I've spent much of the last week in my dye studio. I will likely spend another couple weeks there. I do love the dyeing and putting together colors for a new project is a whole lot of fun. And global warming has hit Colorado and it isn't even that cold for January. This particular tapestry will need about 25 pounds of yarn, but since there are so many colors and I hate running out, I always make enough extra that I won't. I suspect in the end I'll have dyed about 50 pounds. I don't like games of yarn chicken and the extra yarn is always welcome in the tapestry classes I teach or for my next piece.
My life becomes ruled by a kitchen timer set for 20 minutes--the frequency at which I go out to the
dye studio garage to check/stir/change the pots.
There is a lot of plastic and cardboard covering things and I wear a dust mask or respirator when measuring dye powder. It is still cold in there first thing in the morning, but I can get rid of the wool hat after the pots are going and everything starts to warm up.
Dyeing can be messy and I marvel at the people who use their kitchen for this process. I am sure I would be served with divorce papers if I tried it. I have dyed in all sorts of environments, but always in a garage, a backyard shed, or outside. I used to use acetic acid which is very smelly and this alone is a reason not to dye inside. I now use citric acid which is much easier to get, cheaper, and doesn't smell much. Still, having this dye powder in the area where you fix food is not a great idea if you have any other options. Plus I am dyeing for 10 to 14 hours a day for weeks at a time. That much water vapor inside would not be good for the house.
A propane or electric burner outside on a deck or cement pad works just fine. I suppose if you live in Antarctica this might be a problem as it would freeze before it boiled, but most other places, it should work.
I use Sabraset and Lanaset acid wool dyes. Almost all my dyes are Sabraset from ProChemical and Dye. This is a USA company with a great product. These dyes cost a little bit more than other acid wool dyes out there, but they are also very consistent and the most light-fast synthetic dyes on the market to my knowledge. Obviously if you're weaving something that is going to hang on a wall for years, lightfastness is one of the most important qualities in a dye.
I dye my samples in jars in a bath of water. This allows me to do multiple colors at one time fairly quickly. This is how I test the colors I want to use in a piece.
After dyeing sample amounts (about 30 grams will fit in a quart-sized canning jar), I will often do a woven sample to make sure what I see in the yarn skein is what will look the best in a tapestry.
For the commission I'm working on, I wove three samples last week. I was surprised that the samples made me change my mind on the colors I thought I was going to use. Yet another example of how important sampling, especially for a large project.
I have one set of colors left to do a woven sample of and possibly further dyed samples if what I have done doesn't work well.
The yellow-red gradation is for the accents in the piece, the turquoise-purple gradation is the main color of the tapestry.
Below is one of the lightest colors I'm dyeing. The lightest colors can be tricky to get even depending on the dye. Each pot of yarn can take from 2-4 hours to finish it's cycle. The light colors I heat more slowly because this helps the dye take evenly. I also use leveling agents for the light colors and add the acid after the pot has heated a little it. Leveling agents are salts that help the dye take up evenly instead of dark/light splotches. And for these dyes, a pH of about 4 is what makes the dye bond with the fiber. Without acid, the dye wouldn't stick to the yarn permanently.
This two car garage is the best dye studio I've had yet. There is enough space to set up a couple tables plus have two two-burner stoves running. When it isn't windy out, I open the garage doors partially as well as the people doors to the outside to keep the moisture from building up in the house.
One day I hope to build my dream dye studio. It would either be in a large backyard building or attached to my weaving studio. It needs to have hot running water, a couple utility sinks, and a big porch under which the pots can bubble. Some indoor studios in cold places have vent hoods instead, but I find the noise of constantly running fans annoys me. And yes, the cardboard on the floor in this photo is a definite hazard. My ideal studio will have concrete that I will allow to get stained or it will be sealed for easy cleaning.
Dyeing takes skill. I learned to dye in this manner in 2004 in a semester-long class at Northern New Mexico College. Now I know about what temperature a pot is without measuring by how the yarn is behaving, when it is near boiling, and when the dye is going to take evenly or when I need to slow things down. Different dyes act differently also. Some of the yellows can be really stubborn and when in solution they settle out or clump. Other colors like the blues I use, dissolve easily and stay in solution and they also dye evenly without a lot of effort.
Below is the stack of skeins (all 100g) which is growing day by day.
Fortunately, there is always plenty of yarn. Whoops, there is my timer. 20 minutes.
Are you a dyer? Where do you do your work and do you use your hand-dyed yarn for tapestry weaving?