Playing in the Dye Pot

Playing in the Dye Pot
When I began spinning, I was so proud that all of the yarn I created was in its natural color. I would receive tons of “compliments” telling me how lovely it looked, but relatively few sales. Being the “shy” type that I am, I began coming right out and asking passersby what would make them purchase my yarn. The result was that most people see the natural colors that alpacas and sheep sport to be very masculine. I heard: “I don’t have any men to knit for”, or “your yarn won’t make my project stand out enough”. A-HA! That was my eureka moment. I went out the next day and bought a dye pot and dove right in!

I know there are a million articles out there on dyeing, all of which include very technical advice. I have found that I am not a technical spinner, and also not a technical dyer. Most of what I know comes from trial and error, and often what I initially considered an error usually ends up being a favorite. My first advice to anyone beginning to dye fiber is to get a good notebook. Even if you are just playing around, write down at least an approximation of what you are doing, you never know what you may want to recreate.

For dyeing protein fiber, aka wool, alpaca, camel, angora, I use acid dyes from Pro Chemical. I know there are many fans of Country Classics out there, and they are good, but I get more for my money with the Pro Chem. I use citric acid as my mordant which I purchase at a local health food store. (It is far easier to have only food grade citric acid in the house to prevent a batch of cheese, which I also make as a hobby, from becoming contaminated.) White vinegar can also be used as a mordant, especially if you are dyeing silk. It will help increase the luster of silk yarns.

To dye an 8 ounce batch of fiber or roving, prepare the dye pot and fiber as follows:

In addition to the fiber, you will need:
1 sink basin, or dishpan
1 dye pot at least 1 gallon capacity, better if it holds 2 gallons (must be stainless steel, non chipped enamel coated steel, or Pyrex)
Wash-Fast Acid dye completely dissolved in 1 cup of very hot water (I use ½ tsp for white fiber, and 1 tsp for grey or light brown fiber)
1 Tbsp citric acid, or 5 Tbsp white vinegar
A stirrer ( I use a wooden spoon)
Gloves, old clothes, safety glasses

Begin by filling the sink or dishpan with warm water, add the fiber, and allow it to soak for about a half hour. If you are using a dishpan, which is what I prefer, remove the soaked fiber to the sink basin and pour the water from the dishpan into the dye pot (unless it is dirty!). Add enough warm water to the dye pot to bring it to about two thirds full. Stir in the citric acid, the dye, and a bit of dish soap. Gently add the fiber, being certain to completely submerge it into the dye bath. Place the dye pot on the stove over medium low heat (number 3 on my electric range). Put a lid over the pot, and allow to simmer for about an hour. In my experience, when you can smell it, it is done. Once you think it is done, remove the lid, press the fiber either down or to the side so you can see if the water is clear. If it is, remove from heat, and allow the entire pot to cool to about room temperature. If the water is still colored, add 5 tablespoons of white vinegar to the pot, stir gently, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes. Once the pot has cooled, pour off the water, and rinse with water that is about the same temperature. Lay the fiber out to dry, or if it is yarn, hang to dry. I have a window screen that I can place on my porch railing which makes an ideal drying rack.

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