Friday, May 28, 2010


The day of dyeing went extremely well. Val is an excellent teacher. We dyed a boatload of fiber, including yarn, lots of alpaca fiber, bunnie, and wool. So first, let me describe the process of dyeing:

I've already mentioned that I spent several days preparing for the event. I own five different brands of dye in all kinds of colors, so I inventoried what I had and organized the dyes so they were grouped together. Then I worked on the internet and looked up each of the vendors and printed out instructions for how to use the different dyes. The white bins on the left are all filled with the dyes.

Next, I went through all of my stash of fiber and picked out the lightest ones, as those would dye the best. Then I picked vm (that's vegetable matter, but in my mind, I call it pdbp - please don't be poop) out of any fiber that hadn't been washed, and I separated short fibers from long ones. I'll use long ones for spinning, and short ones for needle felting.

One thing I've concluded since our dyeing is that washing the fiber thoroughly before dyeing really is the best way to go. We tried soaking unwashed fiber and then soaking it a second time while we were at Val's, but I think the colors really do set better when you wash everything ahead of time. On the other hand, it's not like we wanted screamingly bold colors for everything we did, so I think we ended up with a nice mix of bright colors and subdued colors. Here's an example of the brightest fiber that we made - the color is called "Cherry", and the fiber was thoroughly cleaned and carded white alpaca. Now I'm wondering if I should card fiber first, and then dye it, to get effects like this:

So my husband loaded up bins and bins of dyes, chemicals, and fiber into my van. I tried to convince Ed to go along ("Oh, come on honey, we'll be working with chemicals! Chemicals are manly! I might injure myself with chemicals."). But in the end, he just couldn't convince himself to spend a day in the heat with three women and their fiber, so he settled for packing up the car. "If you get in an accident, leap from the car, because it will be filled with toxins!" "Dye, don't die, honey!" What a man.

Once Kristi and I made it to Val's house, we dragged all our treasures in. Kristi, the alpaca rancher, had several bags of alpaca fiber and a nice cold watermelon (please note, the watermelon was for eating, not dyeing!) And I had all that stuff plus a microwave (used only for crafting), a really big roaster oven (I think it's for cooking turkeys in, and also, it should never be used for food purposes again), a couple of buckets, and drying racks. A side note on my pan... it was a double boiler Hamilton Beach Roaster Oven that I bought at a garage sale, and it had a little rust in it. Rust can change the effects of dye, so you're taking your chances when you use a rusty container. I tried cleaning it up really well. I'm thinking, though, that I could just pull the rusted boiler part out and use the main pan, as it hasn't rusted. I think we could also have used the silver metal rack that is in the right picture below to steam yarn.

So we filled three buckets with hot water, put a capful of synthropol in, and soaked our fiber in that for a while. Then we heated up three big pans of water on the stove - but not too hot - we just kept everything on low. Then we picked out our colors, threw some vinegar into the water on the stove, and started work. The synthropol, according to Val, made a huge difference in how the fiber took in the dye. The three of us chugged along, filling buckets with water and fiber, moving the fiber into the dye, and then after about 30 minutes of cooking on the stove, we pulled the fiber out, let it drain in the sink in a big sieve, and then put it outside on drying racks. Normally, you'd put the dyed fiber into water and clean it off until the water stopped changing color, but we decided to do that later, so we just put the fiber outside until we could come back to it.

Now, I must mention this sieve, It was a huge bucket with polka dot holes in it, perfect for what we were doing. Turns out it was a bucket from one of those turkey fryers, where you put the turkey in oil and cook it. It was perfect. I'll be watching for one of those at garage sales.

I suppose you're thinking that this sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon, but I want you to know, we were really working. Keeping all that fiber going from one place to the next was hard work. We were having a blast picking out our colors. I should mention that we did not use the five different types of dyes that I brought. My big idea was to look at the instructions and pick the dye that had the simplest process. So we worked with a collection by Country Dyes. When we found a color we really liked, we went crazy with it. My favorites were Cherry and Cornflower Blue. I dyed bunny fiber, alpaca, and angora locks with those, and they turned out really great. These were the angora locks. Angora locks are locks of fiber from angora goats:

Once we were done, I bagged up all of Kristi's and my fiber and put them back in the bins. I took everything home and started the final cleanup process. For that, I had a bottle of dye fixative, which is supposed to help make the colors set better. So I worked in my laundry room and brought in one bag of fiber at a time from the garage. I filled a bucket with hot water, put some fixative in the water, added the fiber, and then went and watched tv until the next commercial. Then I put the fiber into a salad spinner and spun (Val's recommendation, costs $3 at Walmart, and it needs to be a spinner with holes on the bottom so the water leaks out). Normally I would have done this in the washing machine, but I have yet to find the perfect method for doing that. I always end up with half my fiber turned into felt, so the salad spinner was infinitely gentler.

Here are examples of alpaca fiber that we dyed.

Of course, with all that fiber, I hadn't thought through how I was going to dry it all. It's all in the garage right now. I came up with the perfect drying racks. Have you ever seen those shelving units that you make by connecting square metal racks together? I happened to have some of those, so I just set two of the racks over boxes and bins and then put the fiber on the racks. I had been planning to dry everything in an upstairs bedroom, but the garage was soooo hot that I figured it would all dry better there.

The next step is to take all this fiber and card it. I had already separated my fiber into longer stuff and shorter stuff. Kristi, at my suggestion, had brought a lot of shorter fiber. I thought we could put this through my electric drum carder and sell the batts for needle felting. So if you're a felter, let me know. In looking at Kristi's fiber, I think we need to do a round of separating, though, because not all of her fiber is short, and you might as well enjoy the longer stuff for spinning.

There were some lessons learned, by the way. First, Val's kitchen is big and open, perfect for dyeing. And her microwave had a blower on it, so the air was circulating really well, which I think helped us a lot, because it was a really hot day. I think we were hard on her drain, as we were moving an awful lot of dirty water, and fiber definitely ended up in the sink. Val had utensils for stirring the fiber in the dye. I wouldn't have thought of that, but some of the fiber floats, so being able to move it to the bottom was very useful.

Although the synthropol made a big difference in getting the fiber to absorb the dye, we still had cases where we could reuse the leftover dye. That made a lighter shade of the same color, and I think that will turn out interesting when we start carding. Here's an example of white carded wool that I dyed orange, and then clean white alpaca that I dyed with the leftover orange, for a softer effect. I'll probably try carding them together, to see if I can get a softer fiber with a mix of color. Now, if you're a purist, the fact that the orange wool isn't all one shade might offend you. I suspect that would be a bigger issue if I were trying to dye yarn, but since I'm going to card all this, I think it will just make for an interesting effect:

We also had trouble with the bunny fiber. It didn't want to sink into the water. I have chemicals that claim to help with that, so next time I'll try those. Here are pictures of how the bunny fiber turned out. I can't wait to blend it in with alpaca:

I don't think I would be willing to dye in my kitchen. I have a ceiling fan over the kitchen that sucks the air up and circulates it to the second floor. And I have hardwood floors. And my counters are Corian, which absorbs everything. You can get stains out, but it takes a lot of elbow grease. Val's floors were stone, so we could bleach them if we spilled dye and not cause a problem. I think if I do dying, it will be outside. Cookstoves could be used, or if I find more of those turkey cookers, they would work well. Or, I suppose, we could just slow down and only make one color at a time. Hahaha. Yeah, that could happen.

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