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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