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.

Dyeing for the hesitant

I’ve been reluctant to learn to dye my own yarn. Many dyes are more toxic than I’m willing to deal with. Even if I managed not to poison myself, I wasn’t sure how to safely dispose of the waste. And while natural dyes may be safer, the colors haven’t appealed to me. Kool-Aid dyeing sounded like my best option if I was going to try this at all. Luckily for my crafting bucket list (no, not really—I don’t formally have one), the November meeting of the Minnesota Knitters’ Guild was a hands-on session on Kool-Aid dyeing. Years ago, I bought a hank of Knit Picks Color Your Own fingering weight yarn and still hadn’t used it, so this was a fine opportunity. The Guild set up tables so that we could either dye the yarn a solid color (my choice) or use pipettes to dribble different colors onto the yarn.

Undyed fingering weight yarn.
My yarn.

The major drawback to Kool-Aid dyeing is the limited color selection. Kool-Aid tries to imitate fruit, so there are several shades of pink/red/purple, but only one shade each of orange (orange), yellow (lemon), green (lime), and electric blue (“blue raspberry,” which is about as natural as it sounds). I thought the orange was the loveliest of the lot, but in the interests of dyeing the yarn a color I would actually wear, I decided on watermelon, which makes a coral pink. The recommended ratio was one packet of Kool-Aid for each ounce of yarn to get an intense color. For my 100 g (3½ ounces) hank, I went with three packets of watermelon and half a packet of blue raspberry, hoping that the hint of blue would cool the pink down, maybe even make it a bit purple.

Yarn, a large plastic bowl, and several packets of Kool-Aid.
All the supplies: yarn, bowl of water, Kool-Aid.

The major hitch was a shortage of microwave ovens. There was good attendance at this meeting, which is great for the Knitters’ Guild as a whole, but made for delays in the dyeing. I used one of the smallest ovens and discovered that my bowl wouldn’t fit inside. I had to try two more bowls before I found one that would work, and each time I moved to a smaller bowl, I lost dye bath in the process. Good thing I wanted pastel yarn. Then the oven was too weak to heat the water quickly. You have to get the dye bath hot enough that the yarn soaks up the dye, leaving the water more or less clear. I could see that my yarn was pink, but after six minutes in the oven, the water was also still pink (if less so) and hadn’t made it past tepid. Aargh! Meanwhile, the line behind me was growing. I decided to take my chances, and moved on to rinsing the yarn. If the difference in temperature between the yarn and the rinse water is too great, the yarn may felt. There’s this to be said for tepidity: I didn’t have to wait for my yarn to cool to rinsing temperature. Running water, a bit of dish detergent (no one was really sure what the detergent was for, except to reduce the smell of Kool-Aid), and the yarn was ready to be taken home and left to dry.

Yarn in pink dye bath before and after being microwaved; second photo shows pink yarn.
Pre- and post-microwave: the yarn has absorbed much of the dye, but you can still see some in the water. The milky cast to the water comes from the blue raspberry Kool-Aid; it was opaque white for people who used that color alone.

The end result is yarn that is a nice shade of salmon pink with a delicate fruit scent. It’s a warmer color than I was hoping for, but it’s not orange by any means. And now that I’ve been reminded that I own this yarn, I may even make something with it (!).

Pink yarn.

2015 Knitting & Crochet Blog Week—Day 1: If You Were Yarn

If you were a type or brand of yarn, which would you be? Are you a classic pure wool? Is there extra tension but a bit of bounce in you because of your high twist? Would you be more like a high-maintainance, strictly hand-wash fluffy angora or a ‘bring it on’ acrylic, bravely heading into the world of possible baby-sick laundering disasters knowing that you will always come out bright and unharmed?

Oh, just consider me a classic worsted weight wool except that I would be one of those yarns with a sparkly metallic ply spun in. Mostly traditional, mostly reliable, a little more high-maintenance than plain acrylic (but worth the effort), and mostly what the world expects. But then there’s that little extra that does make me more of an individual, but also keeps me from completely fitting into the most conventional situations. Oops. Which is how I both work in a traditional “mundane” field (librarianship) while maintaining strong interests in fantasy, science fiction, and New Age-type pursuits like astrology and tarot.

ball of yarn

Just in time for Valentine’s Day

I went to Dream in Color’s website to see their photo of a particular color of Smooshy, which is how I learned that they’ve got some new colorways. I clicked on the pictures to get a closer look—and began to see a theme in the names:

  • Rose Anguish
  • Humdrum
  • Naked Shame
  • Apathy
  • Vague Unease
  • Bitter Malaise
  • Forget Me
  • Milky Spite
  • Icy Reception
  • Mild Tedium
  • Blue Sulk
  • Callous Pink
  • Damp Pillow
  • Deep Regret

Much as I would love to tell people that I was making something in Apathy, Vague Unease, or Bitter Malaise, I never wear those colors (if I had to assign apathy a color, it would be some utterly meh shade of gray, but this yarn is gold; the other two are yellow-greens). But saying my new project is in a color called Forget Me, Icy Reception, Blue Sulk, or Callous Pink would be fun too. Something to look forward to for a future order!

