This is a little different to my ‘usual’ posts in that not much time has passed (a little over 2 weeks) since my July post, so the regular ‘features’; Finished Objects, Works in Progress, Every Day’s a School Day and Bits of Sheep, will return in the August post.
The source of my startitis – for example planned projects , inspirations or ideas that have caught my eye or subjects or topics that have snagged my attention..
The 22nd and 29th of June were spent in a haze of chemical compounds in a garrett studio in south London. But oh, what fun we had!
Ok, to be completely fair the ‘garrett’ was a bright and airy 2nd floor large studio at Morley College, the chemical haze was safely contained within the fume cupboard and ‘south’ London was within 10 minutes (brisk) walk of Waterloo station.
I was there to be inducted into the delights of hand dyeing yarn (a source of much confusion and amusement to my non-yarn friends) over two days – covering everything from making up stock dyes, working out mordants (the stuff that stops the dye from just falling off the yarn again, mixing colours and dying a variety of fibre (lambswool and cotton provided by them for little cost, superwash, silk and fibre blends provided by ourselves)
It was a small group, just 4 for the first session and we were joined by 2 more for the second session, and Alex (our tutor) brought her wonderful calm, exploratory nature to create a class just brimming with curiosity and ‘what happens if…’
We covered so much in the two days of the class that I’m going to summarise this a bit – and possibly (probably) do companion posts in future. The main points I learnt are:
There are different types of dye for different fibres
So the first thing we learnt is that not all dye is created equal, it depends on what type of fibre you are trying to add colour to.
- Protein based fibres (most animal fibres such as wool, alpaca etc.. and silk) are dyed using Protein or Acid dyes (same thing, different terms). They are called acid dyes because you use an acid (often vinegar or citric acid) and heat as a fixer.
- Celluloid Fibres (most plant fibres such as cotton, hemp, linen…) are dyed using Protion or Alkaline dyes (again same thing, different terms). They are fixed with an alkaline such as sodium carbonate solution and salt water. This method doesn’t require heat to set – and entertainingly (confusingly) can be used on protein based fibres by using an acid and heat.
Note: the powders are very fine and must only be handled if you are wearing a suitable dust mask or have access to a fume cupboard. Gloves are required or your hands will give you away as a dyer and the dyes take *ages* to fade…
You have to scour your yarn before starting
- Scouring means to clean your yarn and remove all oils and grease as well as dirt before you start. It is usually done by dunking the yarn into a pot of vinegar water for ½ hour, or leaving overnight in a pot with a bit of dish soap (depending on the fibre)
- Of course rules were made to be broken and if you are working from commercially produced undyed skeins there is nothing stopping you dunking it into the dye bath dry – it’s one way of getting a specific result (see below)
There are loads of different ways of adding the colour to the fibre
Depending on the dye type, some of these methods will work better than others, but the main styles of hand dyeing seem to be:
- Solid – put the fibre in a pot with water. Add the dye. Bring up the heat (if needed). Wait until all the colour is absorbed. Rinse. Apparently this can be hard to achieve as a hand-dyer and you are more likely to end up with…
- Tonal – adding dry yarn to a pre-warmed dye bath – or adding yarn in a big pan and then adding dye outside or inside the yarn (like a doughnut) means the dye will uptake differently giving subtle shade differences around the skein. This can also happen with some mixed colours where different component colours attach to the yarn at different rates. An example of this would be purple made up of blue and red – the red will attach faster than the blue meaning there would be some red/purple bits and some blue/purple bits.
- Dip Dyed – A section of yarn is dipped into several dye baths of different colours giving long(ish) sections of colour but there are multiple different colours per skein (2+) the length of each section depends on how big your skein is!
- Ombre – the yarn is dipped in sections into the yarn for different amounts of time – the longer the yarn is in the pot the deeper the final colour. This can be done by putting all the yarn in and then taking bits out, or by gradually adding more yarn to the pot. Gives a single gradient shade along the skein.
- Hand-Painting – the yarn is laid out on a flat surface and the dye is painted, pressed, dribbled, printed etc.. onto the yarn. This gives a very high level of control over where the dye goes and which colours go where
- Space Dyeing – can be done flat on a surface or in a low level of water in a pan. Very similar to hand painting. Done flat it usually gives short stripes of colour across a skein (giving an almost tie-dye effect). In a pan the extra water encourages dispersion so gives a softer marbled effect and colour mixing.
- Tie Dye – By adding twists of string or ribbon tightly to the fibre you can make areas that are white and undyed. These you can leave white or add other colours after the first process. For example you could make a solid or tonal yarn and then add a secondary colour by hand-painting.
- Speckling – using a tool (brush, toothbrush, finger, fork) to spray/drop small amounts of dye (powder or fluid) across a skein laid flat on a surface or in a shallow bath. This gives little dots or specks of colour/s throughout the yarn.
- Overdyeing – adding a second colour over an existing colour. For example dyeing a fibre yellow, then adding red would give an orange colour. Often used to ‘correct’ colourways that you don’t like. You can go darker but not paler.
- Glazing – this is a form of dyeing where the fibre is put into a second colour for a very short space of time so that only the outermost threads pick up any dye and it is only surface. Frequently used as a form of overdyeing.
There is less maths than you think
While it is possible to get jewellers scales and weigh dye out to a fraction of a gram (and this is needed if you want exact repeatable colours) this is not necessary for dyeing at home. Most of the course was ‘about this much’ finger in the air measurements (we were given crib sheets of the most common ratio’s) This created a wonderful exploratory, curiosity driven class which gave us the confidence to try a more scientific approach at home if you wanted to.
