Posts Tagged ‘Dyeing’


July 16, 2009

The results of several evenings of spinning and dyeing . . .  my very own naturally dyed embroidery thread!  I’m going to be selling these at the next SCA event I go to, and if that goes well then possibly opening up a shop on Etsy as well.

Embroidery ThreadFrom left to right, that’s indigo, indigo/madder, madder, weld, weld/indigo.  Some are wool and some are silk, it’s a bit hard to tell on a tiny picture which is which.

On another happy note, the woad is still alive!  Stan is back from the brink, Claire is looking lovely, and Frank is about to take over the world.


From the bottom up:  Claire, Jingles, Bobo, Stan, Frank, Junior.

Even Junior, who I had given up on long ago, has decided to start growing.

Junior in July

Tragedy to VICTORY!!!

April 30, 2009

One of my fibre-storage shelves is high on the wall, above where my bed used to be.  Before my bed was there, the cat litter was in that corner.  As those of you familiar with cats may know, the smell of cat pee is nearly impossible to get rid of.  I’ve tried pretty much everything I could think of, and the carpet still smells like cat pee.  Sigh.

Anyways, I was tidying up my ex-bedroom, current studio, and discovered that a small package of silk roving had fallen off the shelf onto the floor.  I picked it up.  I smelled it.  Woe was me – it had indeed picked up the scent of three-year-old cat pee from the carpet.  And it wasn’t just the plastic bag, either.  Well, it was a small bag and not too terrible if I lost it . ..   but silk!

So I decided to try what I could, and stuck it in a bowl full of water and vinegar to soak for a while.

A day later, it smelled like vinegar.  Yay!  But wait – here was an opportunity to play with painting some roving!  Usually I prefer to dye after it’s spun, but since it was already wet, then why not?  Plus, my mother was visiting, and she wanted to know how to do it.  So I dug out my plastic wrap, table cloth and syringe, and we played!  Guest photos courtesy of Mum.

img_2447aHere we have some stock dye solution (pre-mixed with vinegar) being applied to the roving.  It takes a LOT of dye to soak all the way through, I ended up with white spots in a couple of places even after shoving the syringe inside the roving.

img_2450aOnce all the dye is applied, the whole thing gets bundled up in plastic wrap, all ready to steam.

img_2449aMy home-made steamer:  A big pot partly full of water, a metal strainer, a towel around the package to stop drips from making a mess, and the lid to top it all off.  I steamed it for about an hour, and the dye was all taken up by the silk when I unwrapped it.

img_2454aUnwrapping to rinse – yay, it didn’t bleed all over the place!

img_2463aOne of my secret weapons, the salad spinner of DOOM!  Handy tip:  Pay attention at the store when you buy one of these, apparently some of them have holes in the bottom, which means you can’t put it on the counter to spin without making a big mess.  Handy tip #2:  Have a separate one for actual salad, unless you fancy the odd colourful bit of silk/wool/alpaca/whatever in your food.

img_2466aAaaand . . . VICTORY!  Pretty, colourful, non-scented silk!

Now I get to practice my spinning, I’m curious to see if I’ll be able to keep the singles the same length so I don’t get much weird striping when I ply . . .

Part Three: Dyeing

February 25, 2009

Dyeing is kind of cool, because you can do it at any stage in the process depending on what results you want.  Sometimes it’s a good idea to dye before carding, because you can even out any colour differences and worry less about it getting all matted, and if it’s not too dirty you can even dye it before washing, and skip a whole step.  Although probably most of the time these days people get their wool already processed, so those two choices have been eliminated.  Anyways, dyeing at different times can give you different effects.  For regular repeating stripes, I’d do it in the yarn stage, with half the skein in one pot and half in another.  For one long shift from one colour to another, I’d probably do it after it had been knitted (or whatever) but you can also get that effect if you paint the roving (there’s a good article on how to manage it here).  For a really good, solid colour, dyeing in the wool is best (that’s where the phrase ‘dyed in the wool criminal’ came from – it means they’re a criminal all the way through).  For a speckledy tweedy kind of product, I’d dye in the wool, and then ply three (or four) different colours together.

In this case, I’m going to use logwood, a natural dye, mordanted with alum, which should give a nice rich purple that will go well with the green glaze on the teapot lid and the inside of the cups.*

Step One: Place wool in nylon stocking, to give it kind of a roving-like shape.  The stocking should help control the mass of wool so it will be less of a giant sticky mass (especially useful if I decide to throw in a skein of something else just for fun).  Don’t use your favourite pair – most things that dye wool will dye nylon, too.

Sexy Legs, er, wool.

Sexy Legs, er, wool.

Step Two: Weigh the fibre.  A good scale is one of those tools I am still sadly lacking, so to get an approximate weight, my genius boyfriend set up this genius scale:

Genius Balance Scale

Genius Balance Scale

Counterbalancing it with a known quantity of fibre gave me slightly more accurate results than the old “heft one in each hand and guess” trick.

