"Crafts Can Be Hazardous to your Health"
Reviewed by Ellen Hogan
Posted January 25, 2013
Betsy Devonshire is the owner of Crewel World craft store.
She asked Hailey Brent to do a demonstration of dying yarns
for her customers. The presentation went well but a few days
later Hailey is found dead in her basement where she had
been dying some yarns. Marge Schultz is Hailey's neighbor
and the owner of Green Gaia Gardens nursery. At once the
police question Marge and she is afraid they will try and
pin Hailey's murder on her. So, she asks Betsy to look into
it and help clear her name. The more she learns about Hailey
the more suspects she has and calls on her boyfriend Conner,
her assisstant Godwin and her friend Jill to help her sort
through everything she learns in order to find the culprit.
AND THEN YOU DYE is a good cozy mystery. This is one of
several books in a series of Needlecraft Mysteries. There is no
problem reading this book as a stand alone, although after
reading it I will be finding more in the series to read.
Ms. Ferris has a talent for telling a story with just the
right amount of suspense and humor. The characters are
delightful and the plot flows seamlessly from start to
finish. It's an easy read that could be finished in an
afternoon. Cozy mytery lovers will want to read this
Betsy Devonshire, full-time owner of the Crewel World
needlework shop and part-time sleuth, has hooked more than a
few crooks in the USA Today bestselling Needlecraft
Mysteries. Now Betsy learns the hard way that a murder is
still murder, any way you color it…
Betsy is a natural-born yarnsmith—so it’s only fitting that
some of her favorite items to stock come from the dye-works
of Hailey Brent. Hailey makes hand-dyed knitting wool, silk,
soy, and corn yarns. She uses only natural vegetable dyes,
creating soft and beautiful colors. Which means her yarns
are expensive, but well worth it.
Unfortunately, someone thinks they’re worth killing for.
When Hailey’s body is discovered shot dead in her workshop,
Betsy discovers that there was a lot about Hailey she would
have never guessed. Like her penchant for stealing other’s
property for her own use. Her use of dangerous additives to
create her so-called all-natural fibers. And a scheming mind
that had made her more than one enemy.
Now, Betsy must wring the truth from a bevy of colorful
suspects. Because the truth just might mean the difference
between living—and dyeing…
The surface of the library table in the Crewel World
needlework shop was thickly layered with newspaper over a
sturdy plastic sheet. A big kettle and a large, long-handled
stainless-steel pot were simmering on a hot plate in the
middle of the table, and there was a smell in the moist air
as of some kind of unpopular green vegetable cooking.
All eight seats at the table were taken and two women and a
man were standing, all attentive to a handsome dark-haired
woman in her middle fifties enveloped in a white smock
generously spattered with soft colors, some faded almost to
"In dyeing there are two kinds of fibers," she was saying,
waving an arm over the pot, "protein fibers and plant
fibers. Protein fibers come from animals: wool, silk,
alpaca, dog and cat, yak, etcetera."
A standing woman's hand went up. "I beg your pardon," she
said. "Silk is animal protein?"
"Certainly. It comes from the silkworm. And worms –
they're moth larvae, actually – are animals."
"Oh, the silkworm. Well, yes, I guess they are." But her
nose was wrinkled in distaste.
"Cotton, linen, soy, bamboo, and corn are some of the plant
fibers." She paused, waiting for someone to question that,
but no one did.
Betsy Devonshire, one of the standees and owner of Crewel
World, thought that might be because the speaker was Hailey
Brent, whose hand-spun and -dyed yarns, made of all the
aforementioned fibers, and more, were familiar to these
people, who were customers of Betsy's shop.
Hailey looked at the smaller pot on the hot plate. The
liquid in it was thick with wilted pinky-lavender flower
heads. She picked up a foot-long wooden dowel to stir the
mixture. "Just a little longer," she said.
In an irregular cluster on the table were four small glass
bottles, each containing a powder, one white, one gray-green
and two gray. Each carried a white stick-on label with
uncial lettering: Tin, Copper, Iron, Alum.
"Now, mordants." Hailey gestured at the bottles. "Mordants
are chemical or metal salts such as these, dissolved in
water. The word comes from a Latin word for ‘bite,' because
they cause the dye to penetrate the fiber. Any fibers you
are going to dye should first be soaked in one of these
mordants. They change the way color from the dye bath
affects the fibers. They may also brighten, dull, or
strengthen a color, and they all serve to make the dye more
colorfast. All the metallic ones are poisonous, which is the
main reason why, if you decide to try dyeing, you should
absolutely never use a pot or pan or bowl that you use in
ordinary cooking. Not even careful washing is guaranteed to
restore it to safe food use. I hope that is clear?" Hailey
had gone from genial to very serious in her talk, and
everyone solemnly nodded back at her. Those who had been
taking notes were seen to write this down.