You need less dye than you think
We made up 5 colours of stock dye (the base solution you make everything else from). 10g of dry powder mixed with 200mg of water each was PLENTY (I have enough left over to dye another 10 or so 100g skiens to a mid depth of colour). We used 5 colours in the acid dye (a blue/black, blue, blue/red, a greeny yellow and an orangey yellow – and by that I mean the black had blue tones, the red had blue tones…) and 4 colours in the alkaline dye (black, blue, red and red/yellow). You can buy dyes from online suppliers in about 5grams upwards.
These five shades were all we needed to be able to make any colour you can think of by mixing different quantities of different base colour together e.g. red and blue makes purple.
Colours don’t mix in the way I think they do
And I think this is where I am going to have a lot of fun. The most surprising was that to get grey (with the blue/black acid dye we were using) you had to add orange (to cancel out the blue) – never would have thought of that!
The Dyeing community are welcoming and very sharing with their knowledge
There is a whole heap of people who are taking the time to share quality videos that are clear and understandable on all sorts of different techniques. Check out YouTube. Some of those I have found useful are HueLoco (lovely clear videos on dyeing techniques including how they knit up), Rebecca of ChemKnits (for a whole gamut of videos on every technique you can think of and a nice clear video on the maths of dyeing), Nicole Frost of FrostYarn (for wonderfully detailed video and handouts on ratios of dyes to get specific colours) and Wool,Needles, Hands (for a fascinating journey through dyeing skeins from inspiration photo to finished product)
In a little more detail (with photos of what I did…)
The first morning was spent getting a little bit of background about ourselves, showing samples and talking about the different types of dye. We then made little mini skeins of lambswool and made up our protein dyes. While we were making our dyes and colours we also set our yarns to pre-soak for about 30 minutes in a water bath with our vinegar added (not much it works out as about 1 tablespoon of vinegar per mug of water)
We made up five base colours, from which we would mix all our other colours. Then we were left to our own devices to mix colours we wanted to try. This was done but putting a dribble in a white cup and adding other colours till you got about the colour you wanted. Then (because this class was an introduction to and not focussed on exact repeatable results) you kind of remembered that you had put in twice as much red and blue, or 3 times as much yellow/green as red and tipped about the ‘right amount’ into a pre-heated water filled pan or (in our case) tea urn. Alex was the absolute master at getting this right, years of experience allowing her to perform what was, in our eyes, magic.
I made a stunning royal purple which I ombre dyed in a deep (tall narrow) tea urn and was surprised at the difference between superwash and pure wool uptake. The wool below was left in the bath for about 20 minutes for the darkest shade (about 5 minutes for the lightest) and the bright purple superwash was in the dye for less than 30 seconds! Note: I demonstrated how to use a ball winder with this skein to another student and then re-skeined it so it’s not in it’s beautiful ombre gradient anymore.
I also stole some ‘aubergine’ purple and a beautiful green from my class mates and added a short splash of my purple to make what I initially called ‘middleclass breakfast’ – until somebody else pointed out that a) isn’t that avocado? (yes, yes it is), and b) those are perfect suffragette colours!
I’ve been chasing a perfect ‘sunset on sandstone’ colour for a design idea and after lots of dipping and mixing individual drips I got what I thought was a pretty good colour – however I didn’t have the first clue as to the proportions of which dye/s I had used. Solution? Add water to the cup, stick in a mini skein of superwash and then (and this is the clever bit) take it out, stick it in a microwave safe container and microwave it for about 2 minutes to fix the colour. (apparently if you don’t have a microwave you can do the same thing by steaming for about 10 minutes). This was really interesting to me to be able to make very small amounts of a colour to try things out (instead of having to make a tea-urn full!)
I came home at the end of day 1 with four beautiful, slightly damp, samples that I really was genuinely proud of.
Day 2 was touted as being the hottest day of this year, with temperatures in London threatening 35 degrees. A loft studio with a tin roof and no air conditioning wasn’t my first choice but I was genuinely excited to continue this little foray into hand dying.
Today the focus was more on cottons, so after welcoming the two new members and oohh… ing over last weeks (now dry) samples we cracked on. Mini skeins of 100% cotton were made, and procion dyes were made up. These dyes are cold fixed so you pre soak your cotton, add them to a dye bath and after 10 minutes you add a solution of salt water. After a further 10 minutes you add a soda solution (thats washing soda or sodium carbonate – not baking soda or caustic soda) You then leave the solution for nearly an hour for the dyes to fully absorb and set. This gives a much paler, softer result than the acid dyes but that could have been my dye concentrations more than anything!
We did some immersion techniques (tonal and solids – ombre dying is much harder with this method because of the long soak times) and we also did some hand-painting and speckling.
Finally I wanted to overdye a skein of lace-weight alpaca/silk I had fallen out of love with. The skein was gorgeous when I bought it, but the knit product was horrible. Because of the navy blue sections I decided to go with a very dark purple mix with LOTS of dye which resulted in the most amazing tonal purple after 20 minutes. So much dye meant a classmate did a further 100gm skein in an almost as dark purple. By now most of the reds had struck (attached to the fibre) leaving the blues so I grabbed a dry skein and ombre dyed it to suck up the remaining dye. This accidental skein is one of my favourites from the two day course!
Inspired I also did a little bit of space dyeing at home – I did a mini skein of superwash wool with some of my calligraphy inks and just LOVE the result!
Definitely a new hobby and once I have acquired a suitable pan (you can’t put procion or acid dyes into pans that will be used for food ever again) I will be dying the rest of my samples and skeins. I’m really fascinated by ratio/percentage dying and also by dyeing using food colourings (which are obviously food safe) so excited to play with this new medium which is just full of so many possibilities!