Friday, August 23, 2013

Dyeing in my Sleep


The scene: Snowcatcher's house in Colorado. The date: a Sunday evening in July. We had just finished riding Bike MS - 133 miles in two days.

"Let's dye some yarn!" said Deb. I was practically asleep on my feet, but she had enough energy for both of us.

Our goal: to replicate the colour of chicory blossom.


Deb supplied the plain white cotton kitchen yarn, which we wound into 100-yard hanks and secured in several places to prevent tangling. She also supplied fiber reactive dyes, potassium dichromate (used to condition the yarn before dyeing) and soda ash (used as a mordant). Deb's husband the Lizard supplied the empty ice cream containers used to pre-soak the yarn. (Thanks for eating all that ice cream, Lizard.)

Working outside on Deb's front porch, we soaked the yarn in a chrome bath (made from water mixed with photographer's potassium dichromate). The chrome bath softens the cotton yarn and is said to add brightness to the finished product, but its first effect was to turn the yarn a vivid yellow:


After soaking for 30 minutes, the yarn was rinsed (I think) and then placed in a soda ash bath for mordanting. (A mordant is a substance that acts as a fixative for the dye - in other words, it helps the colour stick to the fiber.)

The yarn looked a paler yellow at this point:


After 5 minutes of mordanting, it was time for the dye bath. Deb got out a large metal pot - dedicated to this purpose - put in plenty of water, and then we started adding dye powder. (We used 2 shades, Alpine Blue and another which I can't remember - something in the violet family.)

Though the dye looks very dark...


...the yarn comes out much lighter than you'd think (and after washing and drying is lighter still).

We kept adding colour to the pot, stirring the yarn around, until we felt we had a good shade:


Then I stumbled inside, in a sort of waking coma, while Deb kindly washed the yarn for me. (I was horridly sleepy by this point, but she had as much energy as ever. How does she do it?)

After washing the yarn, Deb thought it could use a bit more colour, so she gave the second skein a longer soak. (Meanwhile I sat in a stupor and made encouraging noises as she passed back and forth from the porch to the bathroom.) When my two skeins were done, she did a third for herself - this time using wool sock yarn.

We draped the washed yarn over the porch railing to dry:


(You can see that the wool yarn, on the right, came out quite a different colour than the cotton, even though the dye bath was the same.)

When the yarn was dry we wound it into balls, and I had two lovely shades of chicory-tinted yarn to take back to Wisconsin.

And what, you may be wondering, did I do with this very special custom-dyed yarn?


Designed a pattern for it, of course. Watch this space.

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With very great thanks to Deb, who provided all the supplies and did most of the work. Check out her blog to read more about her yarn-dying adventures. :)

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32 comments:

  1. Wow, that yarn is so beautiful and just the perfect color. How fun to have such a great memento of your trip, your bike ride, good friends and of course beautiful flowers.
    Hugs,
    Meredith

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  2. I am in awe, Sue!!!!! What lovely yarn ~ and to dye your own color! And you can crochet too! I'm knitting a scarf for a breast cancer scarf project ~ first time I've knit in at least 30 years. I'm fascinated by all the creative things people do. Can't wait to see your finished project!

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    1. It's just been posted - and thanks very much. I hope you'll post some photos of your scarf. :)

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  3. Man, that green really sets off the chicory color! Excellent choice! I, too, can't wait to see what you've designed!

    It was so awesome to ride with you and then to dye with you! You know the only regret is I didn't get to drag you to the fiber exhibit at the museum!!! ;)

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    1. If only we'd had one more day.... :)

      Thanks again for a great time all around!

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  4. Oh my, that has to be the most beautiful blue cotton yarn ever. Yay for Deb! And for soon to be revealed crochet patterns :)

    Has the dyeing bug bitten, or were you too sleepy for that to happen?

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    1. It has not bitten - not me, at least. Though this was a VERY fun experience, I rather feel about yarn dying as I do about fabric printing - that I can't possibly compete with what's already out there, and am happy to leave it to the experts. (And yet I feel compelled to design my own crochet patterns despite the plethora of amazing patterns already in existence. Go figure.) :)

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  5. The color came out beautiful! I really do not know how either of you remained awake at all after all that riding. I would have been asleep before the yarn turned yellow.

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  6. Very pretty.

    If you wanted yellow yarn, could you have stopped at the first point?

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    1. I don't think so - it would have washed right out, I believe. (Or most of it would have.) Since the yarn had not been mordanted, the colour would not have stuck to it. I think. :)

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  7. Beautiful blue colour reminiscent of the Chicory flower which I love too!

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    1. Thank you, Sandra - it was Deb's idea to try for this shade and I think we did pretty well. :)

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  8. Wonderful! I want to do this right now. Have a nice weekend. Regula

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    1. I'll bet you have all sorts of mountain flowers and herbs you could use.... :)

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  9. I really love that colour. It's so soft and fresh. Well done on the ride and helping with the dying. I would've slept for two days after something much easier than that !!!!
    Rosie xx

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    1. Thanks Rosie - it did come out well I think. :)

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  10. What fun! I wouldn't have a clue but you make me want to try it too! I think it's turned out really pretty, I quite like the wool version too, looking forward to seeing just what you have been making with it. :)

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    1. I felt clueless too while we were doing it - partly from fatigue and partly from not really understanding the process at the time. But I emailed Deb afterward and had her explain it to me all over again. :)

      Thanks Linda!

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  11. Beautiful!! Can't wait to see the newly created pattern. I did not notice Ms T Turtle in any of the yarn photos. The l-o-n-g bike ride and high altitude must have done her in!

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    1. Good point - I think she was sound asleep through the entire process. Just as well, or she might have crawled into the dye pot and turned a different shade of lavender.... :)

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  12. Oh, my goodness, I would have been comatose after that ride. Actually, I would never have been able to do what you two did.
    What gorgeous colors and I am looking forward to seeing what you create.
    Best to you, E.

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    1. Thanks E! The pattern is up now - I made a fun little work bag with my chicory yarn. Crochet to hold crochet. :)

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  13. wowza ....I cant believe you ladies DYED after riding!!!!! IMpressive Mrs. M and I LOVE the finished colors. The one of the far right is my favorite

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    1. And one of us almost DIED too. :)

      Thanks kathy!

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  14. Oh I love both colors. I had no idea that the cotton would dye up different than the wool, who knew? I kind of like that...you'd never know until you dyed it what you'd get.

    Love your pattern. It reminds me of granny squares...an afghan? No, not enough yarn for that...a scarf? a shawl? Come on don't leave us in the dark too long. :)



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    1. It is a bit granny-ish - in one round at least. I think the block would make a lovely afghan, though with a lot of ends to weave in (unless you made it all one colour).

      You're very right about the dyeing - you never know what you'll get until it's done and washed and dried. And apparently even then the colour can sometimes change with time. A real adventure!

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  15. That was quite an adventure, Sue! So interesting to see the process of dyeing. That flower.. doe sit smell like chocolate? Because here we say it does :)
    Beautiful pattern by the way!

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    1. Thanks Anna - and I don't know how the flower smells because I am always too busy photographing it to sniff it! But some people use the roots of this flower as a substitute for coffee, so maybe it does have an interesting smell. :)

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  16. The dyed yarn is gorgeous and you definitely got the color right for the Chicory blossom. How great to have a kindred spirit friend. Hugs Judy

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    1. Thanks Judy! She is definitely a kindred spirit ... we have so many things in common, we joke that we were twins separated at birth. :)

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