Monday, May 23, 2016

Tour Weeks Dye Works and their wonderful world of color!

Grab a cup of coffee or a cold drink and join us on our "private tour" of fabulous Weeks Dye Works and their wonderful family business.

We've got lots of pics, and I think you'll enjoy the whole field trip. There is SO much to share about the WDW wonderful world of color! Heck, I was so excited talking with Miranda and John about their business...and how they do what they do...I didn't even remember to pick up any samples of their gorgeous linen, wool and fibers. Major mistake!!! I was overwhelmed with admiration for the business they have created over the last 20+ years.

We flew to Raleigh/Durham International Airport and made the short scenic drive to Garner, NC. WDW shares a warehouse type building with John's architectural office. Here's Miranda in her "official" office (John's office is in opposite corner of large room), although you can often find her in the WDW "back room" where the color magic happens. I hear someone cleaned her desk for our did look suspiciously vacant.

As WDW has grown, so has their darling family. You can recognize their children's names on WDW thread colors. Here are Morris (Morris Blue) and Sophie (Sophia's Pink) and a couple canine friends. They were the first kids home from school, which means "home" at the office until quitting time.

There's a big table for home work and a kids play area with bunk beds and toys. The entire WDW facility was decorated with kids artwork - you never knew where it would pop up. I should mention that every year at market the WDW kids are the most courteous "yes, ma'am, yes sir" kids as they greet customers and help around their booth.

The younger kids, Michael (Michael's Navy) and Sally (Sally's Sunshine) joined us later. Lots of smiling blonds in this family.

We arrived a lunchtime, so began our tour (appropriately) with some authentic Southern barbecue in downtown Raleigh. Pulled pork and 2 competing sauces, hushpuppies, biscuits, collards, black eyed get the yummy idea. We had the BEST time chatting about the needlework biz and everything else. We have a lot in common...both of us have husbands in a largely female industry, our companies are 20+ years old, and we've both learned a lot as we've created/developed our unique businesses.

But back to our tour. These ladies keep the front office humming, working with customers in the cross stitch, needlepoint and quilting niches. They were so cheerful and it was fun for me to put faces with the charming Southern voices I hear regularly on the phone. 

These ladies don't sit all day - they pull and ship orders! Above are neatly piled orders waiting to be packed and shipped. There's a mix of linen, wool and fibers hiding underneath. 

The front office is where the inventory is neatly organized...and I mean ORGANIZED! First I spied the boxes of numerical WDW overdyed floss....floss heaven! Each box contains one color. Inside that box of floss are large cones of floss, as well as floss in skeins. Skeins are banded in groups of 10 and bagged in groups of 100. As skeins are sold, spools are sent out to the LOL (little old ladies) who neatly put them into skeins. They can tell at a glance how much of any specific color is available, or when it's time to dye.

So much floss, never enough time to use it, but always room in my stash!

I was happy to spot one of my favorite colors, Busy Lizzie. I helped create this color for the Things Unseen Mystery Sampler last year. Other colors that are WDW/L*K collaborations are Oscar and Clockwork...and of course the upcoming SPOOKED! color (more on that later in post).

Nearby are similar boxes of overdyed Perle cottons.

All around the perimeter of front office are tags...tags, tags everywhere! Originally they printed, cut and punched tags themselves. Now their local printer does that unless it's a "thread" emergency. Organizing and inventorying tags for all the WDW products takes up a surprising amount of space.

Beyond the overdyed flosses are shelves full of linens and wools. They are so BEAUTIFUL! Just look and drool. Seeing them altogether was visually stunning. I definitely want to use more in upcoming L*K creations...the textures and colors are positively yummy. 

I could have lingered in the warehouse area all day, but let's move on to the BACK ROOM, where all the dyeing magic happens. The back room looks like a real factory with interesting, complicated, customized equipment. Honestly, I can't remember what happens in area above, but it's impressive...right?

