Friday, November 23, 2007

I Dyed and Went to Heaven

Sometimes I start with a pattern, sometimes an idea. A few months ago, I had a picture in my mind of a warm, graceful, shawl in very pale blue, blue-green, and blue-violet. Although I shopped like a determined professional, I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, and finally admitted failure--I would have to dye the yarn myself.

I wanted something between, say, Zephyr and fingering weight, something luxuriously soft. After rummaging through my stash, I decided on Shakun's (a.k.a.China Cashmere) 2-ply silk/cashmere, mainly because I had a lot of it in white. (The reason why I suffer from an over-abundance of 2-ply silk/cashmere was explained in the previous post.)

I hate dying yarn. I hate the smell, the mess, the drippy, stringy, floppy skeins. However, I am well-acquainted with the process, having spent years studying color and dying--both natural and unnatural. Believe it or not, I used to crawl around the woods scraping lichen off woodsy objects and grinding poisonous little insects into red powder. After several years of this silliness, I threw Nature in the trash and invested in little bottles of premixed Jacquard dyes plus a nice set of food-coloring paste.

Being now forbidden to lift anything heavier than a grape (well, a bunch of grapes), I had to design a dying system that minimized neck stress.

It occurred to me that instead of using a heavy pot that had to be shlepped to the sink, the stove, the sink, the stove, ad nauseum, I could just use my twin stainless steel sinks and heat the water with an immersion coil. This concept worked out fantastically. I didn't have to lift anything but the yarn, and it was easy to push the skeins aside to drain the sink for soaking and rinsing.

I suspended the skeins on wooden thingies (parts of a Japanese embroidery frame, actually) and rested them on stacks of cat food cans (on the left) and a small cooler (on the right). I put the dye in the sink, raising and lowering the yarn by adding cans of cat food to the stack and situating the other end of the wooden bars on parts of the cooler.




When I had enough of one color, I raised the yarn, drained the sink, refilled with clear water, and added the next bit of dye.


Towards the end, I immersed all the skeins and added vinegar as a fixative, rinsed, and dried.


In the next post, you'll get to see this lovely stuff transforming into a warm, graceful shawl.

21 comments:

Katie K said...

Lovely and clever. I must admit to a bit of jealousy.

loribird said...

Thank goodness for cat food cans!
It looks lovely, the subtlety is fantastic. Looking forward to seeing it knit up.

errs said...

I've been looking for just that colorway... You're inspiring, but I'm not ready to start dyeing myself. ;) I can't wait to see what you turn it into.

2trees said...

very subtle. short colored lengths, I suppose? i like the immersin coil idea. :)

Dave said...

Lovely delicate colouring, and wonderfuly McGyvering!!

The Chickengoddess said...

Oh, I can't wait to see that knitted up. I really love the colors, and your inventive dyeing technique!

Courtney said...

Beautiful!!!

BadCatDesigns said...

Lovely! Did you heat set the dye? All the acid dyes I use require heat to set. I can't wait to see how it looks knit.

z's momma said...

You Rock! That image of grinding up bugs...very cool.

I really like the dyeing system you've set up. I've only dyed very limited amounts of yarn in the microwave, and the smell of the hot wet yarn--not so pleasant. Okay, that's not as bad as the nightmare thoughts of tangles in laceweight yarn.

Can't wait to see what you make with the new yarn.
Your yarn turned out beautifully.

Karla (ThreadBndr) said...

that is absolutely beautiful! so subtle! Can't wait to see what it becomes.

(I also have done the whole bettle thing - but I had JC grind them for me. He was at the age - about 10 - where violent distruction of dead insects was rather interesting.)

June said...

I didn't know immersion coils could heat up an entire sinkful of water. Are you using a "beverage warmer" size coil? What temperature did you achieve (and how long did it take to get there)? Sorry if this is too many questions - I am intrigued!

yarnlot said...

I am wondering already which pattern the shawl will be...the dyeing of the yarn is very subtle. A very funny post also!

Batty said...

Very delicate. Just a hint of color, barely visible, but very much... there. I love it.

fleegle said...

Dear June--

Immeersion heaters are surprisingly powerful. I started with hot water from the tap and used the heater to run the temp up to 180--that's all that's required to heat-set the yarn. I also used vinegar and the stuff Jacquard makes for setting color (forgot the name of it). It took about 30 minutes to get to 180 in my sink.

StashDiva said...

Looks great, I am looking forward to seeing the shawl.
I confess to being a chicken and don't do the dye thing myself, I know how but it's just too much work.

Soo said...

I'm with Z's momma - you rock!!

You are so clever -- and the yarn looks lovely. Can't wait to see it when you put it to work.

Janice in GA said...

That's beautifully subtle.

LittleBerry said...

lovely yarn, looking forward to the next post.

You're a very resourceful lady!

Opal said...

I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who isn't in love with the whole dyeing process.

Love the subtle colors!

Kris said...

Well aren't you clever! What a great dye plan and the results are lovely. Brilliant.

Phlel said...

Very beautiful pale coloring. Looks like you used Japanese Embroidery framing to hold the yarn. You must do that also. Me too.