Prince Edward Island

How dyeing yarn in a rainbow of colours helped this P.E.I. knitter find hope

'I started dyeing, and I just fell in love with it'

Posted: March 27, 2021
Last Updated: March 30, 2021

Independent wool dyer Amanda Moore asked me my favourite colours and said she'd try a new colour combo yarn. At this stage, I had my doubts as to how red and black would look. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Amanda Moore of Charlottetown had taken up knitting a few years ago at the suggestion of a counsellor, after an accident caused back problems so severe she couldn't work. She had become depressed and couldn't continue her hobby of quilting. 

"It did literally save my life, cause I was very much in a black hole," she said. "I needed that creativity in life, due to the depression."

She found a community of knitters in Kensington, who would knit together and share patterns and advice. 

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Then last spring the pandemic hit, and she was alone.

"I decided to just start creating colours, because I needed something else. My mental health was starting to lag again," she said. "So I started dyeing, and I just fell in love with it." 

On days her back hurts a lot, she simply sits and creates labels for the skeins of yarn. 

"It did amazing things for my mental health," she said. "This was my outlet."

The beautiful raw wool yarn is a blank canvas for Moore, who sells her hand-dyed yarn in several P.E.I. knitting shops. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Being new to dyeing, she said what comes out of her dye pot is not always what she expected. Sometimes her colour combinations, also called colourways, are a delightful surprise, and other times the yarn goes back into the pot to be over-dyed. 

She keeps track of her original colour recipes, using measuring spoons that can measure as little as 1/64 of a teaspoon, although depending on water temperature and the type of wool, batches can look different. 

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How does one knit a bigger project with yarn that doesn't match exactly?

"When you knit with indie-dyed yarn, you should always go with at least two balls at a time — do one row with one ball, the next row with the next ball, which will even it out," Moore explains. 

'Because it's unique'

Moore began dyeing much more yarn than she could ever possibly knit by herself, so with encouragement from her global virtual knitting group, last fall she began selling it through local retailers and on her own website. 

Moore squirts dye onto the raw wet yarn at her home-based business, Red Island Fibre. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

She calls her business Red Island Fibre, although she said it's still more of a break-even proposition than a money-making venture. Profit is not her goal right now, though. It's mostly creating for the joy of it. 

"I know it's something I'll do now probably till the day I die," she said.

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When Moore began knitting, she also got into spinning her own yarn from combed sheep's wool. That's what she dyes with.

Why do people want to knit with indie-dyed yarn, rather than yarn from large manufacturers? 

"It's just because it's unique," Moore said, noting she gives many of her yarns a speckled look by sprinkling on tiny amounts of dye. 

Moore labels skeins of yarn destined for retail stores and her own website. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

Indie-dyed yarn like hers is more expensive, because it's purchased in small batches and hand-dyed, she said. Moore buys her dyes locally at Belfast Mini Mills.

Like any small craftsperson, if she sells it herself, she gets to keep all the profits, but if she is wholesaling to retailers, she keeps only 50 per cent of the tag price. 

"You're selling it to them for basically cost, with a few dollars extra," she said. However, putting it in stores allows customers to see and feel her product and gets her name talked about. 

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A skein of Red Island Fibre yarn costs $32 for 115 grams of basic merino wool, which she said is the industry standard for an indie-dyed wool. That compares to about $15 to $20 for a good-quality commercially manufactured brand, she said. 

"You don't undersell another indie dyer," is her rule, she said.

Helping LGBTQ community too

Moore has family members who are transgender, and wants to support them in whatever way she can.   

So she is giving 10 per cent of all her sales revenue during March to Egale Canada, a non-profit organization that works to improve the lives of LGBTQ people. She'll have a total donation amount on March 31, which is Transgender Day of Visibility. 

Moore hangs the skeins of yarn on her clothesline to dry. (Amanda Moore)

She also plans to give 10 per cent of all future sales of both her original colour Dr. Sparkles and a new yarn she's planning for Pride Month to the transgender community through local harm-reduction organization PEERS Alliance.  

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With some help from PEERS, Moore said she plans to start a virtual knitting group to teach transgender youth on P.E.I. to knit, hoping it can spark creativity and help anyone struggling with their mental health. 

Red and black colour combo?

Before I arrived at Moore's home in East Royalty to snap a few photos, she asked me my favourite colours, and said she'd create a new colour for the occasion. Hmm, red and pink, and if we're talking clothing, then also black, I said. 

When I arrived, she had several dyes already mixed in squirt bottles on her dining table, and a chafing pan with four skeins of beautiful creamy soft, natural yarn soaking in a bit of water. She squirted on the dyes in stripes, stopping to work the colour through to the bottoms of the skeins. 

I honestly wasn't sure if I thought the red and black was pretty or kind of scary looking, even after she messaged me a photo of it drying on her clothesline. 

But look at the finished product. 

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Sadly, I don't knit, so another customer will have the joy of knitting up "Heart and Soul." 

Moore tends to see the bright side of things, even when they're dark.

"I have a colourway — it's black, and I named it hope," she said.

"When it came out, it just reminded me of my deepest depression … because even in the darkest day you have to look for the light, and keep hoping that you can get out of it and have the faith." 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sara Fraser
Web Journalist

Sara is a P.E.I. native who graduated from the University of King's College in Halifax. N.S., with a bachelor of journalism (honours) degree. She's worked with CBC Radio and Television since 1988, moving to the CBC P.E.I. web team in 2015, focusing on weekend features. email sara.fraser@cbc.ca