Sunday, 7 April 2013

Dyeing to Have a Go!

I've been stalking various dyeing forums, YouTube and other websites for some time and have been gradually building up a theoretical knowledgebase. Procrastination is an issue of mine, but I recently decided to throw caution to the wind and get stuck in.

I was food shopping and in the baking isle when I spotted Dr. Oetker Gel Food Colourings in small tubes. The colours looked gorgeous so I just had to throw a few in the basket. At this point I was really in a state of pure experimentation (or madness) because not one of the websites I'd studied on this subject had ever shown results from using this brand, but I thought it would be fun to see what would happen.

I had some Citric Acid powder in my cupboards at home, left over from my last batch of Elderflower Cordial, and I found about 450-500g of cheap 56's English (which is a blend of white English sheep fleeces) fiber in my stash, so I had all I needed.

One cold and rainy Sunday I set my mind to giving kettle dyeing a go.

I got out my largest pan and ran some luke-warm water, to which I added citric acid, stirred to allow it to dissolve, and then I carefully placed about 150g of fiber in to soak for half and hour.

Then I switched the hob on to a moderate heat to warm the fiber up gently. When it was gently steaming without boiling, I began to add my colour.

I'd already prepared the colour by adding the contents of one tube of gel colouring to a jam jar filled with hot water. I had four in total ... green, blue, pink and purple.

With turkey baster in hand, I excitedly began to add the colour to the roving. Not really knowing the best way to proceed with this, I decided that I would do four equal sections of colour to try to prevent a muddy mess.

I used the tip of the baster to inject colour through the top layers of fiber to try to ensure an even distribution of dye, and then the waiting began.

Keeping an eye on the water temperature was not a chore at all. I just loved looking at the beautiful bright colours in the pan.

However, after about an hour on the hob (which was already longer than I had envisioned it taking), I was discouraged to see that the dye bath had not yet run clear. It appeared that it was the green dye that was at fault here, as the water had mostly run clear for all the other sections, but was a strong yellow colour around the green.

I quickly put word out to my dyeing friends on Instagram to see if anyone could tell me what I needed to do next.

One kind IG friend quickly responded saying that they add more fiber when this happens, in an attempt to soak up any excess dye. As I had plenty of fiber left, I thought it was worth a go. I took about 50g of fiber and added it to the dye bath, on top of the green section. I was delighted to see that it instantly turned a beautiful mellow yellow colour.

And within a short space of time, the dye bath was running much clearer.

Conscious that by this time the first lot of fiber had been in the pan for quite some time, and with a real concern that it might have felted, I moved it away from the hob to let it cool down.

An agonising wait ensued ... which was only allayed by the fact that it was lunch time for me and my toddler, which kept my mind off things for a while.

A short while after lunch the water was touch-comfortable and I simply couldn't wait any longer. In to the sink it went. The water coming away from the fiber was initially a very pale yellow. Here is a picture of the roving before rinsing.

The rinsing process proved to be disappointing. I watched with dismay as most of the pink and purple fell out of the fiber and went off down the plug hole.

I was delighted to see that the blue and green remained true. The green had also split to reveal shades of green, teal and yellow.

It took quite a few rinses before the water ran clear, and I was a little concerned to keep going for fear of the pinks and purples coming away completely, so with a gentle roll inside an old towel I took it to the clothes drier.

I was also really pleased with the 50g of fiber that I had used to pick up any excess dye, which was a beautiful blend of pale pastel shades.

Having been bitten by the bug in a BIG way, I looked at my left over undyed roving and citric acid and my mind wandered.

Yes I thought, I'm going back to the shops for more dye! Having fallen in love with the green dye I decided to use the remaining supplies I had left to do a plain green roving. With time against me, I decided to let the fiber soak whilst I went to the shops so I would be ready to get straight into dyeing upon my return.

This time I had about 250-300g of fiber which was a bit of a tight squeeze in the pan, but I wound it into a spiral and placed it into the citric acid water.

After a trip to the shops I had two tubes of the green dye in hand and was all set to go.

Again I was just in awe of the divine green colour of the fiber in the pan. A beautiful range of greens and yellows.

After about an hour on the hob, I decided that was enough time, even though there was still some excess yellow in the surrounding water.

After the cooling, to the sink it went and to my surprise this fiber had a completely different effect than the first lot. It was dyed dark teal/green in small sections with the rest of the roving being a yellowy-green colour. I certainly wasn't disappointed. I loved how something in the way I hadn't been so accurate with my fiber to water to citric acid ratio, and even my inexact timings had resulted in this unexpected colourway.

The following morning, the fiber was dry and I was so proud to be able to braid up my first ever hand-dyed rovings.

Unfortunately the first lot that I dyed was slightly felted, as I'd suspected. I think it had been on the hob a little too long, and I may have agitated it a little too much checking to see if the water had run clear. However, after some slightly challenging pre-drafting I checked that it was still useable, and created this mini yarn.

So all in all, not a bad first attempt. The main thing is that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and can hand on heart say that this is something I'll do again.

I really want to try all the methods to see which I prefer, so I'll probably use the microwave next time, and I may well try to dye ready made yarn, which I envision as being slightly less prone to felting. I also want to try Kool Aid dyeing as I'm looking forward to the range of beautiful bright colours, as well as filling the house with delicious fruit smells.

It really is exciting to try something new at the same time playing with one of my favourite things ... WOOL :)


  1. Eeek Tanya, this is so exciting! I feel very inspired !!! The green is divine! ~ Allie Cat xxx

  2. ayarnlovingmama7 April 2013 at 15:54

    Thanks so much Allie. But seriously ... try it. It's so much fun. A cross between cooking and chemistry and alchemy! I love it. xx

  3. I'm so going to give this ago sometime Tanya! X

  4. I really enjoy laying out the pre-wetted roving onto plastic wrap, pouring on the colors. Add plenty of white vinegar to the dye solutions, it really promotes the dye adhesion..Roll up the "buns" of roving in the plastic wrap and instead of microwaving, steam it in the pot you used for dyeing with a couple of inches of water and placed on a rack to elevate it above the level of the water. Keep it tightly covered with a lid. I've done it this way and the microwave way and found this way to keep the colors separated better and more vibrant. The dye takes up better because of more heat+uninterrupted time. Ir's a lot of fun!.

  5. ayarnlovingmama13 April 2013 at 12:35

    Thanks so much for the advice. I will try this way next time :)