A different kind of dyeing experiment

Having spent the bulk of the summer working on painted roving, I decided to try a different method for achieving Color in Yarn.  Painted rovings are fun to spin, and they can be a lot of fun to knit with, but solids are nice as well.  Plus, I have a lot of raw fleece that I can’t process into roving at home, and I need to find something to do with it.

Rather than mix my chosen color and then dye the wool, I decided to dye the wool in the individual base colors I use, then blend them together in the proportions called for in that color formula.  Say I started with 100g of fiber – if my “recipe” was 68% color A, 20% color B, and 12% color C, I’d use 68g of wool dyed in A, 20g in B and 12 in C, and blend the individual colors.  This process takes advantage of optical blending, in much the same way pointillism does.  It creates the appearance of a solid color, but with greater depth and interest, especially when seen from up close.

Here’s what I did.  I weighed out the fiber for individual colors into gallon zipper freezer bags (labelled, so I would know what color went in which bag), added a solution of water and Synthropol (a surfactant to ensure the fiber wets out evenly), and let the wool sit for a couple of hours.  Then one bag at a time, I carefully removed the wool and added the appropriate  amount of dye & other chemical assists, then returned the wool to the bag.  I found it important to remove the wool before adding the dye, otherwise most of the color would end up in one spot on the wool, rather than evenly dispersed.

I then put the plastic bags full of wool/dye in a large stockpot with a rack at the bottom, and filled the stockpot with water.  I slowly heated up the water bath, monitoring the temperature with one of those nifty probe thermometers that provides a constant readout, and kept it at about 180F for about two hours, then left the bags to cool to room temperature in the water bath.

When they had cooled, I rinsed the wool and hung it to dry, then blended the separate colors on my drum carder.

It spins up into a wonderfully lofty DK/Worsted weight 2ply!  I’m very pleased with the results!  One of the things I like about this process is that it allows me to turn what would normally be a flaw into a “design element.”  This particular fleece is fairly fine, and despite my best handling is prone to neps.  These little clumps of fiber are generally considered undesirable in an undyed or solid colored yarn, but when the colors are dyed before being blended, the neps make nice little flecks of color in the finished yarn that I find I rather like!

My next question in this process:  Do I card the wool before or after the dyebath?  If I dye before, the fiber gets a little compacted by the process, and I need one or two more passes through the carder than I would otherwise.  On the other hand, if I dye after, I still need to do almost as much carding, but would no longer have the choice between very thorough blending (as in the example here) or a streakier, less uniform batt.  If I wanted that effect I would have to card all the colors separately anyway, so would it really save that much time?  I’ll work on that idea on my next round!

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