Dyeing II: Fun with acid dyes

Last month, I went to a knitting retreat. The knitting retreat, really, as I haven’t gone to any others and I attend this one faithfully. I took exactly one photo of me knitting and several photos of nature. Crosslake was probably at the peak of its fall color and I would’ve been out in nature a lot more except for the sleet/snow mix we had for much of the weekend.

This year, I participated in the dyeing class. It was taught by the owner of Lavender Lune Yarn Company, who lives sort of nearby. The cost of the class covered one skein of undyed yarn—your choice from a variety of different weights offered—and you could buy more if you wanted to. Not knowing if I’d enjoy yarn dyeing, I went with one skein: a standard hank of fingering weight yarn (465 yards (425 m), 75% merino and 25% nylon). If nothing else, I have umpteen potential patterns to use that with!

Tempting though it might sound, one does not just hurl plain yarn into a pot of dye and hope for the best. We started by soaking our skeins in water and citric acid. The acid sets the dye, which is why these dyes are called acid dyes. After it had a good chance to get thoroughly soaked, remove the yarn and put it in a pot with plain water to cover.

It’s hard to see in these photos, but the pot is on a burner. We heated the water to a simmer, and then started adding dye.

I hadn’t really given much thought ahead of time to what I wanted my dyed skein to look like. As the teacher talked and I looked over the jars of powdered dyes, I decided to go with a light indigo or lavender. I learned that because my yarn was a mixture of wool and nylon, it would be possible to speckle it. Dyes behave differently on different fibers, and I guess they diffuse too much on pure wool yarns to speckle them. So now I was aiming for a pastel blue-to-purple color with specks of dark purple and maybe some bright pink.

This did not quite come out as intended.

I started by putting a small amount of a dye called “Peri My Winkle” into the pot. I figured it’d dye the yarn periwinkle, which I think of as a blue-purple color. What I got was cobalt blue. And as I’d been unwittingly generous with how much dye I put in the pot, it was quite bold in spots. The end result was lovely—it’s just not what I had in mind.

Next, just to see what would happen, I “injected” the yarn with a dark lilac dye in places. You can tell from the drops on the spoon and in the syringe that this, at least, was the color I expected! Mix the dye with some water in a cup, draw it up in the syringe, and squirt it into the yarn without stirring it around.

This, at least, seemed more successful. So I went ahead and sprinkled some fuchsia dye in spots over the yarn, hoping to get the sprinkled effect. It sort of worked. I think I may have put more dye altogether into the pot than the yarn could absorb. Several rinses later, it’s still turning water pink.

Anyway, here’s the final result. Not what I imagined, but quite nice.

Do I want to dye more yarn? Yes. Although I’ll only be working with acid dyes in classes, either at future retreats or in other venues. These dyes are more hazardous to work with than Kool-Aid. You shouldn’t use them in pots that you put food in, it’s not healthy to inhale the powder, and I doubt I should be pouring the waste water down the drain. I don’t have a good working space in my apartment for dyes, nor do I have space to store dyeing equipment. And have I mentioned the large stash of yarn I have that’s already in pretty colors? But a class every now and then would be fun.

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