August round-up

August is not the best time to keep a crafting blog up-to-date. August is both the month in which state fair entries are due and the month of my family reunion. It’s not that I’m not crafting; I just don’t have time to write about it. This year, I managed to combine both sources of pressure in my life by hauling state fair entries along with me to the reunion. This was going to be the only way I could finish them in time since I was going to be out of town up until the last 24 hours in which entries could be turned in. Plus, knitting would be a fine way to pass the hours of a six-hour bus ride across the Upper Midwest. So here’s all that’s been finished in the last month.

Lexington vest
Lexington Vest

Lexington vest (fair)
The Lexington Vest at the fair

The Lexington vest has been in my life since 2008. This is the project that taught me that I have no patience for intarsia. As you can see, the design is simple enough, but I instantly lost interest in wrapping the yarns on each and every row. It ended up being shoved from one place to another in my apartment, and I would work on it in occasional bursts of guilt before dropping it again and gratefully finding something else to work on. I unearthed it again in early August and impulsively vowed to get it done for this year’s fair (there was still half of the front left, plus finishing). Chances are, if I hadn’t set myself that deadline, it could have languished in my closet for another three years. I was just using the fair as motivation for this project; I didn’t seriously expect it to win anything. I probably figured if I didn’t like it, no one else would like it either. And then much to my surprise, it took third in its category.

Sandy Smoke Ring
Sandy Smoke Ring

I’ve called this the Sandy Smoke Ring, mostly to distinguish it from the pink version that I knitted last fall. It didn’t place at the fair, but that’s all right. I have no idea what I’ll wear it with, but I still like it. I am, however, getting increasingly frustrated with Mini Mochi. This was the yarn that had such extreme color variation within the same dye lot when I used the Babyface colorway for the Multidirectional Diagonal Scarf. This time around, the colors were quietly restrained—hallelujah! However, the second ball was wound in the opposite direction of the first. Luckily I realized that before starting to knit with it and having the top third of the cowl with colors going in a reverse sequence. Even ripping out as simple a lace pattern as Feather and Fan would’ve been a nasty challenge.

Peaceful Pastels afghan (fair)
Peaceful Pastels Afghan

The Peaceful Pastels Afghan placed second in the round crocheted afghans division.






Marble Throw (red)
Marble Throw (red)

What with working in a chilly office, I’m developing quite an appreciation for wraps, throws, afghans, shawls, and anything else that can make work bearable. This is the second time I’ve made this lap blanket. This time around, I went down a needle size, from 11 to 10½. At this tighter gauge, I was able to knit the entire blanket as the designer intended without running out of yarn, and the blanket just feels better at this gauge. I’m still taken enough with the yarn to want to make another one, so now I’m figuring that this one will stay home (I already gave it a workout at a strongly air-conditioned Starbucks a couple of nights ago) and I’ll make another one for the office.

Organizing the stash


Whoa. It’s Knitting and Crocheting Blog Week. In fact, it’s the Second Annual Knitting and Crocheting Blog Week. Which, yes, I learned about three days into said week. On the theory of better late than never—and I’m not saying I’m even going to do the next post, much less catch up on the ones I missed—I thought I’d try today’s topic and see what happens.

Day Three: 30th March. Tidy mind, tidy stitches.

How do you keep your yarn wrangling organised? It seems like an easy to answer question at first, but in fact organisation exists on many levels. Maybe you are truly not organised at all, in which case I am personally daring you to try and photograph your stash in whatever locations you can find the individual skeins. However, if you are organised, blog about an aspect of that organisation process, whether that be a particularly neat and tidy knitting bag, a decorative display of your crochet hooks, your organised stash or your project and stash pages on Ravelry.

Tips: Many people use their blogs partly as an organisational tool – logging and cataloguing projects and newly attained skills, projects and modifications. Did you bare this in mind when you began blogging?

