This is mostly a knitting blog. Sometimes pictures of things I've made, sometimes not. I'm a guy who knits, I usually attend a men's stitch 'n' bitch on Monday nights, and I prefer natural fibres to artificial ones. I have a love-hate relationship with bamboo yarns: I love what they can do and how they look, I hate how they are made. I've been knitting since about 2003, though I really didn't get into it until 2005, while convelescing with a broken leg. I must have discovered something good, 'cause I'm still knitting years later.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Dying and Margaritas

A week ago, with the temperature reaching about 88 and high humidity, Mirabel, Huw, and I got together to dye yarn. All I can say about the experience is, "Wot larks!"

Using eco-friendly dyes from Greener Shades, we dyed eight skeins for me, two for Huw, and three for Mirabel. It was a long day, starting at 10:00 am, ending well after 10:00 pm, included lunch and a dinner of lobster (for them, since I'm a kosher vegetarian), and delicious corn on the cob, the first I've had this summer. I think I got home just after midnight. And it was awesomely fun!

My skeins were one skein of Alpaca, two of Corriedale wool, three of Romney wool, and one of wool of unknown sheep breeds. Mirabel had a cotton bouclé yarn, that was dyed a colour that could only be described as “puke yellow”. It was seriously ugly. Huw's yarn was two HUGE skeins of white wool, of unknown sheep breeds, that he got for free years ago, which had been languishing in his stash for many years.

First we tied the yarn with fine cotton string, making sure that the loops were large enough for the dye to reach the yarn after it expanded in the dye pots. Next we soaked the yarn in hot water, letting it get thoroughly soaked. While the yarns were soaking, and the instructions noted that alpaca needs to soak longer than sheep's wool, and that these dyes were best on animal fibres, rather than vegetable fibres. This would later prove out as Mirabel's cotton didn't hold the dye, and we noted that while the cotton strings binding our yarn became dyed, they didn't absorb the dyes as well as the animal fibres. Live and learn, eh?
 Mirabel is getting some of my Romney yarn ready to soak. The yarn was rich in lanolin, and the dying instructions said it would dye better without lanolin, so we washed it well before putting it in the dye liquor. I had, however, had to cut about four inches off the skein, and we dyed that, lanolin and all, and it seemed to come out fine. I think if I have lanolin rich yarns again, I'm just going to dye them as they are. 

When the yarns were completely soaked, we prepared the dyes. Mirabel says herself that she is not a scientific dyer, carefully measuring the dyes to achieve a specific colour. We decided we wanted very saturated colours, so we poured the entire contents of each phial into the mixing cups. By day's end, we had used the Ruby Red, the Fire Red, the Amethyst Purple, the Amazon Green, the Sunrise Yellow, and had mixed the River Blue and Coral Reef Aqua together. We left the Midnight Black, and Sunset Orange for another day. I also want to note that during the dying process, that when the yarn reached a certain temperature, which we gauged by how much steam was coming off the pots (hey, I said we weren't scientific, and the description of the steam was taken from the instructions that came with the dyes), we added some citric acid, which intensified the colours of the yarns. We did test for pH., using strips, to determine a rough estimate of base/acidity of our dyes.

The steam is rising and we know that the water is damn hot.
We started with the Amazon green, dyeing my alpaca first, and the Ruby red, which I used for the Corriedale and one skein of the Romney. Since stove-top space was limited, we only dyed two colours at the same time (mostly, though we finessed that later). When I pulled the alpaca out of the dye pot, Mirabel decided to try dying the cotton yarn, even though these dyes are not formulated for vegetable fibres. No one wanted to dye anything else green, so it was worth a shot. We rinsed the alpaca and almost no dye coloured the water, but when it finally ran clear, it was a gorgeous dark pine green.
Alpaca yarn in the dye bath.
Next we pulled the red yarns out of the pot. The dye liquor had been completely absorbed, and again the water ran clear after only a couple of rinsings. This surprised us, since we thought we'd lose a bit more colour through rinsing than we actually did. The saturation was intense, and it was interesting to note that even though the Corriedale and the Romney had sat in the same pot for the same length of time, there was a slight, but notable difference in the colour of these yarns, which I had expected, since the fibres had come from different breeds.

No, that's not spaghetti sauce, that's Corriedale and Romney yarns soaking in the dye liquor!
After a quick break for lunch, we prepared the purple dye for the remaining Romney skeins, and Mirabel took her cotton yarn out of the dye. As she rinsed it, the colour washed away, and she could see the original colour beneath the green. She tried to give it a soak with white vinegar, but that seemed to make things worse. Even though we were pretty certain that cotton wouldn't well absorb this particular dye, she decided to try overdying it with the yellow dye.

While these were dying, Huw and I tied off his rather large skeins, and began soaking them to prepare them to dye. After we removed the Romney from the purple dye, it was time for a dinner break. It's really amazing how tiring and hunger-inducing dying can be, though maybe it was the heat, since even though the air conditioners were working, the kitchen was as hot as the hinges of Hell.
Here, I'm squeezing the excess water out of the purple Romney, before putting it on the drying rack. To the immediate right, you can see the green cotton yarn of Mirabel's that rinsed out even after mordant had been added.
Between finishing my skeins and dying Huw's, we had Margaritas. Because nothing says madcap like a bit of tipsy dying.
Margaritas for everyone!
We plan to get together again in September for more dying, though this time we really do plan on using indigo. I'm already thinking of amassing a small stash of undyed yarns for this venture!
One green Alpaca; one red Romney; two red Corriedales; three purple Romneys


  1. Yay for you! I have dyed using koolaid and have heard that Wilton food coloring will do so non toxically. Have also dyed with onion skins... Your friend might wat to try so,e of these for the cotton.
    Now what are you going to do with that yummy-ness!
    Come out and see me in western MA (Amherst) sometime...