As with all of my fiber experiences, dyeing fiber is something else I have had to learn from a book. There are carefully worded instructions and exact recipes that yield uniform and very predictable results. In other words, not my cup of tea. I love the hand painted widely varied fibers that I see at fiber shows and small studios. That was what I wanted to create in my own dye pot.
Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of Pro-Chem Wash-Fast Acid Dyes. They are an excellent product that can easily be used by the home artist. A word to the wise, do not do any sort of dyeing around stone or granite countertops! The damage a dye can do to these surfaces is more than your heart can take! The acid dyes are used on protein fibers, which would be any animal fiber, and to some extent, silk. Silk will react differently to the dye than other protein fiber, but it can be dyed. I also use citric acid from the health food store in my dye solutions. I would rather use a more expensive food grade citric acid than take the chance bringing an industrial chemical into my home. Vinegar can also be used in the dye bath with good results.
The books clearly state that the fiber must be pre-soaked. That is if you are wanting a uniform result. If you want to create your own monochromatic variegation, place dry fiber into the dye bath. The faster you immerse and soak the fiber, the more uniform the color saturation. So for a fun twist, lay the fiber into the pot and allow it to take up the water at its own pace. The end results are spectacular! The bottom fiber will be a full saturation, while the top fiber is barely tinged. This is especially helpful in creating variegated yarn and roving.
Another hint in the pursuit of uniformity, or variation, is the water temperature. When dyeing very light uniform colors, the dye bath is best begun cold. It does not need to be ice water, just cold tap water will do. The fiber should also be wetted out prior to putting it in the dye pot. This will slow the absorption of the dye and allow all of the fibers an equal shot at absorbing it. In contrast, a warm bordering on hot dye bath will result in a more immediate and varied take up.
A really unique method to creating a variegated yarn is to hang it above the pot and only allow the lower portion to reach the dye. The wicking action within the yarn will create a full range study of the color. The top will be completely undyed, while the bottom will be a full saturation. Ah, the unforeseen benefits to having a pot rack right above my kitchen cook top.
These are just some of the discoveries I have made in dyeing protein fibers, but the most important discovery I have made is to be sure to write everything down! Even if you donít think it is going to work, take a minute and jot down on a scrap of paper what you did. It may save you from a later struggle of trying to repeat a successful technique.