A string (thread? yarn?) of dye mishaps

Oh my.

It has been quite a day in the garage dye studio thus far. There was the leveling problem with the lightest gray and the attempt to fix it went horribly wrong...

Let me back up. I've been working on a large dye project. I'm dyeing yarn for a big tapestry a friend is weaving and while I'm at it, I'm dyeing the yarns I need for my upcoming workshops. The first pot I wanted to get going this morning needed special care. It was a pot of the lightest gray I dye, DOS 0.03. This yarn frequently comes out quite spotty, so I used some of my tricks to try to get it level. Unfortunately, I didn't use all of them because it was clear before the pot even started to heat that this yarn was not going to be remotely all one color. Severely blotchy darker grays with spots of almost white yarn. This will never do. Perhaps the students won't care, but every time I see that ball of yarn on the yarn table, I'm going to cringe and kick myself for not using Abegal Set and for putting the acid in before the yarn had a chance to sit in the levelers for awhile.

Since the pot wasn't even warm yet and one of the remaining grays to be dyed was very dark, I figured out the remaining dye needed to make this yarn batch dark and I would try the light gray another day. 24 grams of black dye (that is a LOT of dye!) in about 200 ML of boiling water ended up looking very much like this. 

Or maybe exactly like this.

There was a fair amount of swearing (and some incredulous giggling) and some of the words might well have started with an F. I managed to keep almost all the dye off the cement floor and mostly rescue my dye records. I have occasionally tipped over small cups of dye, but I have never knocked over a canning jar full of this much dye. Much of the swearing came from realizing that I am starting to run low on black dye, there was still a lot of dye clumped at the bottom of the jar which I had no way to measure, and that this pot of yarn was doomed to be an unknown.

After mopping up all that dye with copious paper towels and giving up on the camp table underneath which will now have some permanent black splotches due to the boiling nature of the water spilled on the plastic cover, I decided that I'd just add another 10 grams of dye to the pot and see what came out. If it is crap I'll add some bright red in an overdye and we'll have a lovely deep brown. Lesson learned.

About this time, a meticulously groomed guy in a buttoned-up suit with a name tag indicating he was from a local financial services firm walked up to my front door. I was standing in the garage with the other door to the front porch open, literally covered in dye. It was everywhere. And it was black. Fortunately I had on my dye clothes, unfortunately for the sake of visitors, these are stained and full of holes. I hadn't combed my hair. I hadn't brushed my teeth as I was still in the process of breakfast (though it be 10:30 am), and suddenly there is someone standing in the doorway asking me what the heck I was doing... in a full suit no less.

I resisted the urge to shout, "RUN NOW!" and politely answered his, "WHAT are you doing?" questions. He seemingly had no concept of what a tapestry was but was extremely pleasant. He did ask, "Why would you want to dye your own yarn when you can buy it already colored?" I realized right then that we were not going to see eye to eye vis-à-vis fiber and glossed over that question. After a minute or two of back and forth where he ignored the clearly disastrous state of affairs, he bid me good day and much to my relief, left. He did manage to ask me if I had a retirement plan before leaving though. I fought back the urge to tell him that this WAS my retirement plan.

At some point yesterday, I realized that this large dye project could be sped up considerably if I had another large-volume pot. Sped up by a third to be exact which is considerable when you have this many colors left to dye. After some googling of restaurant supply stores and a lot of resistance to the very high prices of quality stainless steel pots, I realized that I live in Fort Collins. And what does Fort Collins have more of than almost anything else? Beer makers. Beer makers need pots and they don't need really expensive ones. Which brought me, sometime yesterday afternoon, to this place.


A minute and a half after walking in the door I had the perfect sized pot. Things might have been speedier today had that little dye mishap not happened, but I am sure that soon the math will be on my side again and this project will eventually be finished. It seems like further mishaps could be in the cards so I'm keeping my tea cup a long way from my laptop for the rest of the day. I got a nice shower when washing yesterday's yarn in the tub. I foolishly hung the small bucket on the little pull that turns the shower on and turned on the tap. Of course when lifting the bucket off, on went the shower. Ah well. I needed to comb my hair anyway.

Prepping yarn for dyeing can take quite awhile. I use acid wool dyes as these are the most light and wash-fast dyes available. Sabraset and Lanaset are the very best. There are newer and cheaper formulas on the market, but they have not gotten good reviews from dyers who have used them... and these are the dyes that the textile conservators at the Denver Museum of Art use (see tomorrow's post for more on that!). 

I do all my dyeing from formulas using, perhaps shockingly to some of you, math. I want results I can reproduce or I'm just shooting in the wind every time I want to dye a certain color. The yarn has to be skeined (or tied if it came in skeins) and in the case of the Harrisville yarns I use, they need to be scoured to remove machine oil before they can be dyed. (Scouring is also needed if your yarn or fleece has lanolin in it.) The dye won't take evenly if I skip that step. In the four-square image below, I'm figuring the math from previously dyed samples, taking the singles skeins out of the box, tying them loosely on the swift, and scouring.

Tomorrow, Thursday March 23rd at 2pm MST I'm doing a Facebook Live talk about my dye procedure. It will be on my business page and is open to everyone. That page is here: https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaMezoffTapestry

If you need to sync your time with mine, HERE is a handy time zone converter... 

My friend's dye project is rolling along quite well. They yarn is turning out beautifully. Much of it is a singles yarn from Burnham's. I've never used this yarn myself and every skein I've pulled out looks gorgeous. Just take a look.