Posted by: bschutzgruber | September 21, 2019

To Dye or Not To Dye?

Over the years I’ve taken a variety of workshops on dyeing involving both natural and chemical dyes. They range from a couple of hours to a full day. I find these workshops interesting and informative but they’ve always been too short for me to develop a solid grasp on the processes. I don’t have the space at home to set up a dye studio to do the repetitive practice that I need. I’ve thought about taking a longer dyeing course but the ones I’ve come across cover a variety of methods so that still would not give me the practice and repetition I need. The result of all this is that what little dyeing I’ve done up until now has either been with the help of other dyers or small projects on my own using an old microwave (never be used for food again!) and very random colors made by combining primary colors.

This past August my course at the AGWSD summer school was ‘Tapestry to Dye For’. [See my 3 blogs from August 2019] The first half of the course dealt with dyeing wool yarn and developing color charts using the red, blue and yellow primary colors to make other colors. Because we had the space and materials right there, I chose to continue creating colors that I plan to use in a future project as others moved on to weaving. 


After 25 dye batches over 6 days I FINALLY have gotten a handle on working with acid dyes and small skeins of animal-based (wool or silk) yarn. Our instructor, Dot Seddon, gave us the materials to take with us so we could make our own stock solutions for future use.

Once I got home I pulled out the dye kit I’d picked up several years ago. This was a kit for fiber reactive dyeing which works on plant-base fibers (cotton, linen, hemp, jute, sisal, ramie, rayon). I had 2 garments (one linen, one cotton) in my closet that I wasn’t really happy with the color, plus a number a number of un-dyed cotton skeins in my stash so I decided to see what I could do this these. 

I mixed up the powdered dye into 1% solutions like we had used for summer school and used them to create a color chart mixing each base color with black to create stepped gradation.


When I had used the black dye at summer school I could see that blue was a key element in creating black dye. Seeing how quickly yellow shifted to green and the red to purple really reinforced that understanding.

I chose one of the dark turquoise for the garments and I was pleased with how they came out.


I now moved on to working with the skeins of cotton yarn using a low-water method and adapting the formulas to match the weight of yarn in each skein.

My calculations did not come out as I had expected as there was a lot of excess dye even after 5-6 heavy rinses under running water. I decided to use my washing machine on intermittent extra slow so they could be rinsed in a large vat setting. FINALLY I got the coveted clear rinse.


What I had not taken into account when using the washing machine was that the agitation that worked so well to rinse the skeins also made each one a tangled mess as they had been loosely tied for dyeing = OOPS!!

For the next 6 days I slowly untangled each skein into a ball

then rewound into proper skeins.

To dye or not to dye… that is the question now.

What I have learned from all of this is:
I’m never going to be a serious dyer!
I’ll continue to play with small batches of yarn
using acid dyes like I did at summer school
but large batch dyeing is not for me.

Nope…dyeing is not my thing
so I will happily support the folks who love to do it!!

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