Step Three: Soak in lukewarm water, with a little bit of soap.  The soap helps the water get into all the little nooks and crannies inside the stocking.  You have to soak it way longer than you’d think, all those little air pockets that make wool so warm are really good at resisting water.  And if it’s not wetted all the way through, the dye won’t get to the middle.

Step Four: While wool is soaking, make up the mordant solution.  Measure the mordant into a small container, add some hot water, then stir until it dissolves.  Pour this concentrated solution into your dyepot, with enough water for the wool to float freely.  Make sure that the water in the solution is the same temperature as the water the wool is soaking in, the shock of going from cold to hot quickly begins the felting process.  Most natural dyes require a mordant to make them light and washfast.  Different mordants are required for different types of fibre (primarily split into two categories – plant or animal fibres, like linen vs. wool).  They can also be used to change the colour of the final product.  Changing the mordant can allow you to get light pink to dark purple, or yellow to green or even black.  To get purple from logwood on wool, I’m using alum to mordant it.

Step Five: Add wool, begin heating.  DO NOT let it boil, the wool will partially felt in an icky, messy shape, and then you’ll have to start all over again.  Use a candy thermometer, if you have one, to keep track of the temperature, lowering the heat and/or removing the pot from the element if it starts to get too hot.



Step Six: After an hour of not-quite-simmering, remove pot from heat.  Let sit for about twenty minutes, to cool to handling temperature.  Hang until it stops dripping, but don’t let it dry all the way.  At this point, you can take a break and do the actual dyeing in the next day or two, but you should do it within 48 hours, and the wool should stay damp the whole time (wrapped in a wet towel should do).  At least, that’s what my instructions say, but I also know people who mordant lots of fabric or yarn at once and then just dye with it as they get the chance.  I personally have not experimented with either method to say for sure.



Step Seven: Extract the dye.  Some natural dyes need to be extracted, some don’t, it depends on what form you get them in.  Logwood sawdust just needs to be boiled for about two minutes.

Step Eight: Dye, yay!  Basically the same process as mordanting.  Put the extract in enough water to completely cover the fibre, at the same temperature as the wool already is.  Place the wool in the pot, and turn the heat on.  Again, don’t let it boil.  Not only do you want to avoid felting the wool, logwood is particular about the temperature, the colour will be dulled if it gets too hot.



Step Nine: After about 45 minutes, remove pot from heat.  Let cool, then remove wool.

Step Ten: Wash the wool – soak in water that’s the same temperature as the wool is, with a little bit of soap.  Soak again in plain water to rinse out soap and any extra dye particles.



Step Eleven: Roll in towel and squeeze out excess water, lay out flat to dry.

Step Twelve: Remove from nylon stocking.  I like to do this while the wool is still a little bit damp, to cut down on static issues.

*I’m using logwood extract from Maiwa Handprints.  This section is intended to provide some general procedure tips not  included in dye recipes.  For full technical instructions, see their handout here.

Dyeing Math and Terminology

February 22, 2009

Many of the people I know who are into fibre are not math people.    Just seeing all the % signs and cryptic abbreviations like “WOF” makes them curl up in a ball.  Well, not quite, but it does make something that should be enjoyable a little bit less so.  So to combat this terrible trend, I’m going to do my best to explain, in simple terms, some of the terminology used in dyeing and how to do some of the basic calculations required to get approximately the colour you want.  I’m mainly going to focus on the ones used for Procion MX dyes for cellulose fibres and Acid dyes for plant fibres, because they are the ones I’m the most familiar with.

WOF stands for Weight Of Fibre.  This is the first thing you measure, and it’s the number you base all of your calculations on.

DOS stands for Depth Of Shade.  Essentially, how dark do you want it?  A given fibre can only absorb so many dye particles.  Sometimes if you’re going for a really dark colour you pile in more dye than it can possibly absorb, just to be sure that each available site that a dye particle can latch onto is full.  The limit is different for each dye, so until you’re comfortable with the dyeing, you probably want to do a few tests at different depths of shade to see which one you want, especially if you’re trying to match a particular colour.  The instructions that come with your dye should tell you approximately what the percentage of the weight of fibre should be to give you light, medium and dark shades.  With Procion MX, for example, .5-1% DOS is light, 2-3% DOS is medium, and 4-5% DOS is dark.  Recipes will often leave off the ‘DOS’ and simply say something like “wool is usually dyed at 1% for a full shade.”  Or they’ll say “use 4-8% cochineal bugs to WOF.”  Which makes sense . . . until you start doubting and double-thinking, and then you get confused again.  At least I do.

Stock Solution is a pre-mixed solution of dye and water.  You cannot make a stock solution of Procion MX because of the nature of the dye – it will fix to the water particles, and by the time you stick your fabric in it a week later, there are no available dye particles left.  Acid dyes, however, do very well with a stock solution.  You can make a solution any concentration you want, but for ease of calculations I usually do a 1% solution – one gram of dye per 100 mL of water.  Then if I want to dye 42 g of silk to a 1% DOS, all I have to do is measure out 42 mL of stock solution, and I’m all set.

