Monday, April 14, 2008

dye mojo

Over first week of renting the spinning wheel, I accumulated a pretty good pile of natural wool yarn. On Saturday, I decided to try dyeing it. I was going to use Kool-Aid, but I ended up impulse-purchasing some Wilton icing dye (gel form) and using that instead. I wanted to stick with food dye so I wouldn't have to worry so much about ruining my kitchen or getting special pots and pans to be used only for dyeing. Also, this icing dye was super cheap. I bought Wilton's Red, Lemon Yellow (each with only one dye color in them), and Violet. I have heard that trying to dye stuff purple is difficult because the red and blue that make up purple are absorbed by the yarn at different rates, so you often end up with some kind of pink-and-blue mottled effect instead of purple. However, I really wanted red, yellow, and purple, so I decided to try it anyway.
First, I soaked the yarn in hot water and vinegar. Our tap water is very chlorinated, so I put it through my Brita filter first, then microwaved it to get it hot. I used 2 Tbl. of vinegar to 2 cups of hot water. I have no idea if this is a good amount; I left all the directions at work, so I just made something up based on the egg dyeing directions on the regular food coloring. Basically, I tied the skeins of yarn in four places, mostly-filled a dishpan with vinegar water, and set the yarn soaking. Meanwhile, I mixed the icing dye with hot water. I was going to measure the icing dye, but it's really thick and gooey. I couldn't really get it to work with the measuring spoons, and I should have had way smaller spoons for that anyway. So I basically scooped up a thick blop onto a butter knife and swirled it around in the water until it dissolved. I kept doing that until I liked the color that came out on a paper towel when I wiped the knife blade after the dye was mixed. I would estimate I used somewhere between an eighth and a quarter of an ounce of each color in a cereal bowl of water (didn't measure that either, maybe half a cup?) This was probably too much dye, but I really like the super saturated colors that resulted. Also, after the first skein, I decided I probably better add a tablespoon of vinegar to each bowl of dye. That seemed to speed up the dye absorption a good bit.
Once everything was ready, I spread out each skein of yarn in my 9x13 glass casserole dish and painted the dye on with a foam brush.

The colors were very bright and very primary when first applied. Also, after the first skein, the purple looked like a very dark navy blue when I put it on the yarn, no matter how much I tried to mix it. This would be really blinding yarn if it had stayed that way, but luckily it didn't.
I stretched a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the casserole dish, leaving vents on each side to let some steam escape, and put it in the microwave. I cooked it for two minutes, waited and moved it around a little, maybe added a little water. (If you add water, don't pour it directly on the yarn--it may wash the dye out or felt the yarn or both.) Then I zapped it again for another two minutes. After repeating this for a total of six minutes, I took the first skein out and put it in a sink of steaming hot water. All this blue dye started coming out! (This was before I added the extra vinegar to the dyes, but blue dye came out of every skein at this point.) The colors muddied just enough to be really nice--I was shocked but pleased. Also, a lot of green appeared where excess blue from the purple interacted with yellow. I put it back in the microwave for another two minutes, and then it was done. I rinsed it three times in the sink (again being careful to use very hot water and not pour water directly on the yarn) and hung it up to dry. I was so happy with the results, I did the same thing to all of them.

It ended up taking me a really long time because I painted each skein individually in the casserole dish and then waited around while it microwaved and stuff. If I was going to get more serious about it, I'd have to find a way to dye more at a time. I'd probably underdye everything yellow and then get a syringe to shoot the color into a thick pile of yarn. (With the paintbrush, I had to flip the yarn over and paint the back or end up with a big dye soup in the bottom of the dish.) In any case, I had a great time, and I'm really happy with the results.

Now I'm trying to figure out what to make out of it. For some reason, it seems like it should be a vest. The colors are not something I'd normally wear, and actually neither are vests, so I don't know why I think this, but maybe I'll just go with it anyway. The wool isn't soft enough to be something like a scarf, and it just seems too wild to be a sweater. (Also too warm--I sometimes forget that I live in Alabama.) Maybe with some black interspersed to tone it down a little, it could be a warm vest to wear in my cold office.

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