Sunday, March 2, 2014

If at First You Don't Succeed, Dye, Dye Again

I interrupt this parade of finished objects to share some yarn I dyed and am really chuffed about. For those of you that don't read my posts, but only skim, I will make it easy for you. I went from this:
to this:

Ok, for those of you who are still reading, here is the long and winding road...I started with an alpaca/wool blend that I bought at a church Christmas bazaar last year. It's from a local alpaca farm and I thought it would be nice. (The yarn was only about $1 cheaper than buying socks made from the same stuff (but thinner), but I like to knit so there you go.)

It's not dyed at all and I like the idea of working with a yarn that is the natural colour of the wool. You may recall I knit a sweater for Troy from the Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds in one of their undyed colours. But I may be doing some traveling in the next couple months and I started to think of what projects I could bring along. (Always my first question.) Socks are always a good travel project, but I just couldn't stand the idea of knitting with this "boring" colour. Showing the project to people who ask what I'm making and having them say, "huh" or some other less than enthusiastic remark. I mean, if you're going to be knitting, it's nice if it's something you can talk about. So I decided to dye it.

I wanted multicolours, and ideally something that gradually gradated from one colour to another. So I tried something I had read about. I re-balled the yarn by hand:
The idea would be to drop it in some dye which would dye the outside of the ball and make its way into the ball, but not all the way to the centre. Then roll the yarn up in the opposite direction and drop it into a different colour of dye. Hopefully you would get one colour on one end gradually changing to another colour at the other end.

Also note...when I made the ball of wool, I grabbed both ends of the cake and wrapped it doubled. This means I will have two identical strands of wool and my socks will match.

Ok, first thing to do to the wool to dye it is to soak it so the fibres will be ready to receive dye. I dropped the ball into a pot of water,
and it floated. It would not stay down, but I figured once it was wet and all the air was out of the middle, it would stay under water. So I sat another pot on top of it:
That worked ok, but it was still about an hour before the ball was saturated. [That could have been my first clue of what was to come.] Then I added the dye and heated it up. I let the dye exhaust and then was curious to see what I had. But I had to wait for it to cool down. And wait. And wait. When I couldn't wait any more, I dropped the ball into the sink and started to undo the ball and make a new ball. I didn't get very far when I started to see this:
The dye didn't penetrate past the first few layers. The top layers acted like a resist and prevented the dye from getting in. Boo! I ended up wrapping the yarn on my niddy noddy to make a skein again and hung it to dry.
It was not pretty.
Well, the red/orange colour was pretty, but the skein was not.

That was about two weeks ago. Although I was a little sad the method didn't work, I was not overly upset. It would be easy to overdye the splotchy red parts and dye the rest to salvage the yarn. After a little further reading, I have learned that even when the method works, you don't get the result I was hoping for. You tend to get a solid on one end, then a splotchy mix of the two colours, and then the second colour at the other end. The two colours don't actually blend very much. And of course, it's hard to get the dye in there.

So yesterday I moved on to method two. I gave up on the idea of a gentle gradation and decided I would be happy with several colours. I split the skein into several sections (making sure they were actual serial sections, not just random clumps) and got them soaking in some canning jars.
I made sure the red stayed together even though that was a larger section than the others.

I then started mixing some KoolAid:
Blue, Orange, Red and...well the last one was a mistake. In addition to the blue and orange, I was intending to make a jar of red mixed with orange and a jar of red mixed with blue. But when I poured some of the red into the fourth jar with the other powder in it, it turned a horrible brown. What I figured out after the fact is that I must have poured both the orange and the blue powder into that fourth jar and then added the red. I should have added just one of the colours.

Fortunately I had lots of KoolAid, so I just mixed up a fourth jar and got the colours I wanted. But then my brain started working on a new idea...

I recently joined the "What a Kool Way to Dye" group on Ravelry and feel like I have entered a whole new world. These people talk about KoolAid colours like...well, I don't know what like. But they are obsessive about them. What flavours make exactly what shade of red or green or blue. How to get the perfect purple. They trade them and hoard them and celebrate the limited edition flavours. (Did you know there was an "Invisible" flavour of KoolAid? What the hell colour would that be???) And getting back to relevant issues, the board exploded recently because some of them had found "GhoulAid" (a limited edition Scary Blackberry flavour) at Big Lots. It's not a very attractive colour--usually coming out grey or bluish or purplish--but it is coveted for its ability to "tone down" the KoolAid colours so that they're not so vibrant and/or clownish and to add dimension to the colours. Looking at my ugly brown, I realized that I had made my own version of GhoulAid. ||end Flashback||

...and I added from four to ten tablespoons of that ugly brown to the other colours to change their tone:
It worked perfectly!

The next issue was heating the jars. My mind had been working on complicated ways to do this on our oil stove or in the oven or even in the microwave, but when I decided to dye the different sections in canning jars, I realized I already had the perfect way to heat them--my pressure canner:
(I know this seems really, really obvious. But you saw the jars first. I had been thinking of a lot of other ways I could have applied the dye to the yarn.) Anyway, once the wool had soaked for a good 20 minutes and I had the dye colours I wanted, I dumped the water out of the canning jars with wool in them, put them in the pressure canner, poured in the dye and filled the pot up with water.

Then I let it heat up. The red colours take up very quickly. The blue takes a lot longer.
I think you can see in the picture above that the liquid in the blue jar is still very blue while the other jars have pretty clear liquid. When it looked like the yarn was pretty much saturated with the blue dye, I turned off the heat even though the water wasn't clear. I've since read that blue can take a long time, so it's better to just leave it overnight. While the yarn is cooling, it will usually take up more of the dye. But I was (a little) impatient and when the yarn was cool enough to handle, I dumped it into the sink:
Once the water was squeezed out of them, I hung them to dry:
Aren't those some pretty colours!!

Once dry, I put it on my swift,
and wound this puppy up:
Et voila! A lovely ball of yarn just waiting for my big trip.
It's still wound with a double strand and I plan to knit socks two-at-a-time straight from this cake.

Now when people ask about my knitting, I feel like I will have something to talk about. "Aren't those colours pretty?" Yes, yes they are.

Details for those who dye:
1. The red was a 1/2 pack of Black Cherry with a pack of Orange with just a couple tablespoons of the brown mix. (This was added to the section previously dyed red.)
2. The orange was two packs of Orange plus 10 tablespoon of brown.
3. The purple was a pack of Grape and a pack of Black Cherry plus a couple tablespoons of brown.
4. The blue was a pack of Ice Blue Raspberry Lemonade with a pack of Mixed Berry and about half a dozen tablespoons of brown.
I believe the brown was a 1/2 pack of Black Cherry, a pack of IBRL and a pack of Orange.
The ball is 100 grams, so that's about one pack per 12.5 grams.

PS: Want something to drink with that?
When I mixed up the KoolAid colours I forgot to take into account how much volume the wool itself takes up in the canning jar. So when I poured in the dye, I had left over KoolAid mix. At first I was figuring I would dump it all out and was thinking "Oh well, it's not that expensive" when it occurred to me if I could do the math, I could just add the right amount of water and sugar and drink it! So that's what I did and now we have a rainbow of canning jars with KoolAid to drink in the fridge!! (I did dump the brown KoolAid. No thanks.)

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