CGT School: The dye lot dilemma

Like a chef cooking in a kitchen, where the ingredients remain the same but the change in environment can alter the flavour of the dish. In our case, the plumbing, temperature, and other environmental factors can change the colours produced, even with the same ingredients.

Dyed threads hanging on a wall
Image: Dyed threads hanging on a wall

Taming the dye beast – Dye lots and other challenges

They say to never work with children or animals…but I bet they’ve never tried to tame the wild beast that is hand dyeing a natural fibre. Differences between dye lots are your biggest frustration as a customer and our biggest challenge as dyers. Today we will be unpacking the how’s, whys and solutions for differences in dye lots.

Our study begins with a brief retrospect of our dye methods from kitchen sink to factory. Like any skill or craft, comes a honing of techniques acquired only through experience and a lot of trial and error. Over the past 17 years we have been on a mission of continual improvement. Our processes have changed dramatically, some things taken out and others added in. Each time we have a breakthrough, we immediately look to what we can improve next that will move us closer to our goal.

Our Goal

Our goal is to produce consistent colour batches that you can depend on. We are very close, but not quite there yet. The success of each process improvement has come by first identifying, then understanding the many variables that exist in the dye process. Variables are things that can change without warning or are dependent on certain factors. The variables can be grouped into four categories.

  1. Base product
  2. Dye stock
  3. Environment
  4. Water content.

Lets have a look at each variable and the influence they have on the dye process.

Natural Product

When you stitch with CGT, you are stitching with the highest quality cotton in the world. Egyptian Giza cotton is harvested close to the Nile river. Its superior quality lies in the environmental conditions surrounding the region in which it is grown and harvested. But cotton itself is a natural fibre and variations at a cellular level can react differently to dye, therefore we understand that we will never be able to control colour the way a synthetic fibre is able to produce identical results.

Dye Stock

We mix a dry dye stock into a primary wet dye, then combine to produce secondary dyes. When new stock arrives we test dye and compare primary thread samples. There are hundreds of secondary dye colours that we use so we are unable to test every single formula. Sometimes dye lots are a little different to our quality control standard so we tweak the individual combinations of secondary formulas to match the control standard. If the colour variation is too far from the standard, they are added to our nude threads as miss dyes.


We live in a beautiful part of the world with distinctive seasons, from 40 degree heat in summer to 5 degree cold in winter and varying degrees of humidity levels. The building we work from is over 100 years old and far from a controlled lab environment. We are at the mercy of the weather, and this can influence dye results. Our little town doesn’t have an industrial estate or options for us to move into a more modern controllable building, however we are working on getting heating/cooling systems to better maintain a consistent environment.

Water Quality

For dyeing and rinsing threads, we use local water supplies, and we've recently investigated the water quality and contents and how this could affect the dyeing process. We are currently in the process of testing a new filtration system that we hope will help us further improve our dyeing process, which is exciting. We are confident that this new system will help us to create even better quality products. After moving from Pam's house to our factory, we noticed a huge difference in results and had to reformulate every colour. This leads us to believe that even the plumbing had a significantimpact on the results. Like a chef changing kitchen, where the ingredients remain the same but the change in environment can alter the flavour of the dish. In our case, the plumbing, temperature, and other environmental factors can change the colours produced, even with the same ingredients.

Evolution of packaging

Another factor which may not be obvious is the fact that our products don’t expire. Some of our very first threads are still packed away in stashes awaiting their day in the needle. Threads from every step of our evolution are out there, some still on store shelves. This adds yet another layer of challenge, but there is a little clue you can use to estimate the “era” of thread and how likely it is that you can find a dye lot match - the evolution of our packaging.

Any thread previous to our current packaging is at least 2 years old and will be hard to find the same again. If you are embarking on a new project that will require more than one skein, it is safest to purchase new skeins. Or If you find yourself working with skeins from multiple dye lots that are slightly different, you can alternate between skeins and the difference is not obvious, they blend together.

Rule of Thumb

There is a simple solution that has been used by knitters forever. We call it our Rule of Thumb - Buy enough plus one. If you’ve got a project that requires multiple skeins – make sure you buy enough plus one. We always supply orders whether wholesale or retail from the same dye lot. If you are doing a conversion from another brand and not sure how much you need, we recommend one 10m skein of CGT to one 8 yard skein of DMC. Even though 10m is greater than 8 yards, stitchers tend to go through CGT a little quicker because it is pre-cut. It’s better to be left with a little extra than not enough. 

Special offer

Buy 10 threads get another 1 free 

Offer automatically applied when you add 11 threads to your cart. 

Nude thread packs 

10 un-packaged miss dyes, seconds and obsolete colours. While stocks last.

“I love the differences between dye lots, each nuance means a new colour I get to work with and my project is going to be unique to me” Lynne - customer