Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Day of Dyeing Yarns

A Basket of Dyed Handspun Yarns

Today was a great day! My friend, Lesley, and I spent the afternoon dyeing some of our handspun yarns. Lesley is an AMAZING knitter and now spinner. She showed me a sweater she is knitting from handspun and dyed yarn and it is absolutely beautiful! As you can see by the basket of yarns, today was all about color.

I brought yarns I had spun up from my Maine Island Sheep fleece. These are yarns that I want to make a sweater out of. Initially I thought I would get the color for the base of my sweater from Indigo. I grow Indigo (Japanese Indigo) and have used it to dye yarns before and I love it. But today was about experimenting with colors, a variety of vivid colors.

Color is a funny thing. You can create colors that inspire and excite you or colors that just turn you off. To be honest I am intimidated by color. How much is too much? Which ones go together? What if they don't look good together? I spin and knit for feel, for texture. The first thing I do when I see a yarn or fiber is touch it. If it doesn't feel nice than I don't like it. I'll chose texture over color any day. So this foray into the world of color is not an easy one for me to make. But Lesley is so comfortable with color that she is graciously helping me make that journey into the world of color. But for the record, I'm still scared of it.

A package of the Cushings Dye that we used today. Cushings Dye is a local company out of Kennebunkport. I like the idea that it's a local company. And I must say that I like the colors that these Cushings dyes made. One concern that I've had with dyes is the chemicals that are in them. So I've been more intrigued by natural dyes. But you can't get quite the pallet of colors with natural dyes that you can from these. Natural dyes also use mordants and some of those can be as dangerous as these dyes. I guess you just have to be very careful and follow the directions carefully.

The first thing we did was figure out what color we wanted using Lesley's handy color chart. Then we discussed the value we wanted (how deep or light of a color shade we wanted). Lesley took a dyeing weekend at Wrinkle in Thyme Farm and so she was putting to practice all the wonderful things she learned during that workshop.

Then we weighed the dry yarn. This helped us figure out how much dye stock solution to use in the dyepot. This was a very helpful step.

Once we knew what colors we wanted and how much yarn we wanted that color we began mixing the colors using hot water and vinegar. A packet of dye, a pint of very hot water, and a teaspoon of white vinegar.

While we were measuring out all the dyes we let our yarn soak in lukewarm water (for 30 minutes)that had a glug of white vinegar added. It was very helpful that we tied our yarns a little bit differently which made them easier to spot when they came out of the dyepots. Lesley very loosely wove a figure 8 out of thin yarn through her yarns and I just very loosely wrapped mine.

We then added the desired amount of dye stock to the pot, added the yarns, and slowly, very slowly brought the dyepots to barely a simmer. Once to the point of almost seeing bubbles begin we turned the heat down and let them simmer (just barely) for 30 minutes.

Once the simmering was done we took the yarns out and let them drain and cool in the sink a bit. Once cooled a bit we rinsed them in water the same temp as the yarns. We did this until the water was mostly clear. Some yarns this only took one rinse, others took 2 or 3.

FELTING NOTE - Something important to keep in mind throughout this whole process is that extreme changes in temperature, agitation, and lack of acid causes felting of wool. Knowing that and being careful throughout this process and you can avoid accidentally felting your yarn. The vinegar provides the needed acid. Not putting hot yarn into cold water or cold yarn into hot water helps with the extreme change in temperature issue. Carefully adding and removing the yarn to the dye or rinse waters and not stirring while in the waters takes care of the agitation issue.

Finished yarns air drying outside on a windy day.

And a well deserved meal of whole wheat ziti and 2010 summer garden stewed tomatoes with a delicious local ale:

To be honest I haven't decided if I will use these yarns in my sweater or not. Some of them are too deep a color and others not deep enough. I'm learning about value and today was a good lesson in that. I may use some of the yarns in the color work patterns in my sweater but I'm not sure about the body. That's ok; I've got lots of time to decide. Next step...finish spinning the fleece! I've still got easily 3 pounds of fleece to card and spin. Then I'll decide. So until I do I'm still planning and planting a natural dyers garden. I do really like that idea.

Hope you enjoyed our foray into the world of dyeing handspun yarns. And thanks Lesley for a great day!
PS - This is a very neat art exhibit in NYC. It's title: Counting Sheep by Brooklyn Artist, Kyu Seok Oh. An instillation of 24 handmade paper sheep (I wonder if they're lifesize? They look it.) in Times Square. I think it could have used some of our painting! Very Cool.


  1. I know that I need to dye some more buttercup yellow, without too strong a stock solution. We got more of a vivid orange (pretty), but I still want/need that full yellow. I also want to spin more and dye some lighter values. Then I'll be ready to try some color patterns for mittens. As we discussed today, I'm planning to settle on ONE roving that I want to work with extensively, and to spin a lot of it into small skeins, then just keep dyeing until I have the range of hues and values that I need. If I keep spinning the same thing, then I can just keep dyeing until I have everything I could hope for. What a fabulous day. Then I went out do dinner with my husband and a houseguest. Unicorn's luscious seared tuna....and, of course, chocolate torte. Great, great day.

  2. That sounds like a perfect plan. I'm starting my Maine Island Sheep spinning all over. I'm going to keep a sample of the spinning I want (a bit tighter and more uniform) on my leg as I spin so I can get more consistency. According to a great knitting, spinning, dyeing friend this is what I'm working for :)
    AND what a fabulous way to end your day! LUCKY girl :)
    Let's keep moving forward with this creative venture.

  3. I couldn't be happier with the dyeing we accomplished today. This batch of spinning isn't looking particularly uniform to me. I had far better luck with the BFL. Yet, what we produced today should make great, warm mittens. When you first learn to throw pots, don't throw away your early efforts; use them to practice glazing. I feel that this applies to my learning to spin and dye. Both take practice, lots of practice. I'm going to try to get better spinning consistency using one of the knitpicks rovings. If that doesn't work out, it's back to the white BFL. I also want to get some more intermediate colors--not as vivid, but not the other value or saturation extreme. Some nice, middle colors to compliment those we dyed today. The more I do this work, the more I want to do.

  4. Hey Lesley, I love your last line,"The more I do this work, the more I want to do." I couldn't agree more! It was a great day. I"m sitting here admiring my yarns and thinking of all the fun we had making them. I'm also spinning our handpainted roving. Definitely not the colors I would choose for me but looking like something that will match Ger's winter coat. Mittens would be perfect. Thanks again for a wonderful day.

  5. Lesley, My handpainted roving is coming out wonderful!! I am loving it. So pleasantly surprised. I'll post pics when I'm done. I'm spinning very fine and then I think I'll try a Navajo Ply.