a job, let alone one at the same level as before.

My part of the study meant I designed and implemented surveys based on preliminary research to find out whether micro loans were effective, and in what ways. It was a challenging and complicated project and once the surveys were done I had a mountain of data to analyze. It made an interesting alternative to working in the dye studio and I ended up with my computer and printouts installed in the studio so I could work on both things at the same time.  At the same time as we finished the research, and determined that micro loan programs are very effective in helping immigrants enter the work force at a good job level, the dye business was taking off at a great rate, so I was dyeing every spare moment I had. Finally the day came when the research team was ready to present our results to the scientific community and the government of Canada in Ottawa at a major conference. This was an important moment: if the presentation and data were deemed good enough the pilot project we had analyzed would be extended beyond a single province and could a LOT of good.  So we had to fly to Ottawa to make a very significant presentation.

This meant the dye gods had to laugh at me. In order to get orders out in a timely manner I had to dye the night before I left, and of COURSE that meant disaster. Somehow I managed to spill an entire jar of very concentrated turquoise dye stock on my hands. I use weak acid dyes and they bond to protein. Since we are made of protein, that means that dye grabbed on firm and hard to my hands, and they were now a glorious shade of purest blue! They glowed. They shone. They were a thing of majesty and awe. (For those who are thinking the obvious, no I don’t use gloves all the time when not actively dyeing because I need to feel what I am doing!) I couldn’t get the dye off my hands for love nor money. So off I went to the airport with my nice business suit and my turquoise hands. Airport security was… interesting. One man was SURE I was up to no good. Thankfully I had yarn with me and was able to talk my way through a reasonable explanation. I did get a THOROUGH groping in the process, but such is life – and we all need a thrill once in a while.

Arctic Midnight
Arctic Midnight – click to enlarge.

Once I arrived in Ottawa I found my way to the hotel where the people were MOST appreciative of my new look. Little did I know, there was a conference at the hotel which had a rainbow theme, so many of the participants thought my hands were in honor of this theme – consequently, I got offered a LOT of free drinks. The conference I was attending was less appreciative, however. I am pretty sure most of the stuffy scientific attendees thought I was mocking them, or that I might have indulged in one too many of those free drinks (alas I did not as I am not much of a drinker). When it came time for our presentation, for which we had practiced extensively, the moderator of the panel looked at me in sheer horror. You see I was the person that was too tall to hide behind a podium, and who had the most to say, and the most to point at on the screen with our results. There was no hiding the blue hands.  So in a moment of THINK FAST he introduced me as the lead quantitative analyst and artist in residence. And there I stood, giving a presentation to the government of Canada and senior people in my academic field, in all my turquoise glory! Yikes.*

Dye can also betray one in the most inopportune moments. Moments such as when your fabulous sales manager comes to visit and brings her new love who is a very tall and very handsome man. Now I have a handsome man in my life, but that doesn’t mean that I am unaware of other handsome men. And this one is one heck of an amazing artist, so there might have been a touch of hero worship in there too. I admire artists and those who have the courage to make art tremendously, so this proved to be a distraction that was my undoing. There I was, demonstrating some of what I do so that my staff had a better understanding of the process… undoubtedly showing off just a little and preening under the attention. I expect that in my mind was the idea that by gum I was impressing them all, including the tall and handsome man.  And so of course the fates decided to intervene and take me down a peg. There I was, being all suave and debonair, and making stock solution while explaining the process. Laughing lightly, making it look easy. Suave, I tell you! I was using Fuchsia dye, which is powerful and vivid and not to be taken lightly as it were. And what did I do? Why I spilled an entire pound of that dye powder when I slipped in closing the brand new container. It positively exploded out of my hands! A pound of dye powder is enough to dye hundreds and hundreds of skeins a very vivid shade indeed. And all that dye was all over my studio and all over me, and all this in front of what felt like the world. One can try to frantically scrape it up, but there is no way to do this that does not involve crawling around on the floor in a VERY undignified fashion and I am certain that it is only effective if one swears a lot too. Which I did. Thus RUINING any chance I had of coming off as anything other than a vividly pink idiot. It took WEEKS for the screaming shade of what went way beyond pink to wear off my hands. And the floor in my studio is to this day an unrelenting pink just so I don’t forget my shame.

