Dyeing: things I learned

In my last post I told you all about how I dyed yarn in my kitchen, and because so many of you have said you were inspired to do the same, I thought I should probably follow up with some “things I learned” from the experience. Now, I’m not a big one for lists and this will all be basic and obvious stuff to experienced dyers, but to a newbie like myself, I was in uncharted territory, so, here goes. Things I learned:

  • Like most things, preparation is important. You need to thoroughly soak your yarn and get set up before you start. 
  • It’s really quite stingy when you splash the citric acid soak in your eye, so you will probably want to avoid doing this by either being careful when you get your yarn out of the bucket or if, like me, you are prone to clumsiness, by wearing goggles (I have onion peeling goggles which would have been excellent for this, had I been forewarned).
  • A little bit of dye goes a loooonnnnng way. All over spoons, jars, tables, clothes, small children. You need to be prepared to make a mess, so take precautions. I wore old clothes and an apron, and I had plenty of kitchen towel on hand to mop up spills and wipe up between different colours. And if you are hand painting on super wash yarn, boy, does a lot of water go everywhere. I’m thinking old towels would have also be useful if I’d had some.
  • Wear gloves. And don’t get distracted by small children (“Mummy, I did a poo poo”), remove your gloves to attend to them, and then forget to put then back on again. Unless you want to walk around with multicoloured hands and nails for the next several days.
  • If you are at all worried about your yarn felting then cold dip dye or hand paint your yarn (this is what I did), rather than kettle dye. Having super wash in your yarn will help but remember you need heat AND agitation to felt yarn so, as long as you don’t fuss about with it too much when it’s hot (you won’t be able to touch it for ages anyway after it comes out of the microwave), you’ll be fine. 
  • It will seem like the skeins take a small eternity to dry. It rained both days I did my dyeing and waiting for skeins to dry indoors is just so dull, so, if you can, dye on a dry day and hang them outside on the line, they’ll dry in no time. 
  • Try not to have too many preconceived ideas about what you want the yarn to look like at the end. I just went with the flow with the tone of my first few skeins. It turns out that I’m pretty heavy handed with the dye so get strong colours, but, because I’m using them together, I wanted my skeins to tone which meant the same strength of colour throughout, so, I had to work harder with the last few to make sure I was getting that right. That’s ok because I mostly enjoy a challenge but if you aren’t so keen, go easy on yourself and don’t stress about it. Like any new craft it takes plenty of practice to learn how to produce the effect you want. Whatever you make, it will be fabulous. 
  • Your skein will probably appear to get in a hideous tangle but do NOT be tempted to untie the ties to sort it out. That way lies madness and many hours of (not so) patient untangling. Once it is dry, just go around each of the ties in turn and check that there are no threads lying over the tie. Once you are satisfied that’s the case, pop your hands in either end of the skein and give it some sharp tugs as if you were trying to stretch it out. Then you should be good to pop it on a swift or a handy pair of outstretched arms, cut your ties and ball away without tangles.  
  • Be prepared to dye more yarn than you actually need. You will love your creations so much it will be hard to ball them up and use them. You will want to keep them as yarn pets for ever, just for squishing.
  • It’s worth getting a note book and writing down what colours you mixed. You think you’ll remember because you had such a fun time but, in reality, busy lives crowd in and you won’t. I’m only a few days away from having finished dyeing the yarn for my blanket and I’m already starting to forget. Besides, its always good to have an excuse for a new note book.
  • As soon as you finish, you will want to dye more, and it will be a fidgety torture waiting for the postie to deliver more yarn. So get in more undyed yarn than you think you are going to use. I guarantee you will use it all.
  • It is great fun but don’t even think about trying it unless you are prepared to become totally addicted. And have your whole house smell of damp sheep (but there are worse smells, right?)

Happy dyeing xxxx

Dye Day

So, the long awaited dye has actually arrived, and I have been busy in my kitchen. 

