it’s not heavy metal, it’s punk rock

All right, enough about family dysfunction and on to something far more punk rock: I visited Still River Fiber Mill this afternoon to talk fiber processing rates/turnover times, to pick up some dyes for the upcoming Craftsy class, and for general tomfoolery purposes. I’ve been a fan of their heavy-metal-free Greener Shades dyes since they were introduced- they’re free of the more questionable elements that you can find in certain dye pigments (like blues, greens, and some pinks).


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I had these lined up nicely for an angled side shot, so you could see all the labels, but then Hugo decided these photos were all about him.


As a textile artist who also paints, this has always been an exciting company: minimizing/eliminating exposure to elements like copper, iron, chromium, nickel, etc is always a concern, as well as putting out the cleanest wastewater possible anytime I’m dyeing. We had our wastewater tested in Baltimore when we were using a variety of dyes, and city inspectors deemed it safe enough for the sewers, but I like having the option to do better than that.


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I picked up a set of the .5 oz jars because shipping to Colorado is expensive but we know how long that is going to last me. (None of the long, for the new folks. That’s exactly how long half-an-ounce of dye will last this girl. I’m already fixing to tear through this Amethyst Purple.)

Hey, did I mention there’s a giant, black-and-white Standard Poodle on site at the mill? There IS. His name is Kobe, which I could be horribly misspelling- he didn’t give me his business card, after all- but since it was pronounced like the basketball player, I’m running with that as the spelling. He’s very sweet, likes to be scratched under his collar, and will shake hands if you ask nicely.

Anyway: new dog friends aside, there’s yarn, fiber, patterns, and notions in the shop if you stop by, as well as dye in a few different sizes (as well as a beginners’ starter kit containing samples of the full line of colors), and a sitting area, to boot- it’s a proper yarn shop containing yarns that the mill has spun from local fibers, which was a nice change.

Here’s the thing I wanted to talk about, though: Greener Shades dyes has just announced that they’re in compliance with OEKO-TEK Standard 100 and GOTS 5.0 (Global Organic Textile Standard) requirements for organic (GOTS) and safe textile production. Let’s talk about that for a second, because I know a few of you might be all, “Oh, hell no, they didn’t,” or, in a different direction, “What does that even MEAN, Sarah??” Here we go!

It isn’t technically possible to certify intermediary products (like dyestuffs) under GOTS or OEKO-TEK standards as organic. Only end products, like fiber, yarn, fabric, clothing, etc, can be certified, which means Greener Shades dyes can’t be certified to either standard, naturally- but there are chemical composition requirements for both standards, and Greener Shades dyes meet those requirements; any dyer/ creator/artist can use Greener Shades dyes in a process or project and ethically, fairly, and legally call their end product “organic” as long as their other materials (base fiber/yarn etc) were organic in origin as well. (Still River Fiber Mill lists their organic processing compliance test results on their website here.)

You’re also looking at incredibly clean wastewater after you’ve finished dyeing. While most acid dyes leave only citric acid residue and some lanolin behind, which is technically edible (but ew), there are colors that will not quite fully exhaust the way other dyes regardless of what an artist does, leaving a very faint tint to the water. Some of those dyes contain heavy metals, which is what is leaving that residual tint behind, and while you’re only dealing with trace amounts in the end process, why handle them at all, if there are alternatives?

For artists who are concerned about their ecological impact, who have health concerns (hey there hi what’s up), who are looking to create organic products, and maybe even for those who are just looking to diversify their toolkit, it’s exciting news. Still River will be putting out a press release soon (no worries, I have permission to share this with you!) but I wanted to talk about this today because I was feeling really bouncy about it after my conversation with the folks at the mill. I’ll be working on a few sock blanks with the dyes this evening and I’ll see if I can make a not-for-class one so I can show you a little of why I like these dyes so much, but in the meanwhile, here’s a little more of Hugo, loving the dyes. Or, more accurately, the camera.


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Yeah, everybody is looking at you, little guy.




  One thought on “it’s not heavy metal, it’s punk rock

  1. Gail Rector
    May 25, 2017 at 5:37 pm

    Sock Blanks?? Didn’t you say something about sock blanks?

    • May 25, 2017 at 7:13 pm

      I did indeed! I’ve been playing with them a lot lately- they seemed like a natural extension of the watercolor painting I’ve been doing in the last year or so. They are SO much fun!

  2. Gail Rector
    May 25, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    Is Hugo a chihuahua/pug? My. Solved companion is a. chihuahua/doxie/beagle cross… they could be friends… if she and I didn’t live in the PNW

    • May 25, 2017 at 7:16 pm

      He’s a pug/doxie mix mutt- great eye! He’s got a lot of that dox personality- stubborn but so clever & mischievous, and all the snuggle and food motivation of any pug I’ve ever met.

  3. May 25, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    I love the idea of eco-friendly dyes and of painting on a sock blank. I can’t wait for your class! Where can you buy sock blanks? I saw some at MDSW, but they were already dyed. I suppose I could knit up undyed sock yarn to make my own, but buying them ready-knit seems a lot more efficient.

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