Sunday, July 4, 2010

Summer Dyeing

I have a stash of dyes and a stash of white yarn.  Since I'm not usually a weaver of "white" things, my summer project will be to turn as much white into color as possible.  I'm a bit out of practice because last summer was dry and I didn't want to push the limits of my well with endless rinsing, so I just didn't dye anything.  This year I gathered a lot of rain water in 5 gallon buckets (with lids) and am using that to dye with and some well water too - because there was a nice normal rainfall.

Dyeing protein fibers with acid dyes is easy and doesn't use much water.  The dyes (I use Lanaset and Sabraset) are usually exhausted leaving pretty much clear water at the end.  On the other hand, dyeing cellulose fibers with fiber reactive dyes isn't so straight forward.  To get even results on your yarn (or T shirt), you need to use salt.  I hate using salt because I don't want to put it into my septic tank, and I don't like pouring much of it on the ground.  So, I opt to do paint my yarns with the dye and leave them covered with plastic wrap for a couple of days so that the dye will react with the fiber in the yarn.

Several weeks ago I got out my dye notebooks and followed my usual procedure of scouring the yarn in my dyeing crock pots, soaking it in a soda ash solution and painting on the dissolved dye.  My cotton skeins turned out very pale - probably not enough soda ash to make the dye react.  I started looking around for another method that might be more fool proof (me being the fool)!  I found these instructions from Straw Into Gold and they indicate the use of baking soda, but I substituted soda ash.  The real trick here is to only mix up as much dye as you are going to use in one setting because adding the soda ash to the dye mixture will cause it to react.  My solution is to have a T-Shirt handy to overdye with the leftovers - but I'll probably need to think of something else soon or get better at judging the amount of dye I'm going to use. 

 I have done a couple of fiber reactive sessions now and I'm pleased with the results. The skeins in the photo are bamboo (the reds) and cotton (the blues and greens).  I skein them on my warping wheel and don't bother to readjust it for a standard two yards, so  my skeins are three yards in diameter.  This gives me the opportunity to make longer color sequences.  I usually paint three or four skeins at once so that the color sequences will be the same. 

One of the things that used to really bother me was how difficult it was to get the dye to stop bleeding once you got to the rinsing process.  I find that there are two approaches that work well.  One is to fill a bucket with hot water and let your dyed items sit in it for several hours or overnight.  The other is to bring your dyed items to a simmer in a pot with a little detergent.  The unreacted dye bonds with the water molecules in the presence of heat.  Then when you rinse, your skein will stop bleeding dye and your finished item won't bleed either. I gleaned this tip from Synthetic Dyes for Natural Fibers by Linda Knutson, but only after having been throughly frustrated by instructions that say to rinse until the water is clear. Good advice, but it stops short of telling you how to achieve this miracle.

I've got some more dyeing schemes up my sleeve.  Stay tuned for what comes next.


  1. I have been only using acid dyes...but I have some bamboo fiber that I need to dye up...skeins look beautiful!!!

  2. Great colors on your skeins!!

  3. I've had some of the same issues with rinsing fiber reactive dyes. You have some great ideas on how to solve that. I'll give it a try when I dye the project currently on my loom.