Last year I went on a yarny retreat in Lyme Regis, run and hosted by the very lovely Daisy from Devon Sun Yarns (if you need reminding, I wrote about it here) and, over that weekend, I learnt to dye yarn. I’ve had a couple more tries since then on other retreats and workshops, all under Daisy’s supervision. But I hadn’t actually done any yarn dyeing on my own, so when the idea for a temperature blanket required justification, dyeing my own colours for it seemed the way to go.

Daisy supplies excellent yarn dyeing kits (with detailed instructions for those who haven’t had the benefit of her presence) with no nasty chemicals so they are safe to use in your kitchen. But, sensing I probably needed a bit more of a challenge, and because I wanted to dye a blanket’s worth of yarn, Daisy supplied the undyed yarn and pointed me towards procian dyes.

  

The process for dyeing with procian dyes is exactly the same as dyeing with the dyes in Daisy’s kits, but with procian you need separate pots, pans, spoons etc as they aren’t food safe so you can’t use the pans etc in your cooking afterwards.

This type of dyeing is known as acid dyeing, which, when I first heard the term, brought to my mind memories of lab coats, goggles and bubbling beakers of hydrochloride acid and those cupboards with the big extractors in the chemistry lab at school. But we aren’t talking about scary acidic, just a bit of an gentle acidic soak for the yarn before applying the dye. 

Because I was dyeing a animal fibre yarn, I made my acidic solution by adding citric acid to some water in a bucket. Luckily I had some citric acid in the cupboard, left over from some random long forgotten cooking experiment. If you don’t have any, I’d recommend you get some just for the comedy value of the faces your children will make after slyly eating some thinking it is sugar. Alas this isn’t something that is going to happen much longer as they are now learning to read and the jar has a big label so I don’t get confused (I have previously tried to make marzipan from cornflour rather than icing sugar so all my jars now have big labels). So, citric acid for animal fibre. If you wanted to dye plant fibre (like cotton), you’ll need soda ash in your soak.

I left my yarn to soak overnight but I’m suspecting that just a 30 minute soak would do it. You want to make sure the acid solution properly gets right into the fibre, so squeeze out the big air bubbles when you put your yarn into soak.

  
I’d already decided which colours I wanted (see the post here) so I got to mixing the dye. I decided to start with my orange, yellow and greens, because, well, you have to start somewhere. The dye comes in powder form and you just mix it with tap water adding more water or more dye, mixing until you achieve the colour you want. I made one colour at a time and put away the dye in between so as to avoid accidents (I am outrageously clumsy).

I wanted a fairly solid colour for my blanket and the obvious way to achieve this is kettle dyeing. But, despite scouring local charity shops I couldn’t get hold of an old saucepan (unless they are in mint condition, the charity shops just bin them). Ideally I’d use a maslin pan but didn’t want to use the perfectly good one I have in the cupboard as (because I am using procian) I wouldn’t be able to use it afterwards to make strawberry jam, and strawberry season will soon be upon us. 

  
So I went with hand painting. To protect my kitchen table oilcloth I put down one of those toddler dry nites sheet things you use to save the mattress from nighttime accidents, when potty training children. Then I put down a couple of sheets of cling film, wrung out and laid on the skein of yarn, spreading it out well. Then I added my colour. I used a paint brush (the sort you use on walls) to paint on the colour and a spoon to dribble it on. It was fascinating to see how the yarn sucked up the colour leaving just a little water behind. 

  

Then once I’d put on all the colour I wanted (and I deliberately left some parts lighter so it would look unmistakably hand dyed), I wrapped up the skein in the cling film, laid it in a glass dish and popped it in the microwave and fixed the dye by cooking it for 3 minutes, then resting for 3 minutes, then cooking again for 3 minutes. This was probably overkill but I didn’t want all my dye to run out, given it was my first time. 

Once the yarn had finally cooled down (and it does come out of the microwave at approximately the same temperature as lava) I gave it a quick rinse and hung it up to dry.

  
It really was as simple as that. And highly addictive. I dyed four skeins the first afternoon, and another four the following morning, and will definitely do more. Now, I have to decide on whether to knit or crochet the blanket and which stitch I’m going to use…