Miscellaneous Ramblings on Dyeing

About a thousand years ago, I dragged my spinning wheel to San Antonio, Texas for a class held at what was then called the Southwest Craft Center. It is now called the Southwest School of Art and Craft. Rachel Brown was teaching a class on spinning and dyeing. She brought her Rio Grande spinning wheel, which I promptly fell in love with. But it’s the dyeing that really grabbed me. She used a method of twisting the skeins so tightly that they formed a resist. She started out with the lightest of the dyes to be used, put the skein in, and let it simmer. Then the skein was removed, untwisted, then twisted again so that a different part had the resist, added another dye to the pot, and simmered the skein again. This could be repeated several times with the result of wonderful painted-looking skeins. When I got home, I ordered dyes and then promptly left them in the box they came in.

Many years later I flew to Chicago to take a class with Michele Wipplinger on natural dyes. We used her Earthues dye extracts for hundreds of small skeins of color-I still have those hanging on my wall and enjoy looking at them. I loved that class and would have traveled to Seattle to be an unpaid intern of Michele’s except for the part about the day job. The class was held in a now-defunct center that offered many classes on Diversey Street in what (to me, a small town gal) felt like the heart of the city.  I stayed in a Days Inn hotel on the same street, and every day walked to my class wearing my backpack. I loved the dye process and continued for many years at home. I made my own yarn samples with careful notes in case I wanted to duplicate a color. I planted madder and weld, collected goldenrod, and searched for other plants to grow. I practiced indigo daily for several weeks. But my inability to develop a good black was discouraging, as was the fact that one had to mordant the yarns in advance of dyeing.  When you’re dyeing pounds of yarn for a project, the process can take a couple of weeks.

Those considerations made me change to acid dyes, even though part of me still wants to use natural dyes. I read dye books. All of it seemed like gobbledygook. Finally, I bought a book of dye samples (with formulas) called Shades of Wool with Lanaset Dyes by Linda Knudson, and started in. At first I would travel to camera stores that had acetic acid, but then switched to citric acid—so much easier. It has taken lots of practice to finally get the colors I want when I want them, and to develop the spreadsheets that I use. All I do is enter the weight of goods (WOG) and the numbers for citric acid, dyes, etc just magically appear! I use a triple beam scale and waxed paper to weigh the ingredients for the dyepot. Amazing that a square of waxed paper can weigh 0.5 grams! I keep a calculator in the dye room to add in that weight to the strange numbers I get with percentages of the WOG. I no longer mix up the dyes ahead of time in a 1% solution. I just weigh the dye powder on the scale and throw it in the pot. The only problem child with this method is turquoise, which stubbornly refuses to dissolve easily.

  I have always used the Sabraset dyes from Pro Chem.  My palette is total of 8 colors in the Sabraset dyes that I can combine to mix almost anything I want. Recently I have tried a few colors in the WashFast line that I couldn’t mix easily with my regular dyes. Today I am dyeing what the WashFast folks call Deep Orchid. imageI bought the color because it would take going through many skeins of experimentation to achieve that color for myself. Okay, so I’m lazy—and in a hurry!

And in that vein, I also bought Key Lime. imageSo far, both of these colors are looking really good. Only 30 minutes more for this dye session.

Earlier, while trying to get various shades of browns for a client, I bought other shades, some worked, some didn’t. What was interesting to me in these pre-mixed colors is how the various colors that make up the dye are visible during the mixing process.

Now about storing all these dyed skeins …

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