dyeing yarn

I'm in the dye studio.

I'm in the dye studio.

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.

How to make beautiful yarn out of poorly dyed singles

How to make beautiful yarn out of poorly dyed singles

Mistakes in dyeing can be messy... but sometimes there is a happy outcome even when you think it is all going to crap partway through.

I made a measuring error while dyeing a violet/blue yarn and as the dye was already in a jar with water in it, I couldn't easily save it. I wanted to use this large volume of dye so it seemed the right moment to try some overdyeing.

A friend recently gave me quite a lot of churro yarn that was dyed by someone else. The colors weren't quite what she wanted and she asked if I could use it. And not being able to say no to free high-quality yarn even when the colors were a little bold, it came to live in my studio.

Not afraid to dye

Not afraid to dye

On social media I often use this hashtag, #notafraidtodye

I've been waking up in the night the last few days with a lot of pain in my back. This is unusual for me and in my middle-of-the-night confusion I couldn't figure out how I could suddenly feel so old and creaky. In the morning I remembered. I've been dyeing yarn for almost two weeks now and that is enough to make anyone's back ache.

Maybe this visual will help.

A string (thread? yarn?) of dye mishaps

A string (thread? yarn?) of dye mishaps

Oh my.

It has been quite a day in the 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.

Rookie mistake

I've been dyeing for a long time--over a decade. I use acid wool dyes, sabraset and lanaset dyes from Earth Guild and PRO Chemical and Dye. They are the same dyes, they just have different trade names. And of course the colors are slightly different. For some reason, the last time I did a lot of dyeing, I decided that I was going to start using just one company, PRO Chemical and Dye. I guess I thought it would be easier and a little cheaper to source my dye from one place and I was using Deb Menz's dye books and formulas for some of my experiments and she uses their dyes.

However, this led me right into this weekend's rookie mistake.

That beautiful blue yarn is made in part with Blue 2R, a dye made by Earth Guild. I have been using this lovely dye for a decade. I love it. Why would I abandon it?

I started dyeing the blues for the next tapestry late last week. As I began measuring the dyes for the first eight colors, I started to panic a little bit because the jar was almost empty. Searching through my two small boxes of dye powders, I realized there was no new jar.

No. New. Jar.

Then I remembered the aforementioned clearly delusional decision to stop using Earth Guild dyes.

I realized I had enough for the eight colors, and thought, oh great, I'm going to make it!

Only to remember that I had nine more blues to go for this piece and there was no way any other dye could be substituted.

And this was all I had left.

Thankfully Earth Guild was fast. Yesterday this little box was on my doorstep and I'm off to dye the rest of the blue.

In penance I promise to continue to use Earth Guild's Blue 2R for all eternity... or at least until another delusion steps in.

Thanks Earth Guild.

The simple joy of making color

I love dyeing my own yarn. I love it so much that I just don't understand when people say to me, "I don't want to learn to dye." How can that be? You can make any color you want!! And if you run out, you can make more if you took good notes and were careful.

(Any color you want!)

To each their own. There are perfectly reasonable reasons not to be a dyer.

Dyeing can feel like hard work especially when in the middle of a big run. At some point last year I cut way back on the hand-dyed yarn I bring to my workshops and that has made a significant difference in my dyeing joy. Now the pots only have about 4 ounces of fiber in them, sometimes less. I rarely need more than that of a single color. And pots with small amounts of yarn heat up much quicker. And so I can dye more colors in a day. And that makes me happy. Oh I'll still bring some hand-dyed to my workshops, never fear. But much of that work is now done by someone else. (And how many people really noticed they were working with hand-dyed yarn that I created, lifting endless very heavy pots in the process? Not many. 10 gallons of water weighs about 80 pounds. I may not be as strong as I was, but my back is happier.)*

I tried something new this week. I am working on new ways to manage colors in tapestry weaving and have done some experimenting with handspun. I bought some white and brown roving when I just happened to be in was in the yarn store the other day and with the help of the most excellent Deb Menz**, I did this.
I was pretty skeptical about it at this stage. I was sure this was going to turn into two big globs of brown as the dye was setting in the steam pot. But I was wrong. It isn't perfect, but it is a skill worth perfecting.
I will spin this before the next dye trial... and I will also choose my colors a little differently next time. If it spins well and I didn't felt it, this idea will undoubtedly find its way into a tapestry soon.

I also finished these samples for the big dye run I am now doing. I dye samples in quart canning jars so I can do many at once. The first run produced this.
This was the point where I stood on the deck looking at those colors and I thought, I have finally become a dyer. I know what I'm doing and I can pull this stuff off with very few mistakes. While I will tell you that dyeing with acid wool dyes is very easy (it is!), learning what dyes to combine to make a certain color and in what proportions takes a bit longer. After ten years I can say, I'm good at this! I totally know what I'm doing.

I had to tweak about 6 colors and then I had this.

The larger amounts are being dyed now and might even be done by tomorrow. There is just that one little problem of the big tapestry still occupying the loom upon which I want to weave the next piece. It'll take me about 80 hours to finish weaving that one off. Just a few more colors in the dye studio which sounds cool but is my garage, I promise, then I'll be back to weaving... really.
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* One of the great things about acid wool dyes is that all of the dye ends up in the fiber. The water is completely clear (though acidic!) when a color is finished. I can use that water over and over again for subsequent baths.
** By the way, if you want to try doing some hand painting of yarn or roving, I recommend Deb Menz's book, Color in Spinning. It is magnificent. Even if you only dye yarn and don't spin at all, this book is fantastic. In fact, I recommend everything Deb Menz has published. She is something of a color genius.