Betsy, who had been thinking that dyeing might be an
interesting way to spend an afternoon, changed her mind.
"Good. Now, let's strain out the vegetable matter from our
Hailey reached under the table for yet another stainless
steel pot, this a big one with two pouring lips. Atop it was
a big, deep strainer. She slowly poured the flower heads and
the liquid, the color of thin tea, into the strainer, using
the dowel to poke the last of the flowers out.
"Ms. Brent," asked one of the observers seated at the table,
"is that brown the color we're going to get on the wool?"
"Possibly. I'm not sure," Hailey replied. "One of the more
interesting things about vegetable dyeing is that when you
try a new variety, you're never quite sure what color you're
going to get. But I don't think we're going to get pink or
"Oh," said someone else in a disappointed voice, "I was
hoping for a nice, bright pink."
"For a nice, bright pink, I'm afraid you need to go to the
aniline dyes – chemical dyes. Natural dyes tend to be
softer in color."
"But wasn't there a red dye back in the eighteenth century?"
asked another woman. "The British used it on its soldiers'
uniforms, that's why they were called redcoats, right? And
that was before aniline dyes."
"There is a natural dye that gives a true red, but it comes
from an insect found on Mexican cactus plants: cochineal. It
was a very expensive dye – still is, in fact. The
British were showing off, using it for ordinary soldiers'
uniforms. The closest red you'll get from a vegetable dye is
orange. There is actually a local flower that will give you
a nice, rich orange, but it isn't fast – it fades in
sunlight and after a couple of washings, even when mordanted."
"What flower is that?" asked the woman.
"A new variety of marigold. You'll probably notice, when we
dye our samples, that the wool mordanted in tin gives us the
Also on the table was a low stack of fabric cut into
four-inch squares, each with five short lengths of white
yarn slip-knotted through slits cut down one side. Beside
each slip of yarn was printed on the fabric with permanent
marker: Alum, Copper, Iron, Tin and None.
Hailey picked up the squares, counted the number of people
present (including herself) and pulled a dozen squares off
the stack. Setting them aside, she lifted the strainer off
the big pot and dumped the flowers into a waste basket lined
with a plastic bag, then poured the liquid back into the
pot, putting it back on the burner.
"Let's try dyeing some of our wool." She took the dozen
squares and dropped them into the pot, poking at them with
the dowel. She checked her watch, and half her audience did,
too. "We'll give it five minutes," she said.
Meanwhile, she lifted the kettle off the hot plate and
poured its steaming contents into a stainless steel dishpan.
"Rinse water," she explained.
She reached under the table and came up with a twin to the
pot currently holding the squares. "Betsy, could you fill
this about halfway with hot water?"
"Certainly," said Betsy, taking the pot with her into the
back room, where – having been forewarned – she
had earlier filled the electric tea kettle and plugged it in.
Hailey Brent had come into Crewel World several months ago
to see if Betsy would be interested in carrying her
hand-dyed and –spun knitting yarns. Betsy was pleased
to add them to her stock and some of her customers were
willing to pay the higher prices for the yarns. It was a
natural progression for Betsy to invite Hailey to spend an
evening in the shop giving a demonstration on dyeing.
So here they were on a Thursday evening in late April,
learning some of the basics.
Betsy poured hot water into the pan and brought it back to
Hailey was lifting one of the squares out with her dowel,
checking its progress. Already one of the slips of yarn was
a dark brown color, one was a bright yellow, one was palest
cream, and one was olive-green. The last one, marked "none,"
was not visibly affected. It was an interesting,
seemingly-magical effect to see fibers coming out different
colors from the same dyepot. The square itself had turned a
"None of them is tea colored," said one of the seated women,
"This is what I told you, you never know when you try some
new vegetable dye what color you're going to get," said
"I was really hoping for something lavender," remarked
another of the sitting women. "I don't see why lavender
flowers don't produce a lavender dye."
"You know something?" said Hailey with a chuckle. "Neither
"Maybe if we used the roots," persisted the woman. "You said
earlier that roots can be a source of dye and that you don't
always get the color of the roots when you use them as dye."
"But we don't have the roots," said Hailey. She added slyly,
"Marge evidently didn't dig these up out of someone's garden
– did you, Marge?"
