A Good Day to Dye

The weather turned this weekend from cold and windy to warm and sunny, with all the elements of spring making themselves known:  the mockingbirds in the trees, the frisky squirrels, daffodils and freesias blooming.  Thus, for a few days, the cabled beret was tossed out the window (figuratively, not literally), while the dye pots and colors and yarn came out to play.

A couple of weeks ago I sent away to Wool2Dye4, and ordered two skeins of their 100% washable merino sock yarn, their 80/20 merino bamboo combo sock yarn, and a one-pound cone of their Blue-Faced Leicester.  I also had some sock blanks from KnitPicks that have been waiting many months to turn into butterflies.  My MIL’s birthday is on the Ides of March, so this yarn and dyeing is something we do occasionally as a birthdye present for her (and for me, though I’m 7 months from now . . .).

Anyway, it was a blast!  First thing we did was to paint up our sock blanks.  We used powdered dye mixed with water – I’ll detail that in another post – and plastic syringes to place the colors.  Judy’s sock blank is below.

Judy's Sock Blank - Before Steaming

This is my sock blank.

My Sock Blank - Before Steaming

We did this out on the picnic table, on top of a plastic tarp.  Before dyeing the blanks, two long sheets of plastic wrap were stretched out beneath where each blank would go, and pressed down to make a seal.  The blanks were soaked in warm water with a tablespoon of dish soap (Dawn) for about 30 minutes.  We set up the dyeing table and colors while the blanks soaked.

Once we had our blanks painted, into the kettle they went!  We rolled the blanks up in the plastic wrap, folding over the edges and such to seal in the colors, with a final sheet of plastic wrap, like a burrito.  The kettle was set up with a vegetable steamer and plastic tray, and the blanks steamed for about an hour.  Once they were done, we pulled them out and, as quickly as possible, freed them from their coverings and set them in a basin of warm water mixed with about 4 oz. of white vinegar.  There they cooled, and while they were cooling, we got on to more dyeing!

Our “cooked” sock blanks now looked like this:

Judy's Sock Blank - After Steaming
My Sock Blank - After Steaming

One would hope that the abstract patterns would come out like the blank, but already I know they won’t.  I’ve started knitting up my socks, or gloves, or whatever they are going to be.  The colors are intensely rich, and the photos really do not show what they look like.  Judy’s will more likely show its pattern – the blanks are always described as “make your own striped socks” – so it makes sense.  Still, it is fun to knit them up to see!

The next dyeing adventure was to spread out a skein of yarn each, already soaked, and pour colors onto the skein.  We’ve done this before, and often the patterns of the colors are really enjoyable.  Judy made used multiple colors in hers, and I decided to go for a more monochrome pattern.  You can see the results to the side – the turquoise skein is mine, and the multicolored one is hers.

The results of this are really satisfying as you can create strips or areas of color and work the color into the yarn. Judy’s painted skein is very obvious in its sections of color, but where the colors overlap can become very exciting. Mine is more subtle, which is odd for me, and for once the magpie did not overtake the entire project. I really like the turquoises and blues which were the result of mushing together a few shades of blue and turquoise.  Wrapping the skeins in plastic wrap and steaming them allows for the different projects to go into the same pot without polluting each other.

The final project was to create flammegarn. This is a resist method used in Scandinavia to create randomly bicolored yarn.  White or colored wool is tied off with yarn, in sections, and the yarn is immersed into color.  The result is randomly colored and white yarn, much like our multi-colored yarns of today, but with fewer colors and shorter areas of color.  The results are always fascinating.

Judy Holding the Tied Flammegarn Skeins

We decided to use the same colors, and to utilize our knowledge of color mixing to get some results.  We dyed our entire skeins a rather lime yellow greenish color.  Once we could handle the yarn out of the dye pot, we tied ours off.  Judy is holding up the dyed, still tied, skeins.

And then you can see her holding up the now untied skeins.  Hers is on the left, and mine is on the right.

She liked her colors, but for me, the colors did absolutely nothing.  Yucko!  Just not for me.  So, I decided to overdye my flammegarn skein, and I am so glad I did.

Judy with Untied Flammegarn Skeins

I decided to continue to apply color theory to the flammegarn. The yarn was a rather yellow-green and blue-green. I could overdye the yarn with a turquoise, but then I would have two similarly colored skeins. I decided to use violet. The yellow would turn to a grey color (yellow and violet being complementary colors), and the blue would turn to a blue violet. Into an intensely purple dye pot it went!

You can see from the results, the overdye was perfect. No more putrid yellow and blue green. The overall effect of the skein is a rather purplish blueberry color – more violet than blue – and really nicely mottled. Up close, with some photoshop lightening of the picture, you can see the colors a bit more distinctly.

The long, thin picture of the skein is close to the real color, and in daylight it has that deep purply blue color.  The larger picture on the left shows you the detail of the color, which, when knitted up, should add a bit of interest to the yarn itself.

Altogether, this was an incredibly satisfying day! The random effects of dyeing are half the fun – just experimenting and playing. You can see that Judy has an eye for detail and construction. Her colors are more orderly than mine, and I tell you, I really admire that in people. She is, for example, and incredibly talented beader and needlepointer, with the patience of a saint. Her work is impeccable. Me, I am far more crazy and like the process of making a mess. Too often, a mess is just the result. However, I was really pleased with the way everything turned out, for both of us, and I know we had a lot of fun together. With spring approaching (here in California), the plants are beginning to grow, and we plan on a natural dyeing adventure pretty soon, with native plants, as well as materials from other parts of the world. Stay tuned!

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