Friday, July 25, 2014

Fun with dyeing

Part of the fun of spinning is picking the color combos.  Some people get this joy just by browsing colored rovings on Etsy and buying the colorways they want.  For me, addicted as I am to doing every part of any craft I do, that's not good enough.  I want to select the actual colors I imagine and do the dyeing myself.

The trouble is that of the three kinds of dye -- food coloring, plant dye, and chemical dye -- nothing quite suits.  Chemicals don't suit my aesthetic, which prefers the natural and safe.  They also have to be specially purchased, and I am always on a budget.  Food coloring at least is safe, so I don't need to use special separate pots to do it in, but it takes a lot to get a deep color.  I always wind up with pastels, and even if you use a ton, you usually get bright candy colors.  Sometimes I like that, but sometimes I want deep rich colors, and that's hard to get with food coloring.

But natural dyeing is a whole different ball of yarn.  Each dyestuff you might want to use has its own rules.  Indigo dyeing is completely different from safflower dyeing which is completely different from lichen dyeing.  Some colors, like blue, are notoriously hard to get, and most everything you can find will give you shades of yellow or brown.  Bright colors of any kind are very hard to manage.  The really nice natural dyes -- indigo, cochineal, logwood, fustic -- are almost certainly not available growing wild near you.  You have to order them online, and they're pricey.

Here, for instance, is my experiment with black beans.  Black beans are readily available, which is a big plus, and they make blue shades, which is even better.  But because the color is destroyed by heat, you have to do all the dyeing completely cold.  That seems to result in the dye not taking as well as it otherwise would, and a lot of people report it fades in the sun.  (Superwash yarn seems to take the dye best, but I don't have that.)

So this blue-gray was the best I got, from four ounces of wool and two pounds of beans:

But it occurred to me lately that I could compromise by combining natural dye, those ones I could easily get, with food coloring.  That way I could get some depth and murkiness from the natural dye and add on some bright, clear color with the food coloring.

So far I've only tried this approach once, for a colorway I've been dreaming of which is inspired by the colors of the forest floor.  Forest green, olive green, brown, and a little yellow for the sunshine.

I did two different kinds of wool in this colorway -- unprocessed Rambouillet (this stuff is CRAZY soft, I may never use anything else, even if it is very greasy and hard to clean) and Icelandic roving.  First, I dyed one batch with black walnuts.  This is very simple -- first you boil the black walnuts in water, then you strain them out and simmer the wool in the water.  Simmering unspun wool is risky business because you can felt it if you're not careful, but by not touching or agitating it at all until it was cool, I didn't have any felting.

It wasn't as deep brown as I had hoped -- even an equal weight of black walnuts and wool apparently is not enough for a really dark brown -- but it looked pretty nice.  For the next batch, I used the same black walnut dyebath and added half a container of instant coffee.  This made a slightly redder brown than the first brown, but the difference wasn't very noticeable.

Then I took the two batches of brown wool, plus some white wool, and overdyed it all with food coloring -- a mix of green and a bit of red and yellow to make a somewhat olivey green.  This produced different shades of green and browny-green on each batch.  Last of all I did a little yellow, just in food coloring.

This is how it turned out on the Icelandic, which, because it was cleaner and already carded, took the color pretty evenly.

And this is how it turned out on the Rambouillet.  Like always happens with raw wool, for whatever reason, the tips took the color much more deeply than the rest, but this difference disappears when you card it.  A little lingering grease (despite so many washings!) also kept the dye from taking quite as well as it should have.

Next time I'll talk about how I blended and spun this gorgeous stuff.

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