Sunday, July 18, 2010

Adventures in Old World Crafts Part 2

The arrival of a pound and a half of freshly shorn and processed 100% Cormo wool top from Juniper Moon Fiber Farm lit a small fire under my ass. This is not dyed fiber. It's a beautiful creamy, pale ivory. I watched this fiber get separated from it's collective owners in April, and eagerly awaited my share. While I do like the natural color, I will want to color some of it.

Enter the old world craft of dying fiber!

Oh, well, maybe not soooo old world, because I'm using acid dyes and cake decorator's dyes. If I were TRULY old world I would be using cochineal and indigo and brazilwood and dandelion. But not this time. Eventually, but not today. A girl has to draw the line somewhere.

Oh, the adventure of dyeing. I'll try to avoid all the obvious and not-so-obvious puns but you have to know they are there.

The first round was done with a product called iDye. It's a union dye, which means that it has combined the appropriate types of dyes for both animal and plant fibers. You can either use it on the stove top or in the washing machine. I used stove top. The dye pack dissolves in water, so you just drop the dye pack into a pot of water with 1/3 cup of vinegar, add the fiber, and heat to barely a simmer, then hold it at a simmer for about 30 minutes. Drain, wash the fiber, and hang to dry. You'll find, when you use this dye, that it doesn't "exhaust" the way other dyes do. That's because of the "union" quality. The animal fibers soak up dye meant for protein fibers, and leaves the plant dye behind. So there's this huge pot of colored water. It's confusing, especially after reading extensively about exhausting the dye, which means that all the color has been absorbed and leaves behind clear water. I really wanted to try some kind of tonal color. Among fiber enthusiasts it's referred to as tonal or monochrome, and there is subtle variation within the color, as opposed to a solid color with no variation. It can be very pretty. Yarn referred to as Kettle Dyed has this quality. I decided to start with Deep Orange and then over-dyeing for a very brief amount of time with Fire Red. I also chose to not pre-wet the yarn. Pre-wetting, whether you do so with or without additives, helps the fiber take up the dye. I had read that using dry fiber was one way to create more random variation in tone because the fiber will absorb the dye.

The thing with acid dyes is that the equipment you use cannot be used for anything else, ever. It has to be dedicated pots, stirs, etc. I used a cheap dark blue enamel-coated pot from Wal-Mart, like that granitware stuff. You don't realize how dark it is until you get it into a kitchen with poor lighting and dark, dark dye.

I wish for white enamel or stainless steel.

Results: more red than expected, but there was some orange observable. Let me tell you, too, that dye goes everywhere, and it looked like someone dyed. Ha ha. I couldn't resist just one.

Food dyes don't have the same constraints as acid dyes. They are non-toxic so it doesn't matter! Easier to clean up, too, actually.I have cake decorating dyes from a previous fascination with cake decorating. Problem was I had to make a cake in order to decorate it. Just for fun. So I had all these colors and who knew they were so great for dyeing fiber? It's pretty straight forward: mix up about a 1/2 tsp of concentrated food coloring with about 2 cups of hot water (hot helps it dissolve), apply to fiber that's been pre-wetted in a room-temperature 1:3 vinegar to water soup, gently squeezed and laid out on plastic, and then heat set in the microwave in what I call the 2 minute method: 2 minutes on high, 2 minutes wait, 2 more minutes on high, or 2+2+2. The colors came out beautifully. The execution by the dyer (me, and maybe the dyer should be executed but not today) is questionable but if I keep practicing I think I'll get it a little more finessed. I have lots of natural fiber, so I'll have lots of opportunities to practice.

I had Spectrum Gel Food dye on hand, and used 1 tsp violet for the purple, 1/2 tsp super rouge for red, and 1/2 tsp orange. Yes, I'm kind of into the red side of the color wheel. The first two skeins were my hand-painting experiment. You lay out your pre-wetted fiber and apply color to it. Sounds simple enough, and it really is. The trick is (a) deciding on your colors or color sequence and (b) mixing them up and (c) getting them where you want them on the fiber. I got (a) and (b) but (c) was definitely challenging. I've seen pictures of dyers using sponge paint brushes, and it seems like a good idea - a little more control. I might try that next time. So the violet was more royal blue than violet, which has given my skeins a somewhat patriot look, especially since I missed a couple spots. So the color sequence goes something like this: orange, red, tiny patch of white, blue, tiny patch of white, red, orange. The base fiber was bright white superwash (meaning it CAN be machine washed) wool that I spun and twisted into a 3-ply yarn. It's a sock weight yarn, but I wouldn't knit socks with it because of how I spun it. I would, though, do lace with it. I'll definitely add it to my current "sock blanket project." Or maybe I will defy convention and make socks anyway. Just for the helluvit.

The color is a little messy but I had fun with it and I learned some things. I made lots of notes.

I had leftover dye, and used up the orange and the red over-dyeing some ugly fiber, and the violet to over-dye a pale pink cowl that I knitted. The pattern is beautiful, and the yarn is gorgeous, but I don't look great with that much pale pink next to my face. It's just not me. However, that violet...that VERY BLUE violet, broke and the variation it created is not attractive at all so I'll have to run that one again. I'm wiser, now, and it won't take me two hours to decide my strategy.

Did I mention that I did this the same night I did the goat's milk yogurt? Man-oh-man I had some creative energy going. DH is in South Carolina for the week. Is there a connection? I'll let you decide. I'm thrilled that he'll be back Sunday night.

Update: I wrote this last weekend, and when I got the yarn wound into a ball, I decided that I hated it. So, I went back and dyed over it with blue. It's a little more monochromatic but it still kinda sucks. If I overdye it one more time it might become black-ish, which might not be such a bad thing. The yarn itself is pretty lovely, if I may say so myself, having spun and plyed it. I like how the orange and the red run together. I like how the purple/blues go, but I don't like how all three are co-existing, and therein lies my lack of knowledge in color theory. Yeah, yeah, I have the color wheel and I can figure out what is complementary and tertiary and secondary and all that. Values and tones and saturation...this is where I am weak. Ok. I get to keep working on it!


  1. I am impressed with your trial and error methods. The dyed skeins look like the old tie-dyed t-shirts we made in the 60s. They were wildly colorful at first, but faded with each washing. Will your wool fade?

  2. They reminded me of those old tie-dyed t-shirts! I overdyed the skein with two different blues and I like the outcome much better. The wool won't/shouldn't fade. The color is set with vinegar so it ends up having good light- and color-fastness.