Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Fruits of our Labours

My friend Sarah and I are Craft Buddies. She's the one who started me knitting and crocheting, and has made determined efforts to get me into beading which I have mostly resisted except for a mild earring addiction. (Really, you have to love a gal who, after you tell her you don't need another craft, gives you a box of yarn and four sizes of knitting needles for Christmas!)
The other problem with crafts is that, like gateway drugs, one leads to another. Hence, our mutual love of knitting and all things yarny has led us to adventures in dyeing our own yarns.

A couple times each summer we get together over at her house (she has an enclosed deck that is an ideal outdoor workspace) and have a Dyeing Day. It usually starts around 10:30 AM and continues till it's too dark to see.

Actually, before dyeing day even starts there's a lot of prep work. First you order yarn and dye if necessary (we had dyes left from last year so we don't have to buy more for a while.) I get most of my undyed yarn from either, (a yummy DK-weight cashmere blend, now apparently discontinued - a national tragedy) or All of these outlets sell very nice, soft undyed wool and wool-blend yarn. Since I'm all about the sock, I usually get fingering weight.

The yarn mostly comes wound in skeins, but if you are doing something special you may need to rewind it. For example, this
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is how I wound a skein to dye self-striping sock yarn. The path around the lamps and door handle (and around the old sleeping dog in the shadows back there) is about 40 feet, which gave me a repeating stripe pattern about three inches tall on the finished socks.

The day before dyeing we set all the yarn to soak in big cauldrons of water. The superwash yarns wet pretty easily, but some of the non-superwash wools take forever to soak through! If we had added synthrapol to the soak water it would have wetted faster, I believe.

On Dyeing Day, we set out our stock solutions
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(we use Jacquard acid dyes, 1/2 tsp dye powder to one cup hot tap water, or 1 tsp in the case of black.) You dye the fiber, then set the dye by spraying with vinegar and heating the dyed yarn. Mostly we microwave it.
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We are scientists - both of us have Chemistry degrees from the College of Wooster - so we are very precise in our measurements. We also dyed samples of yarn with each color to use for planning our final skeins. We are very anal.
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This past Saturday I managed to dye 16 skeins of yarn, and Sarah did - let me think - five, eight, ten: Ten skeins of yarn and one sock blank, plus several yards of silk ribbon. That's one busy day, let me tell you!

I don't have pictures of hers, but here are some of mine:
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Two skeins of Knitpicks' Bare laceweight merino, kettle dyed with Jacquard "Scarlet" plus a little Russet and Black for intensity. This didn't come out the way I planned at all; I wanted an intense red color with slight color-on-color variation but I couldn't stir the dye bath to even out the color because the yarn wanted to felt so easily. The skeins are moderately felted even so; I'm going to very gently wind them into balls and see what I think of the result. I'd really like the variegated pink I ended up with if it weren't that back in April I bought yarn for three other pink shawls. We'll see - maybe I really need four!
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A set of four gorgeous tone-on-tone brown skeins in Elann's Superwash Merino and Cashmere Sock Yarn. This yarn was a little pricey but it feels unbelievable. I really hope they start selling it again. I handpainted all four skeins at the same time, using different dilutions of our brown stock solution, but each skein came out a little different.
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One skein of Wool2Dye4 Surino, a sportweight Suri Alpaca/Merino blend. This one was handpainted in shades of Burgundy and Chestnut - I like how they look together and several people have complimented me on the color of this skein. This one may be a hat and/or a pair of mittens. Or maybe mittens and a headband at least - I have 327 yards, so we'll see how far it goes.
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Two skeins of Elann's merino wool-Seacell blend, wound off and reskeined with two strands held together, dyed in denim blues. I painted half the skein and just threw dye randomly at the other half for a speckled effect. I love the cream with this blue! The blue itself is Jacquard's Sky Blue plus a little black.

The next four skeins are attempts at rescuing previously dyed yarn that I didn't like. I overdyed them to produce colors I would hopefully like better. Successes first:
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Here's the original skein, which was intended to be a "fall leaf" colorway, but which had way too much blechy yellow.
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The same yarn overdyed with a couple dippings in dilute black. I love the richness of the color. I did the same thing last year with this skein:
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which started out an obnoxious orange-and-fuchsia combo and ended up looking like gourmet raisins.

Here's the second:
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The original skein was dip dyed in pink and yellow ocher. The pink is too strong and the yellow too dull for me here. I overdyed it with diluted brown followed by several dips in dilute scarlet and ended up with this
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which I like much better.

Thirdly, there's this:
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Another dip-dyed skein in Turquoise and Hot Fuchsia. I did that a lot last year, but it turns out I don't really like the ones that are dip dyed in just two colors. They don't have enough interest for me. For this one, I used a sprayer filled with dilute Midnight Blue plus a little black and sprayed varying amounts on about two thirds of the skein. Here's what I ended up with:
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I really like the shading you can get with the sprayer; I'm going to try it for more things next time.

My last overdyeing experiment was an attempt to get more olive green into this skein:
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Here's the result:
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I consider this last one to be kind of a failure, but other people keep telling me they like it, so maybe it'll grow on me. Most of the overdyed skeins are Knitpicks' Bare "Essential" (now renamed Stroll) - 75% merino, 25% nylon, but the last is Wool2Dye4's Socks2Dye4 100% merino yarn.

I tried another kettle-dye skein. At least this one was superwash so I could poke it around without fear - it's also that Socks2Dye4 yarn.
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I think I've decided that kettle-dyeing is not for me. I am too much of a control freak to like the randomness.

The rest of my skeins are experiments in pale pastels. I dyed a lot of really intense colors last time and the overdyes tend to be dark, so I wanted some light things for balance. I'm really pleased with these!
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Pale pink, gray and natural. The base is Wool2Dye4's Platinum Sock, a very bright white nylon/merino blend.
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Neapolitan sock yarn, good enough to eat! This yarn base is brand new: Wool2Dye4's "Sheila's Sock". It's a very tightly-twisted superwash merino; due to the twist I think it'll wear well even without nylon. The next one is the same yarn base:
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an ultra-pale dip dye in Hot Fuchsia, Pumpkin Orange, Lilac and Golden Yellow.

The last one uses Knitpicks' Bare "Imagination" (merino wool, nylon and alpaca) as its base:
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I'm calling it Peach Sorbet - I have a lot of ice-creamy colors this year. It's really fuzzy and soft and I adore it.

I mentioned sock blanks earlier. While I don't have photos of this year's sock blank, I have some we dyed last year.
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The rainbow one is Sarah's; the zig zag and the pond-scum stripes are mine. I already finished socks from the zig zag; here they are:
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Sock blanks give you the same amount of yarn as Knitpicks' skeins of Bare Essential, but they use a knitting machine to produce a flat which you dye and then unravel to make your socks. The flats are double stranded, too, so you automatically get matching socks!

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