I have to confess, I’m a lifelong learner. I love to explore new ideas and new techniques. I am currently taking a 10 week intense natural dye class. I’ve taken a lot of in-person natural dyeing classes. I always learn something but I never incorporate that new learning into my dyeing practice. If you have been following me, you know that I am adding a naturally dyed Fibershed line of yarn to my store offerings. So I have got to work this into my practice.
Here’s the epiphany that I had this week. In this class I am taking, I am totally responsible for EVERY part of it. If I make mistakes, they are mine to fix. If I have a question, of course I can ask the instructors or my fellow students. But ultimately I am doing all the work. It isn’t divvied up between all the members of the class. So this time I am really learning it. I’m learning it all.
So in this past year, I have developed 2 dyeing e-classes for people who want to learn to dye. These classes are each 4 weeks. Dyeability 1 is about dyeing yarn with an emphasis on self striping socks and Dyeability 2 is about dyeing roving for spinning or felting. Each class is on sale for $49 (regular price is $99). You can find more information here about both courses.
Wool is wonderful to dye! It dyes easily. Dyed wool can be lustrous or matte, depending on the type of wool you are using. (see previous post). It can be vibrant and rich or it can be soft and pastel, depending on the amount of dye you use. Wool can be used for all of your creative color schemes and whatever mood you are in. Wool is a protein dye so it needs to be dyed with an acid dye. There are many kinds of acid dyes on the market: Sabraset and AcidWash from ProChem, Cushings, Gaywool, Country Classic and Jacquard Acid Dye, just to name the ones I am familiar with.
There are some principles that you need to know when you are dyeing wool.
1. Wool has scales on the outside of each fiber that protect it. You need to soak the wool in warm to hot water in order to open these scales up. When they are open, the dye can penetrate into the fiber and attach more readily to the dye receptors on the fiber. Give it at least 20 minutes before you add dye, so that this can happen.
2. Not all wool is created equal. Superwash wools have been processed under heat and pressure to remove the scales of the wool. That makes the wool good for people who are sensitive for itchiness and for people who want to wash and dry their wool in machines because it won’t felt. Superwash takes up a lot of dye and in a hurry. This is because those scales are gone and the dye receptor spots are open and available. So you will have very saturated colors that may appear blotchy and uneven.
3. What about felting? I have never felted yarn by agitating it too much in the dyepot. You should take care and move the yarn in slow smooth movements, just to be on the safe side. My only felting disaster, so far, was when I was washing out in the washing machine. I forgot that after you fill up the tub of the washer is starts spinning. I put in the yarn and went out to do chores…when I came back I remembered….DUH!! That yarn was one big mess. I was able to separate it out and use it for my projects. Yarn is a lot more forgiving than say roving. Roving will felt with too much agitation, so don’t touch it or move it a lot when it is in your dye pot. The technique that I use when dyeing roving is to fill the pot with the dye, water and whatever else you need for the dye you are using. Then add the dry roving to it, pushing it into the warm, not hot water. The pushing action gets the dye all throughout the roving without excessive white spaces. Then If I want to add a second or third color I add it after that and move it gently with spoon handle.
4. In that same vein, temperature during dyeing is important. Bring the dyepot up slowly to the simmer, then hold it at that temperature for the entire time that the dye instructions tell you. Many sources will tell you a specific temperature and you may think you need to have a thermometer to monitor that. I don’t think you need to be that fussy about it. Hold it just under a simmer, no boiling for the allotted time and you should be fine. Then cool it down to room temperature before you wash it. The water temperature for your wash out should be about the same temperature as the yarn.
5. To improve the hand, or the way the yarn feels after it is dyed, you can add a softener to it. Wool is a type of mammal hair, so use hair conditioner on it. Fabric softener is fine for cottons, linens or silk, but use hair conditioner on hair.
It all started with too many snow days in a row. I had this knitting book that I bought last summer and it’s been sitting on my shelf. I had opened it a couple of times but just looked so complicated that after flipping through page after page of beautiful hand knit tunics, hats, scarves and sweaters, it would go back to the shelf. Last Friday, I took it off the shelf. I armed myself with post-its, a highlighter and the desire to learn more about knitting. The book is Artful Color, Mindful Knits: The DEFINITIVE guide to working with Hand-Dyed Yarns but Laura Militzer Bryant.
Hand-dyeing is what I do. It is my passion. I love when the colors make a pattern similar to ikat weaving. I did have an understanding that the patterning was a result of the number of stitches, but I thought it was a fluke or serendipity. Well, it’s not. This book teaches you to understand the way a yarn has been dyed, whether it is dyed across like stripes on the skein or whether it has been dyed around where the skein is dipped into successive dye pots to achieve color. Of course there are many more techniques to get color on the skein but these two are the ones that produce the most noticeable patterning. Sometimes when you buy skeins the dyers have kept the skein as it was out of the pot. There it is easy to see the color transitions and to understand how it was dyed. However there are other dyers, myself included, who reskein the yarn to show the interactions of the colors.
Very simply, to determine the magic number of your yarn, you need to determine the repeat. Then you need to swatch. This will help you determine how much yarn you use in each stitch. Of course this number will change with needle size and yarn weight. You do a simple calculation to get your magic number on that yarn, with that stitch and those needles. A knitter can stack colors, make the colors zig-zag, or spiral with a few minor tweaks to the magic number.
Here is my yarn: it’s magic number is 73. This is our BFL DK yarn in Amsterdam Tulip colorway using a size 8 needle about 4.5 stitches per inch.
In the first experiment I used half magic number of 36.5 +1.5 for 38 stitches across. I used a fisherman rib (k1, p1). The result was different on each side and really striking. The fabric was a bit heavy though and I knew I wouldn’t be happy with it, so I ripped it out.
Then I decided to do a ribbed lace pattern with 8 rows of stockingette between the ribs. I used double the magic number + 2 and knit in the round. The pattern is a bit more mixed, however there is a spiral pattern going on in the colors. This cowl actually took 1.5 skeins about 300 yards. When you start your next skein, you need to match new yarn to the same place in the repeat, so that you don’t disrupt the pattern. This took me a bit of time but I was really pleased with the results.
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