Above is a "formula" for an overdyed thread color. Each WDW color has a specific formula of dye colors that they replicate every time the thread is dyed. That's why WDW maintains amazing color consistency from dye lot to dye lot, over the years.

Dyes are measured inside this high tech "dye booth" that John built. Miranda says John has a tendency to overbuild stuff. Maybe yes, maybe just what the job calls for. No guess work here. Dye booth is the yellow enclosure on right with clear walls. 

Inside this sealed environment, colors are carefully measured and weighed. I know...who knew? So now when I call and they tell me Miranda will return my call later because she's in the "dye booth" I know where she is and what she's doing! 

Lots of dye containers, sized small to extra large!

But, even with these exacting measurements, colors fluctuate slightly every time they dye. WDW is dyeing natural fabrics...cotton, linen, wool...and it's a bit of an experiment every time. That's why they maintain the formula card (2 pics above) and keep adjusting dye until they get the best color match. I really appreciate that WDW works hard to maintain color consistency. As a designer, this is really helpful to me and I know to all of you stitchers out there in blog land.

Here are rolls of various fabrics awaiting their turn in the dyeing process.

And then the color magic happens to linens and wool in this area. Sorry, no closeup photos of the fabric dyeing process. Let's just say it's wet, colorful and fantastic things happen in this important area at WDW. Check out all the washers and dryers...bunches of them! Laundry happens at work, as well as at home for the McGahey bunch and their employees. Newly dyed fabrics are washed and dried after their colorful baths.


Also nearby were giant bags of salt and soda ash. In the chemistry of dyeing, these aid in treating the water and facilitating the dyeing process. 

After the newly dyed fabrics are dried, ironing is the next step. Check out the oversized ironing board and an employee smiling while she irons a giant piece of linen. 

These talented ladies work in the back room. They're smiling, but they're not telling how they work their color magic. It will remain a MYSTERY!

"What about the overdyed flosses?", you ask. As to the actual overdyeing process for the threads, we can tell you PART of the story. The rest of the story is a "trade secret" and we understand why WDW wants to keep it that way.

We just marveled how WDW has devised processes to perfect overdyeing threads. They have designed and built custom equipment. From machines that wind the threads neatly so they can be immersed and dyed, to the actual overdyeing process, WDW is using original equipment they have designed. I always wondered how you could dye large batches of floss without getting a tangly, mushy mess. Problem: solved! John is a whiz at imagining the right machine for the precise job, and making it a reality. It was so innovative and totally impressive. Definitely a worthy "trade secret"!

Overdyed threads from WDW are actually dyed 2 times! They begin with white thread and dye a solid color for the base. Then this colorful base is overdyed - step 2 - to create the beautiful overdyed threads.

While we were there, they were working on a batch of our exclusive new color for SPOOKED! Mystery Sampler. Sorry, no pictures of the actual overdyeing process, but I can reveal the name:

Marmalade!!!  As in "orange" marmalade. 

Once I talked to Miranda about dyeing me a new color, I gave her several DMC colors for inspiration. I wanted a beautiful yellow-orange that was unlike anything in the WDW current lineup. And I'm thrilled with the results. Above are some of our "test runs" with light, medium and darker variations on our Marmalade theme. 

Look carefully and you can see Marmalade hiding among the other thread colors we're putting in our SPOOKED! thread pack.

Here's one fun story:
While Miranda was working on test batches for the new thread, I was brainstorming color names. I kept emailing her lists of ideas, looking for things that were golden-orange in color, and names that haven't previously been used. No small task! 

Because this thread color reminded me of a strawberry blond hair color, I began thinking of famous redheads. I sent Miranda a list of some redheads I thought might be thread worthy...Lucy, Wilma (Flintstone), Pippy (Longstocking) and my favorite quirky idea - Midge!

