Saco River Dyehouse

When you are browsing at your LYS or at a wool and sheep event, do you think about how the yarn was processed? Do you think about where the processing happened? I never really gave it that much consideration until I heard Clara Parkes speak to the Common Cod Guild members. Clara urged us to become informed about yarn bases and the varieties of sheep and wool. She pleaded with us to seek out and support small, independent businesses of shepherds, spinners, and dyers. That is the tip of the message conveyed that night, here is a link to more of the threads of information she shared with us that evening.  (Common Cod, Clara Parkes event blogpost).

Sarah and I brought our books for Clara to autograph.
What Clara said to us that evening transformed my thinking about shopping local, supporting family owned businesses, and telling others of my discoveries. We vote with our dollars, we can effect change at a grass roots level. Imagine my joy while touring the grand opening of an independent dye business, and hearing how the new owners are employing and resurrecting skills from centuries past. Running a dyehouse requires a knowledge base and understanding of skills that has nearly evaporated. To purchase such a business and create employment in your own backyard is something to be lauded. Kudos to the owners of Saco River Dyehouse!

Claudia Raessler was an informative tour guide on our visit to the Dyehouse.
Saco River Dyehouse
100 Main Street, Building 13W Biddeford, Maine 04004

The JCA Dyehouse of Pepperell, MA, went into foreclosure when the owner of that business passed away. With the closure of the JCA business, Quince had to contract with a dyer in Philadelphia and the additional expenses were considerable.  Claudia and Ken Raessler, Nick Burnett and Pam Allen joined their resources and became Maine Textiles International and assumed ownership of the JCA business last summer. They bought the contents of the business, with machines that had been made in the 1930s, loaded it all into 18 tractor trailer trucks, and shipped them to Biddeford.

The dyehouse is located in an 18,000 square foot mill space that had been the location of a textile business for the past 150 years, before shutting down in 2009.  The mill location was a good fit for the needs of a dyehouse as it had been used for that purpose in the past. The company currently employs 7 full-time workers and plans to expand that to 15 in the next year. Claudia also shared with us that the company has been talking to York Community College in the hopes that they will create a certificate program that trains textile machinery operators.

The timing of this new partnership was providential as the JCA Dyehouse had provided dyeing services for the Quince and Co. Yarn brand. When the business closed, Quince yarn had to find a new dyehouse, the closest was in Philadelphia. This option was costly and not the optimal solution for the new company.

Imagine you are Pam Allen, losing sleep over success of your two year old yarn company. The Quince vision statement is to provide knitters with high quality, natural fiber yarn which is primarily sourced within the US, and processed by American based companies during the steps of scouring, spinning and dyeing. She sells directly to the consumer, skipping the costs of the wholesale end. In steps Claudia with a solution. She describes Claudia as her guardian angel in resolving the dyeing dilemma.

Dyehouse Tour
It is important for you to know that I had only my camera while on the tour and my recall of the many details is a little shaky. I did research to affirm my recall. Check the links below for more of the story; it truly is fascinating and encouraging to see people so very dedicated to providing an American Made product. Navigate to Saco River Yarns' Facebook page. Hit "Like" and follow their updates.

These racks hold dyed skeins for drying.
 I resisted the urge to stick my little mitts into these huge bags of fiber, AKA The Great White Bale.
Another huge bag of GWB fiber.
Rows upon rows of boxes holding skeined yarn.
Skeins, on old wooden dowels, hung in carts to be sent to drying racks.
This machine turns spool of yarn into skeins.

Another angle of the machine that winds yarn on cones into skeins.
Undyed hanks awaiting color.

Cones of yarn.
The dyeing room.
Containers of dye.

Dye bath, water is heated to a certain temperature during the process.
Rack of skeins ready to be dyed.
Large dye vat.
This machine extracts dye water, much like a washing machine.
Racks of red.

Quince Osprey in Snap Pea, how many sweaters worth?
Skeining machines, they look like something out of a Stephen King novel.

Close up.

Machine which wraps skeins with labels.
Sacks of wool
This equipment winds yarn into balls.

Old school scale, avocado green, circa 1970s?
Sarah found this cart of orange wool, a tad too bright for knitting but cool.

Perhaps the chairs provided the dyeist with inspiration?
I so enjoyed touring this facility and encourage you to pay a visit. You should probably call to ask about availability of tours, but go and shop and support these local entrepreneurs!

If you want to read further..... here are additional resources:
Maine Sunday Telegram 12/17/12 article, Biddeford Business Revives a Traditional Industry, by Gillian Graham.

Video of Claudia explaining the next steps for Saco River Dyehouse.

Quince blogpost, Another Door, Pm Allen writes about the possibility of Biddeford location for Quince dyeing and distribution.

SuriPaco blogpost about the closing of the JCA business and plans for the future Dyehouse in Biddeford.

Journal Tribune article, 9/20/12, Textiles return to Biddeford Mills, by Dina Medros.

SuriPaco Farm 6/25/12 blogpost, Saco River Dyehouse Saga Continues

MaineBiz, Current Editions,  8/6/12 article Profitable Patterns, Pam Allen, Quince and Co. by Rebecca Goldstein.  Click on the Women to Watch 2012 video for an interview with Pam Allen.


Cleo said…
Wow that looks like a cool place to visit.
Jean said…
I visited Saco River Yarns last Thursday and inquired about tours of the dye house. I was told tours will start in May and will be announced on the SRY blog. Your post here, and the previous one, are excellent. I'm sure if I read back further, I'll say that about all of your posts.
Alicia Landi said…
What a great recounting of your visit! Very cool to see all of the machines. I LOOOOOOVE everything Clara Parkes does, it's so great to hear her inspiring others to support local business.

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