Flamboyant - click to enlarge.
Flamboyant – click to enlarge.

Dye has endless possibilities for getting into places one would never expect and behaving badly at the same time. Take the class where I was teaching beginners to paint skeins, wrap them in plastic, and microwave them to heat set it. I warned the class not to use too much stock solution on the yarn as one does not want it to be too wet or the dye will run badly and cause all sorts of havoc. One class member must have missed this warning and wanted a very saturated skein, so she used, oh, about ten times what one needs.  I wasn’t aware of this as she placed it into the microwave oven, but I sure found out once it started heating up! Around and around the skein went and in the oven and as the plastic expanded holes formed and dye FOUNTAINED out of the yarn.  It was like someone set up a rotating fire hose inside that microwave and there wasn’t a thing we could do. If we stopped the oven the skein wouldn’t be set and it would be ruined. So we let it run, and run it did. Seven long minutes of this and the dye started leaking out of the bottom of microwave (no they are not perfectly sealed it turns out) and of course just then who walks in? Why the college administrators who are touring the classes and taking photos of all the fascinating fibre crafts taking place in their hallowed halls. Could they have come at any other point in the three days? Oh no. It had to happen just at the moment where one is helplessly standing there unable to do a darn thing as disaster unfolds. At least we were able to get it off the floor later, but my microwave oven is now a truly spectacular sight to behold.

Kismet - click to enlarge.
Kismet – click to enlarge.

Spending your life with dye also means you just don’t see the world the same after a time. There are those moments like when you take your favorite colourway with you to the hair salon so your hair can be dyed to match. Or this one. I have rheumatoid arthritis (and yes dyeing is actually good for this as it keeps the hands mobile) so I finally nutted up and went and filled the prescription I was given. Once I got the pills, the pharmacist went through the side effects as they do, in front of a rather large audience, and included the usual suspects like take with food, I may get headaches or digestive disturbances etc. Then it got good. And I quote…

Pharmacist: “So the main side effect is loss of appetite” and nods significantly with a look of commiseration on his face.

Me: *Looks down at ever expanding Michelin Man middle and says, speaking in a monotone,* “Oh no. Stop. Not that. Oh the horror. Whatever shall I do?” *Cue semi-hysterical giggling in the six hundred people in line behind me, who seem delighted that things are less dull than they had initially seemed with my interview.*

Pharmacist: “And there is one other one to be concerned about. Skin discolouration.”

Me: “What sort of skin discolouration? Like blotches or something?”

Pharmacist: “No.”

Me: “Well what then?”

Pharmacist: “Well you know… Discolouration.”

Me: “Huh? What do you mean?”

Pharmacist: “You know. Discolouration.”

My mind boggled at this point. Could he mean something kinky? Why won’t he say? The people in line behind me lean forward to hear better – apparently I am not the only one with a lurid imagination.

Me: “So you are telling me, the freckle queen, champion of blotches of sun related skin discolouration, I will get more? How will I be able to tell?” *line behind me cackles*

Pharmacist: “Um, no. Not more freckles. It’s blue.”

Me: “What? Blue? You mean like this?” and I hold out my dye blotched hands – I mean dye blotched! I had been dyeing a LOT and they were all the shades of blue one can imagine.

Pharmacist: “No. I mean blue.”

Me: “This is blue! Look! Turquoise and royal blue. Spotted all over my hands!”

Pharmacist: *leans forward and hisses “NO! You will turn blue!” And leans back.

Me: “Say WHAT!?” And he repeats himself.

Me: “This is just too awesome!!!” His eyes bug out. “I’m going to turn blue!?! I will be a blue woman with purple hair!?! Fantastic!”

The crowd goes wild. He gives up on me, but not before confirming yes it is an overall blue I may turn.

Dyeing really does change your outlook on life.

* For those who are curious the presentation went very well, in spite of my turquoise distractions, and the program did get extended as a result.


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