This is an awkward subject to blog about for a yarn dyer, but I’d love for there to be more transparency in the indie dyer industry, so I’m going to lay it out here despite the uncomfortable feelings.
A few years ago I read an article, or perhaps it was a social media post, where an indie yarn dyer very clearly called out how little she made per skein of yarn. She explained each one of her costs and how she priced her finished yarn. If my memory serves me, her profit was just about $2 per skein of yarn. And while I think this might be an extreme case, it doesn’t take complicated math to figure out that it would be nearly impossible for her to sell enough skeins to make a livable wage.
Recently, I also read a social media post in a private group for indie dyers. The original poster asked how many dyers were able to make enough money selling their yarn to support themselves and/or their families. Unfortunately, the answers she received were mostly that while it may be possible, the ones who were successfully doing so were working (in my opinion) themselves to death by working seven days a week and never taking time off. The general consensus is that one needs to REALLY have a passion for dyeing yarn. This group consists primarily of acid dyers. As far as I’m aware, there is only one other natural dyer in this group.
The unfortunate reality is that natural dyes are even more expensive compared to the acid dyes with which most yarn is dyed (both indie and commercial).
The ones I grow are expensive in my time and effort in my gardening and dye preparation efforts. Although I definitely gain the mental health benefits gardening often produces. The ones I purchase come with a much higher price tag than acid dyes and are consumed much, much more quickly. Natural dyeing requires quite a high supply budget.
In my business, there’s the higher cost associated with my dedication to supporting our U.S. wool growers. Sadly, yarn grown, processed, and spun in the U.S. is more expensive than yarn grown, processed, and spun internationally. But I’ve been committed to this from the very beginning of Henlia Handmade and maintain that commitment because I feel it is so important to keep what’s left of our local farms and ranches alive and healthy.
To be completely transparent, I’ve considered switching to the more earth-friendly acid dyes. These dyes are not a perfect environmental solution for dyes, but to be honest, neither are all of the natural dyes I use either. There are many costs associated with the harvesting and transportation costs of the more exotic natural dyes I and other natural dyers use.
When I last looked carefully at my numbers, my profit has been in the $5-7 per skein range.
This means that if I was planning to add even an extra $1000 to my family’s bank account, I’d need to sell around 166 skeins per month. My busiest year in business so far has been 2020. In 2020 I sold about 350 skeins in the entire year. When I call this a micro business, I truly mean it.
Additionally, I nearly ran myself into the ground during my first fourteen months in business trying my best to complete all the roles of a business: dyer, supply manager, marketer, order packer, etc. I was desperate to bring my dream into reality and worked far more than I should have while raising a young family. It’s why I took a break in 2021 and why I spent much of 2022 deeply considering if I should continue Henlia Handmade at all. I didn’t want to close my business, but I also didn’t know how to keep it going without living in a state of panic and desperation every single day.
Therefore, here’s my crystal clear conclusion: I’m not willing to risk my health or my relationships with my family in order to create and maintain a business that generates enough income to pay myself for my work.
But I also love dyeing yarn! And I feel a strong connection to my customers, who I affectionately and appropriately call my Fiber Friends. So while I continue to look for ways to cut yarn dyeing costs, I’ve also been looking for additional ways to keep Henlia Handmade alive financially. I began my watercolor painting journey last year and hope to continue to use my developing skills to expand my business in ways that don’t require the amount of labor and high costs dyeing yarn naturally takes. The holiday ornaments from last December are an example of this. I’ve also expanded on this opportunity by adding mugs I’ve designed into my once-abandoned Etsy shop. My dream would be to generate the income my business needs through this less hands-on method in order to free up resources to continue dyeing yarn, but in a way that feels good for me and not in the stressed, panicked way it turned into for me in late 2020.
While I have not yet figured out how to grow a profitable natural dyeing business, I do know that I’m not yet ready to give up. Mainly because of you! The loving support I receive from this tiny community that came together with me has created a level of love and joy within me that I had never before known. So when I tell you I appreciate you in emails, order notes, social media posts, and blogs, please know that I truly do mean it. From the deepest part of my heart I mean it. And since I don’t know how else to say it, please allow me to say it once again. I appreciate you so very much. Thank you for being here!
If you would like to help financially support Henlia Handmade in a way that doesn’t include yarn, please consider purchasing a mug I’ve designed for my Etsy shop.
And I’d love to hear your thoughts about indie-dyed yarn prices!