My friend Silvana has recently discovered knitting and with it, all the pretty yarns that come with it. This also means she's since been hoarding fibre like a madwoman (read: like a perfectly reasonable person who has a nice and respectable hobby that might, hypothetically, lead to the purchase of a few extra shelves to store all the pretties.) It was no time at all before she wanted to reproduce some of the colourways she saw on commercial yarn.
A few weeks ago, she bought a yarn dyeing kit on impulse, without realising the dye powders that came with it weren't food safe - any utensil used for dyeing could never again be used for food preparation. Owning a few of those dye-only utensils, I suggested she pop by my studio and use them, which happened last Tuesday.
Dyeing fibre is a lot of fun, once you've internalised all the health and safety issues and move on to the fun stuff. If you think about it, a full colour wheel can be obtained by using only three primary colours mixed in different ratios; once you see the results, it can rapidly turn into a rabbit hole of possibilities.
For someone whose wardrobe is mainly all black, colour has sure steeped into my life with a bang since I've begun hand dyeing yarn and fibre.
We started out with some commercially spun, undyed skeins of yarn that I keep for my shop supplies and proceeded to prepare them for dyeing: opening the skeins and retying the knots so there's no undyed spots, then soaking the fibre in lukewarm water and a bit of Synthrapol (a wetting agent that helps the dye penetrate better, and can also serve as a detergent for washing fibre after it's been dyed).
Whilst the fibre was soaking, we moved on to making dyestock. This is done by adding hot water to the dye powder in precise amounts (if you want repeatable results, otherwise just eyeballing it is fine). I also add citric acid to the mixture and other agents to make the dye adheres optimally to the fibre.
Here's a pro tip for you: if you find your colours aren't coming up as lovely as they should, maybe it's your water that's the problem. I have to use bottled water for my dyestock making and general dyeing, otherwise the limescale in the tap water ruins everything - thank you, London Thames river.
Always remember to protect your surfaces when working with dyes! I use cling film on my kitchen counter so I can toss it out once I'm done working, plus I keep lots of kitchen roll paper to pick up spills and other accidents. I also keep all my windows closed shut when making dyestock - you don't want the powders to become airborne.
Ideally, one would do all this in a dye-exclusive location, but let's face it, I live in a tiny London flat and I'm lucky to simply have a kitchen. I make sure I wipe every surface with moist roll paper in the end, to get rid of any dye that might have fallen where it shouldn't.
Once the needed dyestock is made, it's time to mix your colour to get that special shade: having a notebook handy to write down your dye proportions is a great way to ensure you can repeat colourways in the future.
I also write down the name and brand of the colour I'm using as base, plus the date I made the dyestock and what strength it is (the more concentrated you make it, the darker the colour you'll get; on the other hand, diluting it a lot will result in pastel-like colours). I like to work on a 1% concentration, but some people like to use 2% or even 4% as a norm - you are the boss of your dye strength!
Once your yarn is perfectly soaked through and your water is simmering, it's time to add the yarn and the dye (depending on the technique you're using and the effect you're after, you might reverse the order). The citric acid and heat will do their magic and bind the dye to the fibre, and after a while you should see that your water no longer hold any dye (this is called "exhaustion," and means all the dye has been absorbed). Still see a lot of dye? Let it simmer some more, and maybe add a little more citric acid/vinegar to your water. If, after this, you still see a lot of colour in your water, it probably means you added too much dye, so use less next time.
After you let the water cool down, you rinse the yarn to get rid of leftover dye particles, the acid, and just generally make sure your future washes don't involve a lot of colour bleeds. A wool wash is a good option, but my favourite method is adding a little Synthrapol to lukewarm water and letting it soak for a few minutes, then carefully rinsing it all out with fresh water.
Reds and very saturated colours will tend to bleed a little, which is perfectly normal. It's just part of the dyeing process! Not the most pleasant aspect, but even commercial yarns bleed out...
After you've rinsed your yarn, it's time to let it dry. The photo above shows the yarns we dyed that day: two kettle dyed red tonals, one speckle-dyed yarn and two hand painted skeins in various shades of green.
