Friday, December 02, 2011

Tutorial: Dyeing Cellulosics

Cellulosics are plant fibers vs animal fibers. Nowadays yarns are made from all sorts of odd things, like milk, sugar, soy, corn and banana leaves. I am sure I left out something there. But I am working with cotton, rayon and a rayon/silk combo. Silk is a protein, but from experience I know that it will take procion dyes or acid dyes, so nothing to worry about here. I am only using procion for this batch.

Step 1: Wind yarns into skeins. These skeins were wound around the short side of my work table, which happens to be 36" wide, so if I wanted to keep track of how many yards I wound per skein, I could count them. Since I was more interested in skeining multiple yarns in small amounts, I just judged by eyeball. The skeins need to be loosely tied in a few places to keep them under control while soaking, dyeing and washout.
Step 2: Change into dyeing clothes, take a break and go to the post office, the bank, grocery shopping, and have a nice lunch. Now you are ready to start an afternoon of getting messy.
WEAR RUBBER GLOVES and have paper towels within easy reach.
Cover your work surface with plastic if can't resist the dyes. My table is plastic already, but a nice clean disposable plastic dropcloth insures I will have an easier cleanup.
Presoaking: Fill a dishpan about half full of hot water and dissolve 1/2 cup of soda ash (sodium carbonate) in the water. No salt is necessary.
Soak the yarns in small batches. Some of these cottons were spun without much prewashing and they had a lot of surface oils still in the fibers. A bit of dishwashing detergent helps to get the fibers thoroughly soaked. Or leave that out and expect a more mottled effect later (which is what I did).
Wring out the excess soda ash water.
Step 3. Mix the dye.
I used Dharma's Yellow #3, Fire Red #10, Cerulean Blue #26 and for the purples, I added a teeny bit of Fuchsia #13 to the Cerulean. These are not my usual primaries, but I was interested in matching the handspun yarn that was my theme colorway.
For my dyeing spree, I was going for pastel versions of all these colors, and while they look bright enough here, they are still wet and will dry much lighter, I hope. With dyeing, one must always concede that aiming for a specific amount of perfection is a fool's game, so I say 'Surrender to the dye', and just accept what you get. Later on you will love it anyway, so no matter.
This is especially true with all the different varieties of weights, thickness, and fibers I chose to dye. Each one takes the dye in a different amount, and with varying degrees of intensity.
This is all the same dye and the fibers dyed with red took it so differently. Whereas the golden yellow look practically the same on each fiber. Go figure.

Getting back to the actual dyeing process...
I use a small plastic container, filled with warm water and a teeny bit, a speck really, of dye. Once I see how the fiber takes it, I can add more dye to the water (lifting out the fibers while I mix in the additional dye powder), until it reaches the desired depth of shade. Experiment!
Soak the fibers in the dyebath, wring them out, resoak if necessary, wring them out again, and lay them out to admire. They will not be dry the next morning, but they can be washed out and dried anyway.
If I had chosen to dye multiple colors per skein (by spooning or pouring on different dyes, and working them through the fibers) I would want to wait til all the fibers were dry, just to avoid dyeback. In this case I had plenty of multicolored yarns for my project and just wanted solids of each color. I have mesh lingerie bags which I will use to wash out the yarns in the washing machine. Hot hot hot sudsy water will remove the excess dyes. To be safe, wash only one color at a time.

To make these other colors, lavender, orange and green, I just mixed
cerulean + a speck of fuchsia for the lavender
golden yellow + a drop or two of fire red for the orange
golden yellow + a drop or two of cerulean for the greens. More blue for a deeper green color.
Although this was a lot of yarn to dye in one batch (O my aching feet) I used a very very small amount of dye, water and space.  My big box of white yarns is still full of undyed yarn, and some year, I will get it all done. And then there is the other big box of white wools. It never ends.

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  1. They're gorgeous colours! I so love the transformation process of dyeing ...... I'll have to get mine out again soon!

  2. The colors are just so yummy. Good job!!!!

  3. Fabulous! I can't wait to see the end result when you use the yarn! Thanks for the tutorial... looks very easy to do!

  4. I'm so happy to live vicariously through you from time to tome. I just started hand dyeing fabric this summer, my first 100 yards. Seeing this post gives me a little fix to help me last through to spring when I can dye again.

    I do have a microwave in the garage just for dyeing that I could put to use to dye a little but it is just not the same. Loving your new spectrum of colors. :)

  5. Always enjoy my visits to see the COLOURS. These turned out beautifully. Will look forward seeing how you use them.

  6. absolutely goregous, Mel!

  7. Be still my pounding heart over those colors. Wish I could reach through the monitor and grab them. They are all my colors and so very eyetaking.

  8. A lot of work, but what beautiful colors! :-)


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