Natural Dyeing as a sustainable practice with Kate James from Valleymaker

Think exquisite yarns and threads naturally dyed with local plants - and that's only the tip of the iceberg of what Kate James online store Valleymaker has on offer. Stunning artisan materials are a real passion for Kate who believes that knowing the story of what material you're using; its origins, and how it came to be - creates a wonderful connection between maker and craft.

You have the most beautiful collection of wool that you naturally dye. Tell me about this passion of yours.

Valleymaker, first and foremost, is a project committed to the practice and process of botanical dyeing. It really is a front for my total obsession with creating colours from plants!

Dyeing with plants is a slow and mesmerising process. From growing and gathering the plants, preparing the yarns and fibres correctly, to creating a dye bath and turning white yarn into a beautiful colour; the experience is always thrilling, often unpredictable and totally addictive for me.


I only use materials and processes that do not harm the environment, nor me as the dyer or the customer who wears or works with my yarns. Botanical dyeing does not use chemicals. My exhausted dye baths are tipped onto my lawn. The dye plants are put into the compost once used. The fibres themselves can be composted eventually when it is beyond personal possession, creating a closed-loop system of production.


We need to move away from using toxic chemicals in fibre growing and production, as well as in the dyeing of cloth and yarns.

The fashion industry is responsible for a huge output of carbon emissions each year and chemical dyes generate massive levels of pollution. We need to move away from using toxic chemicals in fibre growing and production, as well as in the dyeing of cloth and yarns. I believe there needs to be a global shift in thinking; we must return to natural dyeing as opposed to chemical dyeing if we wish to work with our planet for a sustainable future.


Can you tell us about your yarn and how you source the fleece and the process?

Valleymaker yarns offer an alternative to mass-produced, chemically processed and chemically dyed yarns.

Knowing the origins of your yarn changes everything. When we understand where and how a product was made it becomes more meaningful to us. We care more about things when we know their story.



I believe there needs to a global shift in thinking; we must return to natural dyeing as opposed to chemical dyeing, if we wish to work with our planet for a sustainable future.

Australia is the world’s leading producer of fine wool, which is nearly all merino wool and nearly all exported. China is Australia’s major wool buyer where the wool can be processed more cheaply. The lack of mills in Australia to process fleeces here makes it difficult to buy 100% Australian grown, processed and dyed yarn. But the market is full of merino, superwash merino, merino nylon blends etc and very few single source, breed-specific yarns. Valleymaker aims to offer an alternative to mass-produced yarns.


Each year I release small collections of yarns from a few different sources. Our Home Story alpaca yarn is an entirely local, small scale, limited edition production. The fleece comes from a leading alpaca stud producing high-quality fleeces. The animals that produce this wool are 30-km from me, and it is milled locally at around the same distance, without any additional processing. Then it is botanically dyed with plants from the Yarra Valley. This process creates high-quality, luxurious artisan yarn.


I also offer a Rare Breed range (which I aim to slowly expand). This is my way to celebrate different breeds of sheep that may not be commonly found as yarns in Australia and to support Victorian farmers and woollen mills.


Knowing the origins of your yarn changes everything. When we understand where and how a product was made it becomes more meaningful to us. We care more about things when we know their story.

Finn, for instance, is now on the Rare Sheep Breed Registry of Australia and are classed as critical because of such low numbers. The only finn fleece and yarn available in Australia come from Fairfield Finns in Bullengarook, in the Macedon ranges, Victoria. Maureen and Gerry from Fairfield Finns have been breeding their finn sheep now for 25-years. The duo are devoted to raising their flock ethically and their sheep are not mulsed or need their tails docked (they have a naturally short tail).


Maureen saves up the fleeces for three years until she has enough to send on to Cashmere Connections for scouring and processing, and then on to Wangaratta Woolen Mills to be spun, thus creating a limited editon yarn produced only by their flock’s fleeces.

Lastly, due to the difficulty in sourcing Australian yarns, I also offer yarns grown and milled without any chemicals in the South Island of New Zealand by a family run operation called Wild Earth yarns. I then dye them here in the Yarra Valley.



What are your favourite yarns, and why?

I came to hand-spinning first before turning to knitting. A major appeal of spinning my own yarn is in experimenting with lots of different breeds of sheep - and Camelids, Rabbit, Goat and others.

A spinner learns about fleece micron (the diameter of the wool fibre; i.e., the larger the number, the coarser the wool), its staple (or length), how a fleece behaves and is best prepared and spun, the individual characteristics of each breed’s fleece and it’s used as a yarn.


There are plenty of options available to the hand spinner in Australia when purchasing raw or cleaned fleeces, or rovings, and it is a joy to play with them all. I can’t say that I have a favourite fleece.


I am attracted to different fleeces for their different qualities but having said that, I do adore alpaca fleece and yarn. Whilst I don’t spin as much as I now knit, I find that I am still drawn to learning about different sheep breeds and how their fleeces and yarns differ from one another.


The colours of your yarns are incredible! What are your favourite ingredients to use for a natural dye?

My favourite dye plant is definitely Madder (Rubia Tinctorum). Madder is a herbaceous perennial that grows as a weedy, messy looking bush but its true beauty lies hidden in its roots. It offers up colourfastness and lightfastness, corals and pinks. It is a precious dye source. I grow my plants in my vegie patch and wait three years to harvest their roots.


Visit Valleymaker: https://www.valley-maker.com/

Follow @valley_maker




Want to learn to natural dye fabrics and raffia? Go here!

679 views1 comment