Monday, August 23, 2010

To Dye For

Disclaimer #1: This post is a photo-documentation of my first attempt at dyeing. It is not intended to be a tutorial (as I said, I'm a first-time dyer!) -- hence the lack of specific instructions, measurements, etc. However, if any of this information is useful to you, by all means, use it! :)

Disclaimer #2: This is a photo-heavy post. (Please excuse the blurriness of most of the photos... my camera is old.)

Since I learned to spin, I've wanted to dye my own roving, but, since I don't know what the heck I'm doing, I was never willing to make the financial investment. Recently, I was perusing and I noticed they'd started selling undyed roving for hyper cheap! I added several lengths of it to my cart, excitedly received them in the mail days later, and, lo and behold, let the dye experience begin!

Here is what my makeshift dye studio looked like:

Among the things I used:
  • Undyed roving (Peruvian wool, 3.5 oz, from Knit Picks)
  • Jacquard acid dyes (Sapphire Blue, Yellow Sun, and Vermillion, also from Knit Picks)
  • 12 wide-mouth mason jars (from my grocery store)
  • paint brushes (both the "hair" variety and the sponge variety)
  • a large pot
  • a steamer (like you use to steam vegetables in)
  • white vinegar
  • cling wrap
  • plasticware
  • plastic cups
  • gloves
I used methods described in Gail Callahan's book, "Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece." I highly recommend this book for first-time dyers (whatever this recommendation is worth, since this is the only book I used!). One caveat though: if you use this book, you should read through the whole book before beginning a project, because there are bits of crucial information scattered all through it... perhaps this style of writing is not ideally suited for linear thinkers like myself... but I got by.

Because I used acid dyes, I needed to pretreat my roving so that it would accept the dyes. I soaked it in a vinegar-water mixture.

While my roving was drying, I mixed my dyestock. Since I only bought acid dyes in the three primary colors, I had to mix them together to get the secondary colors.

In these pictures, it looks like I'm doing this operation on top of an unprotected kitchen counter, but, I assure you, the counter is covered with a kitchen trash bag!

Once the powders were measured and mixed, I dissolved each of them in a little bit of water, and then added one cup of boiling water. This stage brought back memories of hours spent in analytical chemistry lab. 

Once I had made the ROYGBIV colors, I mixed neighboring colors to fill out my basic color wheel. (i.e. equal parts red and orange to make red-orange; yellow and green to make yellow-green, just like in sixth grade art class.) This resulted in twelve total dye solutions.

Oooh pretty, it's a color wheel!!

Once my roving had been pre-soaked and left to dry, I picked my favorite color combination (orange, blue-green, reddish-purple, and a brown I made by mixing equal parts of red and green) and began handpainting.

And so on, until I reached the end of the roving.

Once the painting was finished, it was time to set the dye. I chose to do this by wrapping my roving in Saran wrap and steaming it as if it were broccoli. Yep, exactly like broccoli, but less tasty, and way stinkier!

Once the dye had set, I let the roving cool to room temperature (hot fiber is surprisingly HOT!) before rinsing it gently so as not to exacerbate the felting that was bound to happen given my clumsiness, inexperience, and impatience... alas, I am sad to report that some damage was done, but I was able to draft out some of the fiber and convince myself that it's more than worth trying to spin it up! Then it was out to the deck for an afternoon of sunbathing (for the roving, not for me).

And, voila! My first handpainted roving!
The colorway reminds me a little of the Caribbean because of the jewel tones, especially the tropical teal color. Not sure what to name it, but since it's repeatable (I saved the leftover dyestock, and I obsessively recorded how I made it!) it deserves a name... any suggestions?

Whew. Now, for a long evening of plying my laceweight BFL. UGH! The next post will have more knitting-related content, as I'm sitting on some pics of my latest FO. 


  1. I like your color theory terminology annnnd I love the finished product. I will pay you with lots and lots of love to make me something out of hand painted yarn.

  2. You are clearly your mother's child!! That is incredible #1!! I am amazed. Gorgeous pic of you too! :D

  3. Linear thinking, pah!

    The stuff looks great, and I can't wait to see it after you spin it. I know you set the colors, but it's really set, like a scarf made from this yarn won't rub off onto your shirt?

    Also, I noticed your tagline doesn't say "nascent" anymore. Oh, and hi, Shan.

  4. mom - yes, the colors are really set. and the dye is colorfast. i'm spinning it into a light worsted weight, so it's going really quickly!

    i took the "nascent" down. not because i grew up, but because i didn't like the ring of it.