An American Woolen Story: Brynn Bender

It's a small piece of fabric.  An inch long and a half an inch wide.  That's all with which she has to work.  She is tasked with discovering the dye formula to match the color on that little piece of fabric.  A thick book sits on her table.  Previously dyed skeins are taped to a page with the corresponding formulas written adjacent.  It's a starting place.  She mixes the dye formula, making adjustments to get the color precise.  She takes the sample to the “light box,” a piece of equipment that allows her to view the sample in simulated sunlight.  There she can get a true representation of the color.  If it is not spot on then it's back to the beginning.  She proceeds only when she’s confident the color is a precise match.  At that point, she converts her formula to dye a much larger batch.  The yield will be unusable if it’s off even a fraction of a percent.  This is Brynn Bender and she is the Dye House Supervisor at American Woolen.

Tell me a bit about your background

I grew up in Illinois, went to school at University of Missouri.  Got a bachelors in art history.  I graduated in ‘93, and then I moved to Chicago, and I worked there for about 4 years in conservation laboratories.  There I became interested in cultural materials and wanting to know how they're made and how they react over time.  I got my master of arts degree at State University of New York in Buffalo with Advanced Study in Art Conservation.  That’s where I learned more chemistry focusing on material science.

Where does the American Woolen Dye House fit into the process? 

There’s no reason why we can’t make textiles here. There’s absolutely no reason.

The Planning department gives us a requisition.  They need a certain type of wool or silk yarn and for so many pounds.  All the American Woolen colors are new so I do a lot of lab work to make the color a reality.  The Designer might give us a small piece of fabric or threads with the color to get us started.  I work in the lab to match that color.  At that point we start moving on dying.

What's the most rewarding part of your job?

I think it's when everything works smoothly. Because that's where the niche is I'm supposed to fill.  The other day Amanda from Planning called and asked,  "When would you be able to get 3lbs of "true blue" of yarn dyed?" And I know the formula off the top of my head, and I know the machine is ready and when we can start it, all off the top of my head.  So that's how this is supposed to work. just being efficient and knowing how everything needs to run in the Dye House.

What's the most challenging part of your job?

Anything from equipment issues to being in the know. I think you have to come in knowing that everyday could be completely different and accepting that you never know when someone walks in the door and what they need and just embracing that and not freaking out.

What advice would you give to someone trying to get into textile dyeing? 

Know your Chemistry.  Chemistry. Chemistry. Chemistry. 

What does the Made in America movement mean to you?

There's no reason why we can't make textiles here. There's absolutely no reason.  It really should be done here.  In this day and age people are more aware and they want it. And there's always the pride of making products here.

What do you do in your spare time.

My girls are 3 1/2 so I do a lot of kid stuff.  I play soccer.  My whole life I've played soccer.  I love it. Nothing better than a grassy field. I like wood working. Building furniture. Working with my hands.  At our previous location we raised service dogs.  I would get the dog as a pup and I take it with me wherever I go.  At about a year and half one pup we raised went on to a more advanced training and now he detects seizures for a man and has saved his life numerous times. Super rewarding.