Neal Howard the Weaver

Before I begin dyeing the yarn I put it in the desired form: For weaving, I wind warps (the set of yarns placed lengthwise in the loom) consisting of three hundred to eight hundred threads eight to sixteen yards long. For all other purposes, the yarn is wound into a skein.

Outside - quite literally in my front yard - I set up my table, drying rack and steaming area. Then I fill buckets with warm water to soak the yarn. Meanwhile I dissolve the dyes, prepare the dye activator (a solution of white vinegar) and bring out an assortment of bowls and small tubs.

Before the silk is dyed it is a creamy off-white. Dry warps can weigh up to five pounds. Each skein, dry, weighs from one third to one half pound. When they are wet they are even heavier! I lift them one by one, wring them out and hang them on my drying rack. On a busy day (ten hours)I may dye up to thirty pounds of yarn.

Vinyl gloves protect my hands during this step. I pour dye into my bowls, then dip each warp or skein in the dye. When I am dyeing a lot of yarn the same color, I use a larger bowl than the one you see here. After the excess liquid is squeezed out of the yarn, I carefully roll the yarn into thick cloth or heavy plastic so that the different colors do not touch.

Then I place the rolls in my custom made stainless steel steaming basket that fits in a stainless steel pot partially full of boiling water. Silk and wool need to be in this hot moist environment for about twenty minutes so the dye can fully bond with the yarn. This is called setting the dye. Imagine steaming broccoli on a really large scale.

When the dye is set and wearing thick vinyl gloves, I carefully remove the hot yarn, allow it to cool a bit, then rinse it to remove any excess dye. After more wringing, the yarn is at last returned to the drying rack. I wash and put away all the bowls, jars, table and tools I have used. And then I soak in the bath tub.

Photography by Liz Spear and Neal Howard.

Neal Howard, The Weaver
P. O. Box 1754
Cullowhee NC 28723-1754