Thursday, February 1, 2007

Fiber Fun, Part 1

Time for some fiber fun and pretty pictures. Well, at least colorful!

Monday I dyed some bare Merino wool from Knitpicks. A month ago I bought three 100g hanks of fingering weight yarn and three jars of Jacquard dye in the colors Sky Blue (621), Lilac (612), and Chartreuse (628). My original plan was to knit the finished yarn into a triangular shawl. And if things didn't work out and all I got was a muddy mess, I could knit a nice pair of socks. After dreaming a lot about the what, how, and wherefores, it was time for the when. Now.

I have had only one previous experience with dyeing, and that was the tie-dye party at Grace's last fall. I was the "newbie" that she mentions in her post. We dyed mostly cottons that day, which can be done without heat but with caustic soda ash. Protein fibers, like wool, use acid dyes and the dye is set by steaming or boiling. You can use simple white vinegar as the acid. So I was excited about dyeing my own wool, but a little apprehensive, too.

The book I have on dyeing fibers, Color in Spinning, by Deb Menz is a comprehensive tutorial in how to dye fibers for later spinning into yarn. She goes into color theory, the chemistry of dyes, DOS, WOF (more acronyms!), all the nitty gritty detail which I am sure I will get into someday if I continue to dye my own stuff. But I wanted to do something more simply this first time. I don't know about you, but my work as a violinist is so intense, so detailed, that when I am doing my hobbies, I just wanna have fun!

So I searched the web for more instruction, and found that just about anything goes. You can boil the yarn in a pot on the stove, cook it in a slow cooker, steam it in a wok, or microwave it! Microwave, I thought, now there's a good use for a microwave. I don't use mine to cook food anymore (and I will get to blogging about that someday) and they warn you not to use the same microwave you cook with to dye yarn. If you boil the yarn in a pot, you get one color or a random mix of whatever colors you put in without stirring too much. A wok can be used for separate dishes of dye solution and then you dip the yarn part way in one dish, part way in another, etc. But there are several ways to dye yarn in a microwave to get multi-colored effects and narrow bands of color which is what I wanted.

It took two trips to the store to get supplies: plastic tubs, plastic wrap, paper towels, rubber gloves, a mask, hooks to hang the wet yarn up to dry, and I still hadn't made up my mind exactly which method I was going to use and I didn't decide until the last moment. I also bought some plastic condiment bottles for mixing the dyes. When you put the powdered dye into the bottle there is only a small opening for any of the dust to escape. Breathing the powder is what is dangerous about these dyes. I was then able to squirt the colors onto the yarn exactly where I wanted them to go.

Microwave zapping only takes a few minutes, but the preparation time can be quite long as any cook knows. First I spread out some newspapers on the counter and on top of that overlapping thicknesses of the plastic wrap. I had soaked the yarn overnight in cold water with a little dishwashing liquid to make sure it was thoroughly wet. Donning my mask (in chem class we were constantly being reminded to put on our goggles), I mixed the dye solution in the plastic bottles. First 1/2 teaspoon of the dye, then 1/4 cup of vinegar, and finally 1/2 cup of water went into the condiment bottles, and holding my gloved hand over the tip, I shook it all up until the powder was completely dissolved. I decided to use only the three colors straight from the jar with no mixing.

After squeezing the water out of the yarn gently with my hands, I spread the hanks out on the plastic wrap and started to squirt. Variegated yarn can present problems when knitting because depending on the length of your row and the length of the color on the yarn, you get stripes, mottled colors, blotches of color, or weird moiré patterns. I had discovered this unfortunate fact when I made the leg warmers. Keeping things simple, I decided to have medium length color strips and I wanted blue to be the mediator between the lilac and the chartreuse. I didn't know how much the colors would run together and while blue and green mix together well, and blue and purple also, I wasn't sure what I would get with lilac and chartreuse.

So I squirted the ends with the lilac and chartreuse, and put the blue in the middle. This would also make the purple and chartreuse longer color lengths and the blue shorter, but the blue would come more often. I was trying to get some randomness in the colors while still having the three hanks very similar if I wanted to knit them all into one project. After taking this picture, I squirted on more dye until the blue and lilac were gone and only a little of the chartreuse was left. I then massaged the colors into the yarn to spread it more evenly and close the gap between colors. I didn't want any white in my final product. One spot that might not get enough dye is at the ends of the hanks where they are tied together, so I gave these spots an extra squirt.

It was only after I had painted the yarn that I decided to use the sausage method to microwave them. I didn't want the two ends touching each other. So I wrapped each hank in two layers of plastic wrap like sausages and coiled them up. This had the added benefit that I would only need one pan or plastic tub to cook them in instead of three separate tubs. That would have taken a lot longer and might not guarantee consistent results.

To be continued...

Fiber Fun Part 2

Fiber Fun Part 3

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