Percentages. Time for a bit of real math now, yes?  I’ve found that everybody has their own system of figuring out percentages of things, and you probably have already practiced this without thinking about it, whether you were calculating taxes on a bag of chips or figuring out what the actual price is on those shoes that are 30% off.  Some people count back decimal places.  Some people think better in fractions.  Some people even (and this one I’ve never gotten the hang of) use the % button on their calculator.  A friend of mine can only multiply anything in his head by adding.  I’m a convert-the-percentage-to-a-decimal-and-figure-it-out-from-there girl.  Sometimes it’s really easy to do in your head, like 5% 0f 500 g.  But then what do you do if it’s 12% of 368 g of luxurious cashmere (it’s fantasy land, why not make it good?)?  I’m going to go through a couple of different sequences of number-punching on a calculator so if it’s been a long time since Math 8 (heck, it’s a long time for me, and I’m pretty much the definition of a spring chicken) then hopefully one of these methods will stick in your head well enough that you don’t have to do it six times for each calculation just to be sure you did it right.

Method 1: Decimalize! Hey, let’s do my way first.  The way I do it is to think of the numbers not as percentages, but as decimal points.  So 12% is .12, 8% is .08, and 70% is .7.  The only time this way can be confusing is with percentages that are less than 10 or more than 100.  With less than ten, you have to remember to stick a 0 in front.  More than a hundred, you’ll have a whole number and then a decimaled number (437%=4.37).  To calculate how much dye you need to do 12% DOS on 368 g, you multiply the percentage-turned-decimal by the weight.  So the actual buttons you would push are:  [.][1][2][x][3][6][8][=] and it will tell you the answer! (It’s 44.16, I’m sure you’re just burning to know what it is, assuming you haven’t calculated it yourself already).

Method 2:  Divide and Multiply!*  Another method that I use sometimes, usually if I’m confusing myself with a percentage that’s greater than 100.  This way bypasses the convert-to-decimal step of Method 1.  What you do is take you WOF (let’s use 692 this time, just for fun), divide it by 100, and then multiply the answer by whatever percent of 692 you wanted.  Say, 423%.  The calculator buttons: [6][9][2][/][1][0][0][x][4][2][3][=]  . . .  2927.16!  So if your recipe called for 423% WOF dyestuff (hmm, must be a natural dye!) and you have 692 g of fibre, then you’ll need 2927.16 g of dye.    *You have no idea how hard it was not to type “Divide and Conquer”!

You want to practise either one of these methods or your own until you can do it quickly and easily.  Almost all dye recipes require you to calculate the weights of more than one ingredient, some go as many as four or five.  If you’re doing it for fun then there’s no big time crunch looming at you, but nobody wants to do something that makes them flustered and frustrated.

Colour Mixing. The last little bit that I’m going to cover is colour mixing.  Now, there are enough colours out there that you can dye any fibre you want and get almost any colour.  But sometimes you have a particular one in mind, that’s in between the shades that are commercially available.  Or you have a shortage of storage space and you only want to keep four or five colours on hand.  Or you just like the idea that nobody else out there will ever dye something quite exactly that shade of purple.  The trouble with mixing colours (as far as the math is concerned) is that now you’re dealing with a percentage of a percentage.  For example, you have a 320 g of silk hankies that you want to dye a really lovely olive green, to a DOS of 2%.  You calculate that out, and discover that you need 6.4 g of dye.  As it happens, you don’t have a pre-mixed olive on your shelf, but you do have yellow and black.  Well, you’re in luck – you know that you can get a nice olive green by mixing yellow and black in about a 9:1 ratio, or 90% yellow and 10% black.  The total amount of dye remains the same, 6.4 g.  Now you need to do a second calculation, to find out how much 90% and 10% of 6.4 are, to discover the amount of yellow and black each you’ll need.  The answer is 5.76 g of yellow, and .64 g of black.  You can do the same thing mixing two, three, even four colours together.

One last thing:  Keep records!  Keep sample books!  Try to always throw in a bit of extra fabric/yarn/fibre and stick it in a binder with a note of the fibre, the dye, and the colour ratios you used.  It will save you from extra work doing samples every time you want to dye something, you can just look in your book and think “well, I want it pretty much like that, just a bit darker (or yellower, or paler, or more intense)” and you can look at your numbers, fudge them in the direction you want, and odds are you’ll come out pretty close to what you were looking for.  Plus, if your best friend/daughter/boss loses one of her favourite mittens that you dyed for her, then you are much more likely to be able to replicate the colour if you wrote down what you did, rather than having to guess and start from scratch.

Do I do this?  Absolutely not.  But I did in school (’cause I had to) and I often tell myself off for not doing it now.  And it’s amazing the number of times I’ve pulled out my school sample books to peruse them for ideas.

Now, if just one persone reads this and shouts “Eureka!” (I’ll settle for “oh!” or “I get it now!” but eureka would be best) then my job here is done.