Thursday, August 21, 2008
If you've read this, you know I love wool yarn. Another cool thing about wool yarn is that it is easy to dye using food colorings! I first heard of this thanks to the book "Stitch 'n' Bitch" where they have the pattern for the Kool-Aid dyed sweater. I googled it and found a whole world of hand-dying using edibles! Then someone told me you can use the food colorings sold for cake icing as well so I just had to try that!
[I wasn't going to put anything but shawls on this blog, but this pattern is coming together unnaturally well, almost like I'm getting a little help from a Good Shepherd, so I thought it would be a good chance to highlight some of the other charitable knitting groups out there in case you get tired of knitting shawls (or the chest of shawls gets full, like at my church at the moment!). The pattern to make a child's sweater using two strands of hand-dyed DK wool will come next, but this entry will be on how to dye wool.]
My favorite method of dying wool is using Kool-Aid, because you get bright, vivid colors and it's very easy. Plus, the wool smells fruity for a long time afterward!
You can over-dye pretty much any animal fibers with these methods. My favorite yarn for dying is the inexpensive wool yarn I get on ebay on cones. It doesn't have to be white but should be very pale, and browns or greys work the best unless you're wanting to use the color it comes in (like pink could be dyed shades of blue, red, or yellow to get purples, darker red, or salmon/orange). I find a light tan color is completely hidden under dyes, just the colors are a little muted instead of vivid (but some do come out vivid, too!) I've successfully dyed a medium brown as well, to red, green, and blue and it turned out very well - you'd never guess it had started out as brown.
The sweater I'll give the instructions for in the next entry uses stranding, so I did two hanks of each color. This turns out really nice, especially when they are a little different shade from each other - it gives nice depth, and when there are lighter/darker patches in the hanks from our inexperienced dye-jobs, that works to our advantage to give the stockinette some texture.
The first step is to get the yarn into long, loose hanks so the dye gets access to al the strands. I've used two methods of making up for my lack of a swift so far, one is wrapping the yarn around the open cabinet doors in the kitchen. The other is to wrap it around cardboard boxes. Whatever you use, there will be a lot of squeezing force after awhile, so it has to be strong. Doing each hank a standard number of wraps, like 100 worked well for me, but you could just "eyeball it" as well. Once you've gotten your hank wrapped, you'll want to slide it off of whatever you used and use the two loose ends to loosely tie around the hank. Cut a piece of yarn or use a scrap of yarn to loosely tie around the other end as well. This helps prevent your yarn getting tangled during the washing, dying, squeezing, etc.
The cone yarn comes with a coating of lubricants or something, so the next step will get that off and show you how fuzzy the yarn really is (off the cone it often seems like bailing twine!) So you fill a bucket or dishpan with warm soapy water and soak the yarn.
Next get a medium-sized cooking pot and fill it half-way with water. Add a splash of vinegar and your dye and bring it to a boil. If you're using Kool-Aid, 1-3 packets per hank is what I do. The more you add the more vivid the color. You could experiment and try one hank with just one, and one with three. Since you're stranding, it won't hurt anything. If you're using icing dye, I added about 1/8 to 1/4 tsp per hank. It's ok to mix colors. I only had the primary colors so I mixed red and blue to get purple, yellow and red for orange, etc.
Once it's boiling, squeeze, rinse, and squeeze a hank of yarn and carefully add it to the pot, rearranging it a few times so all of it gets to the dye. If you're using Kool-Aid, the water will quickly become clear or milky. That means all the dye has been absorbed. With the icing dye, that didn't happen but the yarn seemed to absorb all it wanted within 5 minutes. If you smell a burning smell, take the pot off the burner, it could be the yarn on the bottom of the pot getting singed.
When the yarn has soaked up as much of the dye as it wants, take pot and yarn to the sink (where there is NO other yarn because it will make spots on it!) and lift the yarn out of the pot and let it drain for a bit, then I hang it over the faucet to let it cool enough to touch. While I'm waiting, I get the next pot of dye ready. I don't put in fresh water each time, but you need to when you move from one color to a different primary color. You need to add a little bit more vinegar and top off the water from time to time, and add more dye, of course.
Once you can touch the yarn you've just dyed, rinse it well in warm tap water, squeeze it well, and hang it to dry. I like to dry it in the sun outside because that is pretty fast. You can hang it over a broom handle, on a clothes line, over the branches of a tree (but then it might not be sunny!), use your creativity.
The last time I did this, there was no mess to clean up, other than the pot and spoon I used. Not too messy! :)
Yes this is a lot of work, but it is FUN! And it's a great way to recycle ugly or unwanted yarn to fabulous yarn!