Marge Schultz, who was standing beside Betsy, turned pink.
But she said, calmly enough, "I bought these flowers at the
florist shop on Water Street."
"You didn't take them from your own gardens?" asked another
"No, of course not. These are summer flowers, it's too early
in the year for them to bloom in my garden."
Marge owned a nursery called Green Gaia Gardens, which
Hailey must know about, since she called her so casually by
name. Betsy also knew Hailey was herself a gardener, so she
must know the lavender daisies wouldn't be blooming in the
So why the crack about digging them out of someone's garden?
Betsy put the pan of water on the table and Hailey said,
"Thanks. This will do for a second rinse. You want to rinse
and rinse again and again until the water runs clear." She
lifted a square out of the dye, held it over the pot for a
little while to let it drip and cool, then very gently
squeezed it before putting it in the dishpan. "You want the
rinse water to be the same temperature as the dye," she
said. "And you don't want to agitate your fibers. Otherwise
they may felt." Meaning turn into a solid mat.
She continued the process, lifting the other squares one at
a time and squeezing them. "There's one mordant I haven't
mentioned yet: sugar. Sugar makes a great fixative –
that's why if you spill a dollop of jam onto your white
trousers, the stain is permanent." She looked up briefly.
"Right, Marge? The stain is permanent." The sly tone was
even more evident this time.
Though her face was still pink, Marge said in a tone
bordering on indifference, "How would I know?"
One of the seated women offered, "I ruined a favorite blouse
last year by spilling blueberry preserves down the front of it."
"Why is she picking on you?" murmured Betsy to Marge.
"I don't know," Marge said wearily.
Betsy asked Marge to stay after the demo was finished. "I
lost some of my bleeding hearts over this winter. We used
too much salt in the parking lot, I guess. I want to replace
them – or maybe get something else that likes shade
Betsy owned the old brick building her shop was located in.
It was two stories high, and consisted of three stores on
the ground floor and three apartments on the second. Betsy
lived in one of the apartments herself.
In back of the building was a small parking lot just big
enough for four cars plus a Dumpster. The parking lot backed
onto a steep, tree-filled rise that Betsy owned about
two-thirds of. The trees kept the ground in deep shade, and
Betsy sometimes thought of having some of them cut down so
she could plant some sun-loving perennials back there. She
especially envied Marge's collection of hydrangea shrubs.
Newly hardy to central Minnesota, hers offered large round
clusters of rich pink blooms from June to frost. But they
needed lots of sunlight.
"I'm wondering what you'd suggest for the hill behind my
parking lot," said Betsy. "Did you get a chance to look at
it before the dyeing demo?"
"Yes, I did. Hostas would look nice, and they spread, so you
could only buy a few to start with and then be patient."
"Yes, but everyone has hostas. What else is there?"
"Well, if you want something large and showy, you should
just buy more bleeding hearts. But plant them on the margin
of your wooded lot, they do need some sun. For deeper in,
and if you want something hard to kill, lily of the valley
is a good choice. They spread fast and are very aggressive
at driving out other plants, which can be good or bad,
They talked about how many plants Betsy should buy and Betsy
promised to visit Green Gaia in the next several days.
Then Betsy asked, "Marge, what's the problem between you and
"Oh, no problem. We just don't get along."
"You're neighbors, aren't you?"
"Yes. Maybe that's the problem. She has a very artistic
temperament, you know."
Marge shrugged uncomfortably. "Well, she has this attitude
that anything that drives her artistic sensibilities is
permitted. For example, she has come onto my property and
stolen flowers. Not a lot, and not often, but when I get
something she thinks would make a good dye, she'll take it.
She knows it's wrong because she sneaks. I mean, if she
really thought it was all right, she'd just take them
openly. I asked her one time what if I came into her garden
and took a plant I liked? And she said, ‘If you needed it
badly, I wouldn't say a word.'" Marge sighed. "One of these
days I'll catch her at it and I'll call the police on her."
"It's gotten that bad?"
Marge sighed again. "No, not really. But she's a terrible
nuisance. And now she's got it into her head that I'm just
looking for a chance to steal something from her garden
– that's what the fuss was this evening. I'm sorry it
happened, it must've been at least as aggravating to you as
it was embarrassing to me. I only came because was thinking
of setting up a little garden of plants useful to dyers and
wanted a look at the skill set. And then she behaves like
that! Honestly, sometimes I could just brain her!"
Marge laughed wryly, but Betsy was to remember this
conversation in the weeks to come.
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