I really like how the skeins turned out. I like how vibrant the reds are, and how the greens got together to create a lovely shade of brown here and there. My favourite skein however has to be the speckled one. I absolutely love how the light, light blue base complements the purple and teal green speckles - I like this so much that I might even make some to add to the shop (and keep for my stash)!
Have you ever dyed yarn/fibre? How did it go? If you have any troubleshooting questions, don't be afraid to ask them in the comments section, I'm happy to help.
A huge thanks to Silvana for the fun day and for all the photos!
Originally called "2-in-1 Review: Fleece Book and Fleece Washing Product," this post was first published on my Wordpress blog on the 27th November 2013.
It’s been a while since I last wrote a review, so I thought I’d make up for it by writing about two different, yet related, products. Here’s the first:
I first came across this book a few months ago on a review by the wonderful podcasters The Knit Girllls, and decided to get it after they raved so much about it (for a list of books they’ve reviewed so far, go here.) The first thought on my mind after getting it was, “Why didn’t I get this before I sorted my very first fleece?”
The Spinner’s Book of Fleece by Beth Smith is a great resource indeed for spinners who want to knit with wool they’ve prepared from fleece to skein. Heavily illustrated so you always know what the author is talking about, the written explanations are also comprehensive and to the point, offering an often unique view on the fibres we’ve come to know and love – in fact, Beth Smith seems to be an expert in making us think twice about what exactly is a coarse wool, and why it’s worth taking a second glance at all the sheep breeds we’re so often told to disregard for spinning and knitting.
This book goes through all the stages of wool processing, from scouring to purchasing the right fleece, to storing it and keeping pests away. Beth Smith takes the time to explain the many ways you can turn a huge fleece into something wonderful to spin with, and even tackles briefly on the ways to spin it (and why). If you are a beginner spinner, the initial chapters take you by the hand and explain the basics of fibre prep to you; if you are a more experienced fibre connoisseur, her take on sheep breeds and this author’s unique way to divide them will certainly challenge all the information you’ve gained over the years on issues like what makes a good spinning fibre.
As you can see from the image above, knowing which parts of the fleece belong where originally and which to use for more consistent spinning are a must for any fibre addict. Imagine knowing that the shoulders part (7) is where the premium wool is and being able to insert this fact in a random conversation with friends (er…)
Beth Smith takes the time to explain why her views on types of fibre are slightly different from the usual, and I delighted in it: “I cringe when I hear any wool automatically classified as a rug wool. (…) I resist the tendency to hear the name of a certain breed and thoughtlessly judge it as not useful for clothing. Most wools can be used for some sort of clothing, and all wools have benefits for certain uses. (…) The secret is to choose well and then process and spin based on the desired end result.” (page 106)
So if you’re looking to be challenged to think differently, her words – and subsequent explanations – will certainly do that.
The author certainly encourages you to try new wools and use different methods for each end result you want, and explains why you don’t need to be using her exact breeds to get the same results – once you know what you want, and how to classify your sheep breed, you should know what to expect. She then proceeds to experiment with lots of different breeds and shows you her results – even the not-so-successful ones. What happens when you take a long wool and spin it for weaving? How about lace knitting? And different spinning techniques, how do they influence the end product? The results are endless and Beth Smith reminds you often of this fact.
After a brief explanation of each breed the author tries for the book, there are samples to look at. What happens when you spin BFL worsted style, or from the fold? Is a 2-ply yarn much different from a 3-ply for this type of fibre? Beth Smith takes you through all her experiments and encourages you to make your own. You won’t get much talk about finished garments, rather, there is ample conversation about the possibilities of each fibre, and the surprise some of them were. I only wish some of the ones mentioned were easier to find here in the UK, but U.S. readers will have ample opportunity to get their hands on a Tunis fleece, or a California Red.
All in all, I highly recommend buying this book if you’re interested in working with fleece.
Now, off to the second review of this post. In her book, Beth Smith talks about her favourite product to wash fleece, and why. Since I still have quite a few fleeces in need of some serious water and soap, and having despaired at how slow the whole process had been for me so far (and somewhat expensive – all that hot water, and copious amounts of detergent!) I decided to give her suggestion a try. Enter the Unicorn Power Scour.