Oh, let me talk about organizing my stash. Actually, there are two kinds of organization involved here: organization of the yarn itself and organization of information about the yarn. My yarn organization is fairly minimal. I’ve piled most of my stash into six large plastic tubs and shoved them into the closet. There is absolutely no organization within the tubs themselves. I crammed yarn into each tub until it threatened to keep the lid from closing, at which point I moved to the next tub. The tubs are translucent, allowing me a rough guess as to what hides within, but usually I have to haul the tubs out of the closet to even see all their sides, much less open one to see what I packed at its heart. Luckily yarn is light. And the tubs fit so nicely into the closet, it’s almost as if they were designed for each other.

That said, I miss my old “system.” The tubs came into my life with my current apartment. My last apartment had some unusual architecture in the bedroom that favored yarn stashing. Imagine two narrow closets that are next to each other, but are separated by a three-foot gap. A previous tenant had hung one of those coated wire shelves between the two closets about six feet off the ground. I slid my chest of drawers in between the closets—it was a great little nook for it—but I wasn’t sure what to do with the shelf itself. With too much weight on it, it would tear free, so even if I could keep books from falling between the wires, they’d be too heavy. (Yes, my first instinct upon seeing a shelf is to put books on it.) I can’t remember what prompted me to put a bit of yarn up there, but there’s no such thing as putting a bit of yarn up anywhere; soon my stash filled the shelf all the way to the ceiling. The sides of the closets kept the yarn from falling to either side, and as long as I was careful not to leave an empty space in the center, it didn’t often fall forward either. And all of this meant that I could just lie in bed and admire my stash in comfort—and see just about every yarn I owned. But then I moved to a far more conventional apartment, and while I appreciate many things about it, including a closet I can hide the stash in, it just doesn’t have the quirkiness or charm of the previous system.

Since the yarn itself is barely organized, organizing the information about it is crucial. Alas, I still haven’t found the perfect system. Right now, I use Ravelry’s database—not quite perfect, but pretty darn good. I think I’ve got every one of my yarns listed, and I love how once you match your yarn to something in the database, most of the information is filled in for you. Where Ravelry falls through for me is the visual aspect. I don’t have the patience to photograph most of my yarn, and without visuals, the names of the yarns mean almost nothing to me.

Prior to Ravelry, the best system I’d managed was a three-ring binder system marketed by G’Ann Zieger. Here you wrote key details of each yarn on a small card and inserted the card in a clear vinyl pocket along with a snippet of the yarn. Sure, if you had a variegated yarn you were only getting a bit of its color, but on the other hand, you had quick access to texture without having to hunt through your stash for the original balls, and it was a fairly compact system. But as you may guess, a woman who can’t make herself take a bunch of pictures and upload them isn’t going to be all that consistent about updating little cards, and so that binder was getting out of date even before I joined Ravelry.

So there I am, still trying to find the perfect system on both ends of the problem. But it’s fun experimenting with new systems or figuring out new ways to use old systems.

Twisted knitting

Oh, the frustrations of doing a knitting blog in winter. I finished this scarf on New Year’s Day, but late in the day. I then had to wait until this weekend to take a picture because it’s just not light enough when I get home after work. But here we are, picture taken, and blogging merrily away.

Moebius scarf

This is a Möbius scarf. At least it’s meant to be a Möbius scarf. I think it may have twisted a bit too much, although I’m not sure how that happened. I made my first Möbius scarf back in 2002, using a pattern by Lisa R. Myers. This was just before Cat Bordhi’s Möbius scarves took off and I’m guessing Myers’ pattern got lost in the shuffle. I admit when I resurrected it to make this scarf, I used Bordhi’s cast-on. It’s faster, for one thing; since this particular scarf is 400 stitches around, that’s not inconsequential. Bordhi’s cast-on also blends into the finished scarf invisibly. Myers’ cast-on left a bit of a ridge. You can’t really see it unless you’re looking for it, and it’s not lumpy enough to be felt when wearing the scarf, so it’s not a big deal if you use it instead of Bordhi’s. But I think the extra twist in this scarf came from using Bordhi’s cast-on and I’m not sure when the extra twist crept in, so I’m not sure what to do to avoid it if I decide to make another Möbius scarf in the future.

recycling symbolWith the scarf folded this way, I keep thinking of the recycling logo. I like knitting projects like this that are just a little out of the ordinary in their construction. I need to tackle another Circumnavigated Cardigan again sometime (a sweater designed so that you don’t have to sew any seams together), or find someone who’s expecting and make one of Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jackets for the child.

Oh, and the yarn for this scarf was Lorna’s Laces Shepherd’s Worsted. Its major selling point is its softness: it’s a challenge to find yarn that’s soft enough to be worn directly against the skin. But I also love the wide color selection for this yarn and would like to find something besides Möbius scarves to use it in.

After the fact

Well, I can see one problem with blogging about craft projects: if you finish the project but don’t get a chance to write about it right away, it gets harder to remember to do so. You might think that just seeing your finished project would remind you, but you get used to it and the sight stops acting as a trigger.

