Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Our Dye Day

Last September, Marion, Elaine and I participated in a yarn dyeing workshop at On The Lamb in Uxbridge. We had a wonderful time handpainting three kinds of yarn: Corriedale, seacell and a sock yarn. After our success, we decided we needed to have a dyeing day of our own and have been planning it ever since. We have been accumulating the supplies, yarns, dyes, containers, rubber gloves, dyeing pots, camp stove, propane canisters, etc. and finally found a day that the three of us were in town at the same time and available to spend the day outside dyeing yarn.

Last night, I prepared the dye solutions. The dye powders are fairly toxic and easily airborne so I used a mask and kept things pretty low down into the laundry tub.

We had 18 different colours to choose from.

The technique we used was hand painting the yarn. For the most part we used foam brushes that we'd dip into the dye solution and literally paint the yarn with the colour.

First we soaked our yarn for an hour in warm water and a squirt of Dawn dishwashing liquid. It has a surfactant that removes any sizing in the fibre and prepares it to receive the dye evenly. Then the excess water is squeezed out and the painting begins.

Here you can see Marion and Elaine hard at work. On my skein, you can see that I paint fairly narrow bands of colour and repeat the sequence all the way around the skein. This prevents stripes and pools of colour when knitted.

You will note the table is covered in plastic and we are all wearing bummy clothes. Painting yarn can be messy and is best done outdoors.

Once you've painted the one side of your skein, you need to flip it over and paint the other side so as to cover up all the white spots and the colour goes all the way through. The dye really adheres to the fibre and doesn't really bleed down through the layers so one must be careful to get all the white areas covered with colour.

These solutions yielded dark colours so they could be diluted with water for paler shades.

Here I was using Aztec Gold, Vermillion and Teal.

The next step is to sprinkle vinegar (the acid that makes the dye really 'stick') on the skein and roll the skein up in the plastic wrap long ways and then roll it up along the length like a jelly roll.

The the roll of yarn goes into a medium sized Ziploc bag.

Here some of our labelled bags of yarn are waiting to go into the steaming pot.

We steamed our yarn on Marion's camp stove she hadn't used in 20 years. Miraculously, the thing started on the first try. There were cheers of joy because our Plan B would have been to steam the yarn on the barbeque and I didn't know how well that would work. I certainly didn't want to do the steaming in my kitchen because of the toxic fumes.

A couple of inches of water is put in the bottom and heated to boiling. The bags of yarn are then placed in the pot on a steaming rack (I used a cake rack) that is raised above the level of the water in the pot by cat food tins I had on hand. The water shouldn't touch the bags of yarn.

The yarn is then steamed for an hour as it is the heat combined with the acid (vinegar) that really sets the dye. Very little pigment rinses out after the yarn is finished steaming. It is wise to avoid scalds and steam burns. Everything that comes in contact with the dye or steam can no longer be used for food so must be labelled as such. I didn't want to sacrifice my trusty kitchen tongs so the fireplace tongs were nice and long and enabled me to remove the steamy bags of yarn from the dye pot and not get scalded.

Here the bags are cooling after being taken from the pot.

After a few minutes, the yarn is dumped out of the bag and allowed to cool further until is can be handled.

It is then rinsed with a bit of Dawn to remove any excess dye. If the skein seems to be bleeding too  much dye, another rinse in water with vinegar helps arrest the bleeding.

Elaine is very pleased with today's first skein. It is very exciting to see how it actually turns out.  In one case, the colour (chartreuse) changed before our eyes when we sprinkled vinegar on it - from a medium green to almost a lime green. Chemical reactions that can be seen are a fascinating part of this process.

The water is then squeezed out of the yarn and we hung all our skeins on the fence to start drying.

Then, of course, we had to take lots of pictures of our beautiful hand painted skeins. The one on the left was just different shades of sky blue. The middle one I called "Autumn Splendour" and the one to its right I called "Parakeet".
Marion posed with all the skeins.
Then Skip came out and took a group shot.
They'll look really spiffy once completely dried and re-skeined.

It was a lot of work but the results were sure worth it. Now we have to decide what we'll knit with our lovely fingering weight hand-painted seacell yarn. We still haven't used our skeins we dyed last September. As the yarn is really one-of-a-kind, it's really hard to decide what to knit with it.

We have lots of dye left over and without too much difficulty could do a single skein at any time. The dyes last indefinitely and just need to be shaken up before the next use. The possibilities are endless.

Great news! If you want to learn to do what we did today, Ellen is offering her Dyeing to Dye class again this Saturday at On the Lamb in Uxbridge. It's $110 and includes the yarn, dyes and delicious catered lunch! Sign up today. You won't be sorry.


  1. Great stuff! Those colours are all wonderful. And here I thought dying yarn was a super-complicated process--turns out it's just mildly complicated. ;-) Enjoy the knitting with the home-dyed yarn.

  2. That is an impressive amount of hand painted yarn! Well done :-)