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The Color Forager: How Annie Cadden Utilizes Nature in Her Fibers

Annie Cadden’s obsession with yarn started over 20 years ago. “I spotted a woman wearing a green sweater in a shade I’d never seen before,” she recalls. “It turned out the color came from dyeing the wool using lichen.” Cadden was so fascinated with the hue that she sought out her local Woodland Weavers & Spinners Guild, whose lessons in weaving, spinning and dyeing kick-started an obsession.

Cadden, who lives near Bethel Woods, founded Fisher Cat Fiber Co. 10 years ago. She says, “Honestly, to begin with, I didn’t know if we were a business or an adventure,” but in the last two years the business has seriously expanded. “COVID gave me the push to do more of something I was already leaning towards.”

She has a small outdoor dye studio on her 10-acre property but prefers working over an open fire pit. To accommodate her collection of random pots, pans and cauldrons, she’s topped the pit with a large piece of catwalk salvaged from an NYC sidewalk. Atop, she places all kind of receptacles for her bubbling brews of dye—the ingredients of which are harvested seasonally and locally.

Cadden will use anything—including mushrooms, sumac, goldenrod, nettles and walnuts—to create her colors. In any case, she likes to dye as soon as she has harvested her ingredients. “Fresh is best,” she says. “You get the brightest colors when you do it right away.”

hanging yarn
Cascades. In her workspace, Cadden’s naturally dyed yarns and textiles tumble in lavishly hued loops.

Wool comes from two farms, one just five miles down the road in Bethel, from Tunis breed sheep (which yield a more sturdy, rustic yarn), and the other a farm in Clifford Township, Penn., from Border Leicester sheep (whose wool is slightly softer). The wool is then milled so it’s ready for dyeing at the Skirted Fleece Mill in Milanville, Penn.

Cadden also dyes fabric, using techniques such as shibori, in which she ties fabric in tight cubes with clamps and rubber bands, creating patterns of dye in the fabric. Whether she is dyeing fabric or wool, the routine is always the same: It takes a good three hours for the dyeing process to work. There’s no walking away from the pot, either: Just like cooking risotto, it’s all about standing nearby and stirring. “But I never get tired of it. I like the whole process; even if it starts raining it’s OK because ultimately being with nature is rewarding.”