Pastel Multidirectional scarf
Multidirectional Scarf

So, belatedly, I present to you a Multidirectional Diagonal Scarf. I finished it on December 5, but between one thing and another (I mostly blame school and finals for this), I’m only now getting around to writing it up. The yarn is Mini Mochi by Crystal Palace in the colorway Babyface.

Mini Mochi (Babyface)
Mini Mochi. Yes, they're from the same dye lot. Or should that be, yes, they're from the same colorway?

I made that scarf from three skeins of the same dye lot, bought from the same store on the same day. But as you can see from the picture of the yarn itself, it really does look like different dye lots, possibly even different colorways. Nor am I the only person who’s run into this problem. In poking around on Ravelry to see other projects in Babyface, I eventually followed a trail to this blog post by Eskimimi in which she details more or less the exact same situation. I didn’t have this problem with the Berry Compote colorway that I knitted the smoke ring from, so perhaps the problem only exists with Babyface. I’m also hoping it only exists in Mini Mochi, because I have four balls of Mochi Plus (the worsted weight version) in Babyface as well. (I love pastels. Can you tell?) Luckily, since a scarf ends up all wrapped up and most of it hidden inside my coat, the color problem isn’t really much of a problem in real life.

Color matching aside, I enjoyed knitting this scarf. I’ve made the Multidirectional Diagonal Scarf three times now, although my two previous attempts eventually ended up being donated to charity. Nice scarves, both of them, and I can’t even remember why I didn’t hang on to one of them. The other was one of those “what was I thinking?” projects—I ended up making a lovely scarf in colors that I can’t wear well. I hope to want to hang onto this scarf for years to come.

The need for diversion

There’s nothing like starting the front of a single sweater four times to make you a little sick of it. And between that and probably needing to reknit much of the Plaid Texture pullover and not making much progress on the Slip-Into-Color pullover either, I was feeling a mite frustrated toward all things sweater-y. So I knitted a smoke ring.

It’s not so much that I had a burning desire to knit a smoke ring, but I finally had a pattern that would let me play with Mini Mochi. I’ve admired the yarn for a while, but it seemed intended as sock yarn. Not only do I not knit a lot of socks, but I didn’t think this would be a great yarn for socks. I mean, yeah, it’s 20% nylon, and I understand nylon is supposed to add strength. But that other 80% is merino wool in singles form, all soft and plush (inasmuch as a fingering weight yarn can be plush) and looking as if it would pill and shred the first time you wore the socks. So I restrained myself to just petting it when I visited it at the yarn shop. And then a friend showed off her smoke ring and said that it had taken only one ball of Mini Mochi. I hadn’t been thinking to start the project right away, but then I needed something portable, I was sick of the sweaters, and one thing led to another.

pink smoke ring

It’s wonderfully soft, and warmer than it looks. I think I’ll try another one, in a different colorway, and try another pattern stitch, just for some variety. The pattern said to work until it was 12″ long. That seemed awfully skimpy, though. Unlike my friend, I’d needed to use a second ball anyway (and by the way, keeping Mini Mochi in a color sequence is a bit of a pain), so I just kept knitting until the colors were at a better stopping point, which made the finished smoke ring closer to 15″ long.

She swallowed the spider to catch the fly

About two years ago, I picked up a couple of balls of Melody Superwash as souvenir yarn from a day trip to Galena, Illinois. Mostly I was swayed by the pretty colors. I’m sure it would make a lovely pair of socks, but I’m not an enthusiastic knitter of socks, and so the yarn took up residence in my stash and showed no signs of turning into anything. Of course I hadn’t done anything sensible like buy enough yarn to make something I would actually enjoy knitting.

Melody Superwash yarn (2 balls)

In the last year or so, I’ve started noticing scarf patterns for sale, calling for two balls of Melody Superwash. My initial excitement faded when I realized that I just didn’t care all that much for those patterns. Or rather, I didn’t care for what the scarf would look like when knitted in the yarn I had on hand. I’d bought a pastel rainbow colorway, and somehow, just picturing a lacy scarf with rainbow stripes running across it wasn’t doing it for me. And back to waiting I went.

Well, I’ve made a commitment. I learned about the Hidden Squares scarf (shawl? wrap? it’s 18″ x 70″), a modular pattern that uses Melody in a sort of patchwork effect. So, no rainbow stripes stretching across the finished product—yay! I’ve bought the pattern plus the rest of the yarn that it calls for (two balls each of three more colors). In other words, I’ve gone and bought six new balls of yarn in order to use up two older balls.