If you're of a certain age, you should remember Midge, Barbie's best friend! She was the red-headed part of the Barbie clan and I loved her freckles (probably because I was so freckled). Alas, as we consulted the whole staff at WDW on possible color name selections, we had a divided vote (gasp). Some ladies were firmly in the "Midge" camp, and others thought it made no sense. Perhaps an age thing? I understood this, so suggested the compromise "Marmalade" to unite the golden orange front. And that's the rest of the story, as they say. 

Anyone still have their Midge doll? I still have Chatty Kathy on my closet shelf, and her custom clothes my Aunt Connie sewed for her. But Midge, Barbie and Skipper disappeared somewhere. Wish I still had that Barbie dream car!

Thanks for joining us on the fabulous WDW "magical mystery tour". I can't tell you how fun it was to finally see the entire production facility and have an opportunity to spend hours with Miranda and John. Usually it's a quick "Hi" in the hallway at market. And now I have an even greater appreciation for the lovely WDW products. 

P.S.We did have an unfortunate quirk in air travel (hate it when that happens) on our way to NC and long story short...spent the night in the St. Louis airport due to mechanical problems. During the long, extremely NOISY night of airport camping I had a number of "deep" revelations I feel I should share:

* Muzak gets louder after midnight (due to lack of people in terminal)
* Listening to CNN all night with Hillary, Bernie and Donald isn't entertaining (also very loud)
* The "Zamboni" machine they use to clean tile floors makes 1000+ passes down the corridor
* The cleaning crews materialize out of nowhere and kinda freak you out
* Security staff was never seen - also a little creepy
* Those seats are NOT made for sleeping - big ridges that don't promote sleeping
* It's COLD at night....brrrrrrrrrr...I raided my suitcase for my raincoat
* I'm TOO OLD for this!!!!

But thanks, and shout out to gate agent "John S" who went beyond the call of duty and did more than offer his apologies. He spontaneously brought us a pile of blankets, 2 Sprites, and the remaining stash of pretzels and peanuts from a plane over-nighting at the gate (see sack on bottom left)! Kindness happens.

COMMENTS? Questions? We've love to hear from you about the WDW magical color tour.

Don't forget...Part 1 of our SPOOKED Mystery Sampler ships to shops everywhere on Wed., June 15. If you're not on the pre-order list and need some mystery in your life this summer, let your favorite shop know NOW! The countdown is ON!!!


  1. What a great pictorial of the Weeks Dye Works business! I love Marmalade and Buzy Lizzie and really appreciate their dedication to consistency in their dye lots. Thank you for the wonderful sneak-peek!

  2. can't wait for the spooked to come out! love the marmalade color!

  3. Thanks for sharing the photo tour of your WDW field trip! It looked fascinating.

  4. Linda, A bundle of thanks to you and Alan for sharing your wonderful pictures from your tour at Weeks. Having Weeks in our shop for many years, we have often wondered about the process of getting it to shops. What an impressive operation. Thanks, Saundra @Finishing Touch

  5. Oh my gosh, so many pretty things in this one too. These field trip posts have been amazing, thank you again for sharing the experience.

  6. I swear, I would be like the kid in the toy store where I touched EVERYTHING and hearing my mom's voice saying, "if it's not yours, don't touch! Pure bliss! I had Midge, Skipper, Barbie and Ken, played with them all the time.

  7. I still have my Midge doll! She looks like she has gone through the war but very alive and well in my cedar chest!

  8. LOVED this tour and your comments. I live about an hour from Raleigh and wish I could work at WDW - how fun would that be?!?!? And since we are about the same age...still remember my Chatty Cathy (her voice box was ruined after multiple dips in the water to style her hair), Midge, Skipper and my pink Barbie Dream car with the front wheels that "turned" the car. My Ken doll had felt like hair - did yours? All were sold at a garage sale (probably for 50 cents), when my parents moved us from our childhood home in Indiana, down south. Love your stories and tutorials-thanks for sharing so selflessly. Stephanie