If I loved the book that recommended it, I loved the product itself even more. I am completely sold on how great this raw wool wash is, having tried it a few times already.
The Unicorn Power Scour comes in a plastic bottle with a pump, so you know how much product you’re using each time. It claims you only need 5% product for the total weigh of the fibre, which to me sounds like one bottle can go a long way. Although it comes with usage instructions, it doesn’t tell you how much each pump weighs, but I asked Karen of Wildcraft and she was kind enough to use her own product and get back to me – it’s about 4g per pump. Thank you, Karen! That was great customer service.
The first time I tried this product I definitely used too much of it, because I was used to the high amounts of dishwashing detergent I needed to get a plastic tub worth of fleece. This means I am in a great position to tell you that using too much won’t wash the fibre better, so follow their instructions and you’ll save a lot of money. After some tweaking, my method is one-and-a-half pumps per plastic tub of hot water the first time, then one pump, then two rinses of hot water, and you’re done. Don’t expect the water to come out clean in the end, because it won’t, but your fleece will end up smelling great and looking great, retaining its original shine and just enough lanolin to prevent dryness and make for a great spinning experience.
I also use the same water for two tub-worths of fleece, and I don’t need to boil water on the kettle anymore (I just use hot water from the tap) so this means I wash twice the wool in half the time, with much less utilities consumption. This means that I am, veritably, processing my fleece four times faster with much less fuss! I went through a whole fleece in a week, with drying time in between, whereas it used to take me around a month for the same amount. Plus, the ingredients in this product are biodegradable, so they’re eco-friendly and that makes me very happy.
If you’ve read the book or tried the scour, let me know what you think. Also, if you happen to know of other fibre books or scouring agents I might want to try, write them down in the comments section. Thanks!
Originally called "My wool dyeing experience," this post was first published on my Wordpress blog on the 27th November 2013.
I love natural dyeing. I’ve always been fascinated by how nature has so many beautiful colours we need at the tip of our fingers (and pantries), and how easy it can be to dye something without the use of harsh chemicals. [EDIT: I've since found out the "no harsh chemicals" thing isn't quite true for all natural dyeing...]
A few weeks ago, I found out I needed a certain colour of wool roving I didn’t have. It was for a project I really wanted to make (for charity), so after failing to find what I needed from any supplier, I decided to try my luck by making the colour myself.
I started saving up yellow onion skins to make a shade of orange (Better Half was a little puzzled by my ‘food scrap’ hoarding but was kind enough to comply and say nothing). I didn’t have a lot of skins, but I also didn’t need to dye a lot of wool, so I reckoned it might be enough.
The recipe I used came from Folk Fibers. They also talk about other things in their blog if you’re interested.
So. Let’s now go through all the wool-dyeing steps, shall we?
This is the amount of wool I used. It wasn’t much, maybe two fistfuls. Notice the little organic materials still attached to it. I love that, reminds me this actually came from a sheep.
This is the amount of wool I used. It wasn’t much, maybe two fistfuls. Notice the little organic materials still attached to it. I love that, reminds me this actually came from a sheep.
I placed all the skins I had in an aluminium pot. It should be a big enough pot to allow the wool to move freely. This one has a 4 litre capacity.
I used enough water to jut cover the skins. It’s important for the water to be cold (room temperature) when you begin because you want the temperature to change gradually. Also, don’t use too much water – you want a nice, concentrated dye.
I then let it simmer for about an hour with the lid on, just to make sure all the colour was extracted. Although you can see the deep shade that came out, most of it won’t be absorbed by the wool, as you will see later. Also, it didn’t smell too much of onions, as I thought it would.
I removed all the skins from the water using my trusted plastic sieve (sorry, didn’t take a picture of that step). I threw the skins in the bin.
Then in it went to the pot! I was careful not to add much of the soaking water to the pot because I didn’t want the colour to dilute. Also, if you’re planning on doing this, take care not to move the wool too much, as it might felt. What you must do, though, is make sure all the air bubbles are removed from under the wool as they prevent the colour from going into the wool. I used a cooking plastic spoon for that, trying to be gentle as I went.
