Sunday, December 22, 2013

For the Love of Color : Adventures in Dying Yarn

Hand-dyed Yarns from Saturday's Session at Lynda's Dye Kitchen 

Now that I have a Triangle Loom, I need to build my stash of yarns so I have stock to make my creations.  ;-)   My friend Lynda and I had a full day planned on Saturday.  First on the agenda was to visit the area yarn shops ...   All the money we saved on building the tri-loom ourselves, means I can spend more $$ on yarn! 

Iris's Fine Yarns in Appleton, WI
This shop is amazing!  It's really quite small, but the owner understands and has an appreciation for color.  She uses that to her advantage.  Her shop is a center for inspiration.  Lynda says she goes there when she needs "color comfort," (That's similar to eating comfort food, but without the calories.) After a while, there were so many people coming in that it was feeling a little crowded.    That's ok--that means there's enough support in the community to keep her in business.  She also has a nice collection of those expensive buttons that come in tubes--the kind you buy one button-at-a-time.  Good to make that discovery and know I don't have to go all the way to Milwaukee for buttons.    The also have a room filled with books--though most of them appear to be on knitting (Sorry--I spin, crochet, and weave, but I've never been able to learn knitting--never got past that stage of too tight tension.  And I'm okay with that.)

I've been oohing and ahh-ing this Noro Yarn on the internet.  But I wanted to see it and touch it before committing to spend that much money.  Iris had it there in her store.  I went home with 8 balls of  the Noro Kureyon wool yarn in moss purple.  It's the wool, not those yummy silks.  It's a little scratchier that I thought it might be, but oh, those colors!   A good place to start!   I love the way that artist dyes her yarns--the color combinations, and the spacing of the color changes.   Yummy!  All the money we saved on building the tri-loom ourselves, means I can spend more $$ on yarn!    I'll definitely be making regular pilgrimages to Iris's Yarn Shop!

Yarns by Design in Neenah, WI
Next, we went to Yarns by Design in Neenah.   A much bigger store, packed full of yarns and fibers.   Lots of choices, there, too.  A few years ago, when I got my little table loom, I took a class here to learn how to do the warp.  They also offer spinning classes.  With so many choices, I was feeling a little overwhelmed and didn't actually by anything there.   There are a lot of really nice yarns out there, but to buy enough to finish a 7-foot triangle shawl, I need to spend about $85 in yarn--that's just for wool.   It will be more once I get into mohair or silk fibers.  Sigh!

Back to Lynda's Dye Kitchen
After that, with our heads full of inspiration, we went back to Lynda's house.  Her basement is set up with a wonderful dye kitchen.   Although I've been dyeing fabric for years with Procion fiber reactive dyes, I knew that dying proteins like wool and silk is a little different process.   Lynda's been doing it for years, so I asked her to show me.  The biggest difference is that you have to use "acid dyes" and heat to set the color.  Don't let the word "acid" scare you.  It's more akin to dying Easter eggs with a little bit of vinegar added to the mix.   You can do it with Procion (using vinegar instead of soda ash), but Lynda convinced me that it's harder to wash out the excess Procion dye and you run the risk of felting your wool/fiber in the process.

We started with some Fisherman's Wool yarn.  Plain old "stock" yarn from Jo Ann's Fabrics.  It's reasonably priced for real wool yarn, and it takes the acid dye beautifully.  Lynda uses it in her weavings regularly.    We used her warping board to make some loose skeins of the yarn; tied them off.  If you use cotton string for this, it will be visible after dying as the cotton does NOT take up the acid dye.  That makes it easier to remove afterwards.

Photo from here.

Next we, set a large pot of water boiling on the stove--the kind for pickling and canning.  Get a set and use it only for dying.  Once you do, you can't go back to using it for food--for safety reasons.  Make it a set dedicated to color explorations!

Then we mixed up the dyes.  Lynda has basic primary colors (reds, blues, yellow, and black) from which we mix all other colors.  She first mixes up some concentrates of each color.  Then we play ...  With acid dyes, a little goes a long way.   At one of the shops, I had seen a yarn in varigations of maroon.  I showed it to Lynda explaining that I wanted to try dying something like that ...   So we started with red, added some black.  Lynda said that with Acid dyes, it's easier to tell what color you'll get right away (whereas with Procion, it ends up lighter by the time you wash it out).  She uses a shred of paper towel dipped in the dye pot to see if it's the color she wants.  If not, she adds a little more concentrate in the needed primary; black for shades; water for tints (pastels).  You could make it a pretty exacting science, but that's not how Lynda dyes.  She may start with an idea of what she's after, but she also enjoys the element of serendipity.

Once we have our colors mixed, it's time to grab a glass canning jar big enough to hold the hank of yarn.   Dump a slosh of vinegar in the bottom, then some of the yarn hank (leave some hanging out), then dump in one of your dye colors, stuff in some more yarn, add another dye color, stuff in some more yarn, add another dye color, top it off with water.  (This method is a lot like parfait dying--a method I use regularly for dying cotton with Procion (See Ann Johnston's book Color by Accident).  Add the cover, and set it in the pot of boiling water.  It takes about an hour of simmering to heat set the colors.

The amazing thing is that at the end of the process, the water should run clear.  All the dye is taken up by the yarn and leaves the water.  It reminds me that the dye/color is not the same as the water--which is kind of like a carrier for the whole process.  

Lynda uses the canning jar set-up because it simulates a double boiler.   If you boil the wool, you could felt it in the process.  This may be more important when working with loose fibers or fleece BEFORE it's spun into yarn.  You really need to be careful not to agitate it too much, or you will felt it.   The bubbles of boiling water provide enough agitation to felt it.   Something to be ware of ...

After an hour in the double boiler/canning pot, carefully remove the jars.  They will be hot, so be sure to wear insulated rubber gloves for this part of the process.  Open the jars and pour them out into a sink.  Don't agitate it much, or you could felt it.  Let the excess water run off.  Carefully pour a jar of *HOT* water over the lump of newly colored yarn to rinse out any excess color not taken up by the yarn.  [Edit : I had originally written cool water, but Lynda corrected me saying that using cool water is a sure way to felt the wool.  Any temperature change will shock the wool into felting. So use HOT water to rinse.]  Then transfer it to the washing machine--wait until you've got all your hanks in the washing machine; then run a spin cycle to wring out the excess water.  This works amazingly well!  Do NOT let it go through an entire wash cycle.  You just want to wring out the excess water.

Our results :

Right to Left : Sunset Oranges and Yellows, Browns and Blacks, Reds, Blues, Leftovers

 Here's a shot of the yarn hanks on the drying rack.  Nice work for an afternoon!
Here it's apparent that the cotton yarn didn't take the acid dye as you can see the white strings keeping the yarn hanks in order.  Those cotton strings were present all through the dye process, and they remain uncolored.

Lynda assures me that I'll be able to put enough yarn for 1 project into a 1/2-gallon canning jar so it looks like it's all from the same batch.  After the heat treatment, the yarn "rises" to the top, and what seemed like an overstuffed jar could actually fit a lot more yarn into it.  

I was so pleased with our results that I did a little happy dance right there in Lynda's dye kitchen.  These are as nice as anything we saw today in the specialty yarn shops.    I've got a new hobby!  I'll have to put in an order at Dharma for some acid dyes in primary colors, along with some stock specialty yarns.  So many possibilities!  The world is open wide ...

I recently bought this book as a reference for dying yarns and fleeces.   It goes through what I explained above, and much more, with lots of pictures.  

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