Monday, June 9, 2008

I'm Dyeing to Tell You About My New Hobby...

Well, to begin with, I love color, and when I shop for yarns and fabric I have trouble finding products I like because most designers are rather subtle in their use of color. Me, I like color and lots of it, no need to be shy about it. It was only natural I would find my way to a hobby like dyeing, so that I could color my own yarns and rovings. So I sent for a dyeing kit from Hello Yarn. Then I went to the Portland Fiber Gallery and bought tons of natural wool rovings, and ordered plain un-dyed sock yarn from KnitPicks. Well this is what I got, I spread it all out on my table and I cringed. Then I read the directions for mixing the dyes, looked at the mask supplied to prevent inhaling toxic dye particles, tried it on and fogged up my glasses immediately, cringed again, and packed it all back into the box. There it sat in my studio pantry for months. Lets face it, I was scared. With my asthma, dyeing is probably not the best hobby for me to take up. But I kept dreaming of yarns I would like to knit with in glorious handpainted yarns. Then one day my friend Cindy K-K offered up a challenge. Find 5 unfinished projects you would dearly love to finish and get to work on them. This dyeing project was on my list, plus the Sundial Quilt I have been working on for the past 3 years, which has become lost in the home renovation mess we are going through; a shawl I started to knit and found it to be the most boring thing in the world which I would rather poke needles in my eyes than work one row on; and a quilted tablecloth that I have been tripping over in my quilt frame for two years now. I have become blind to it, people can come into my studio and say "Oh, are you making a quilt?" I'll answer "What makes you think that?" This is it...

And the fifth unfinished project, I can't seem to remember for the life of me! So of the five projects I chose to get outside (the weather has finally warmed up!) with this dyeing kit and try it out.

I spent a day outside at the picnic table mixing the powdered dyes into a liquid form, made a terrible mess since I couldn't see a thing through the foggy glasses, then put it all back away again. It still seemed too scary to touch that pure white yarn with these dyes! What if I spill or mix truly ugly colors? As you can see, the set I purchased contained only red, blue, yellow and black. All colors you can dream up will be made from blends of those four. There should have been a thousand page manual supplied with the kit explaining you to make all of the colors possible, but no. They left me to flounder helplessly with experimentation.

Perhaps a week later I told myself you are just going to do it! There were three processes to choose from in the instructions, so I decided I would try all three and see which one I liked best.

The first step was to soak your yarn thoroughly. Here is some sock yarn soaking in the sink. I really didn't know what to do with the dyes. Since I was learning on an experimental basis, I first tried the crockpot dye method. I didn't want to spend the money for a new crockpot, so I bought some "crockpot liners" to keep the dyes away from my crock. I added the wet yarn, and attempted to make a dark blue by adding black dye to the blue, pouring most of the blue/black on one side, then pouring pure black on the top left. I let the bottom stay light in color, choosing not to stir the pot. It cooked for 3 hours then sat overnight to be rinsed the next morning. With the next skein I went nuts. I wrapped the skein into a super long one on my warping board so I could try all of the colors at once. I wanted to make a rainbow of color by blending one pure color into the next, having enough black at each end to give me a stained glass effect. I laid the yarn out onto a long sheet of plastic wrap, applied the dye one color at a time, blending as I went to make a sequence of black, red, violet, blue, blue-green, green, yellow-green, yellow, then reversed it back again. I wrapped up the plastic wrap like a great long shiny snake and coiled it into my steamer basket, then steamed it for 20 minutes. When I was done steaming, I was horrified to find the dye had leaked out into my steamer and would no longer be useful for cooking my vegetables. I marked on the steamer with a permanent marker "For dyeing only" and decided to shop for a new vegetable steamer later. The third method I tried was the ziplock bag in the microwave oven method. I used the plastic wrap and hand painting method as above, using only my red and yellow dyes, painting one into the other. Then I put the saran wrap coil into a ziplock bag (not fully zipped) and microwaved it for 3 minutes. I felt like a kid on the night before Christmas that night, so anxious to get up and rinse the skeins and see what I had produced.

After rinsing them I hung them over the clothesline to dry for the day. This is how the long "Rainbow" skein looked.

This is the finished crock pot skein, I loved how just a strand here and there stayed nearly white, it contrasts so well against the very dark blue. I am naming my colorways as I go, this one is Stormy Night. It is the result of my blue and black experiment.

This is a skein of handspun corriedale cross, the yellow and red microwaved sample. I called it Blood Orange. This is the crazy rainbow skein, I was a little disappointed with the final result after reskeining it. Perhaps a trifle gaudy? I named it "Hoodoo", and then I fell in love wth it. I immediately cast on a pair of Zombie Socks and I really like the way it is working up.

After the initial "rainbow" yarn experiment, I have been playing with only 2 dye colors at a time. It makes it much easier for me to see what the colors are capable of producing. This is a hank of roving dyed with blue and red.
Here is a skein of sock yarn that was the result of playing with my blue and yellow dyes. This is by far my favorite so far, I named it Mermaid's Tears. I just love it!
And a close-up to see the colors better...This roving was the result of working with yellow and black. The green does not photograph well at all, but it is the most luscious absinthe green! I was very surpised with the green, I thought I was working with brown until it dried. I think I will call it "Forest Glade".

The day I played with red and black I dyed up this roving and named it Dracula's Cloak.

...and then I spun it into this delicious sock yarn...

And this the the sock yarn I dyed the same way. I call it Burnt Lipstick.
I really wish I could take a better picture, none of these photos shows the true beauty of the colors. The yarn above is actually much redder.

I have now started working with 3 of my four dye colors at a time, and chosen the steamer method as the way to go. My first 3-color combination was red, blue and yellow, and here is the sock yarn I dyed. I called it Migrant Worker because it reminded me of the orange pickers in their denim jackets I saw in Florida, but Gary said that probably wasn't a good name. We decided to call it Orange Picker.

And here is a close-up.

On Saturday I visited the annual Fiber Frolic at the Windsor Fairgrounds. I came home with more dyes! I hadn't yet figured out out to make brown, so I bought Chestnut. Also some other colors to try. I bought some pure alpaca to spin and dye, and some bamboo/merino blend and a merino/silk blend that are already dyed. I had a great time looking at all the spinning wheels and seeing the sheep, goats, and alpacas.

Now I think I need to go buy some more plain white sock yarn...

Oh, and the ruined steamer? I went to buy a new one at Wal-Mart and couldn't find one, I tried Target also, no steamers. As a last resort I went to the Goodwill store and found a used one for $5! Were steamers just a fad? Don't people buy them anymore? I don't know but I love mine. How else would you steam asparagus? Hmmm...


Daybreak*Dawning said...

Hokey Smokes Bullwinkle, too delicious to be legal! Beautiful job! (I've finished one of Cindy's 5 UFO challenges, but fell off the wagon and started a new one...don't tell, this is just between thee and me...) S.

Bizarre Quilter said...

Ooh yum! I love the yarns you have made. The colours look so warm and rich!