After it simmered for another hour (with the lid on), I turned the heat off and just let the wool soak in the pot whilst it cooled down. If you compare this photo with the previous image, you’ll notice a lot less water now. I left it in there for quite a few hours (maybe 16-17 hours).
You can see from the photo there is still quite a strong colour in the water. I am saving this up for another batch of dyeing.
This is what my wet wool looked like after I placed it under running water to remove the excess colour and wringing it carefully. It’s still wet, so I couldn’t yet tell the final result. This isn’t the entire amount of wool I dyed.
I placed it near a window to dry, but this morning I found out the bottom was still moist. Since I was using my tumble dryer today, I placed the wool on top of my appliance (not inside, that would damage the tumble dryer I think, and also shrink and felt your wool!) to help the process a little. That helped, although not completely.
My wool is not perfectly dry yet, but I will try to choose the bits which are for my project. This final colour still isn’t what I was looking for, but I reckon with some other colours I already have I can make a custom colour mix and get it right. Hopefully. Wish me luck!
If you have any questions regarding my experiment, I’ll be happy to help. Just let me know in the comments section.
Ah, the life of an artist - all the partying, the drinking, the socialising... Yes, it's life on the fast lane over here!
Well, not really. Apart from an occasional outing, I pretty much prefer to stay indoors and enjoy a night of knitting or spinning, or a good book. With tea. Mostly by myself (or my other half.) What can I say, I have the tattoos, the piercings and the colourful haircut but I could probably be classified as false advertising...
However, I'm not a total hermit! I do go Out There and occasionally Do Stuff. Let me share some with you.
Saw this fun sign on the door to Poppy's, probably one of the best Fish and Chips I've ever been to in London. This one is in Camden Town and I do recommend you use the loo and take a camera with you (an odd suggestion I know, but it's one of those things where you'll just have to trust me.)
Next, it's Shakespeare at The Globe. I went with friends to watch A Midsummer Night's Dream a couple of weeks ago, and what a treat it was. I could only photograph before the play began, so I can't show you the full splendour of this Bollywoodesque production, but I can definitely say it was brilliant - I'd advise you to buy a seated ticket though (and rent a cushion!) as spending three hours on your feet might not be the funnest thing ever.
Also, have some snacks handy. When we were done by 10.30pm most of the nearby restaurants were closing, so no food was available nearby. Madness I know, but that's good ol' England for you...
I also went to a stand-up show, by Bill Burr, but completely forgot to take pictures. You'll just have to take my word for it. Also hard to find food after the show. Thank you kind Turkish people who decide to open restaurants in London!
Since I'm going on about food, here's an interesting menu I found in a Portuguese restaurant a while ago. Apparently foreigners aren't allowed to partake in Sangria, only in some dangerous and medieval bloodletting...
Seriously though, I just found this (rather literal) mistranslation the best thing ever.
Next, a bit of a silly thing. My friend Nicole of Frost Yarns sent me a care package all the way from California to cheer me up (I had the Brexit Blues). She loves making fun of my hands, saying they're tiny possum ones, so she knit me the cutest possum scarf/stole and a hat to go with it. To say I was overwhelmed by her generosity is an understatement, but a good gauge is that I'm now counting the days until cold weather returns so I can wear these babies outdoors!
Nicole also got her friend (and incredibly talented tattoo artist) Alex to make me a drawing where I'm wearing the artefacts in question... and I have possum hands. You can find Alexandra Novotna's work in her Instagram account.
I've been creating something for Nicole to say thank you, but it's been a long process - I'm working on something a bit different from usual, and the planning (and potential failure) that goes with it is a little maddening at times, but I'm committed to see this through. Here's a sneak peek:
It's going to look quite different from its current state once I'm done, and hopefully equally creepy. Keep your eyes peeled!
So here's some of the things I did in the past few weeks. I hope you were at least mildly entertained. I know I was - I just need to remember life isn't just knitting and stuff (boohoo)...