Methods to my madness

I was hoping to get a good photo of the first bobbin of singles I’ve been spinning, but the light is terrible so far this morning, (it’s snowing again) so y’all will have to forgive me until later… But I mean to answer the questions from yesterday’s comments.

Jenknits said:
“…I’m intrigued by your method of baking roving to set the dye. Since I’ve been having trouble getting my fuschias and blues to ‘stick’ I’m wondering if that method might work better than steaming on the stovetop. What do you think? Any hints on getting difficult colors to ‘stick’?”

It’s a really good question. When I first started dyeing wool (all of six months or so ago, so I’m not expert, just successfully experimental so far,) I first tried doing yarn using the near-boiling-water- in-a-giant-pot method. It didn’t work so well. I felted a whole shawl’s worth of laceweight (from Knitpicks, don’t cry for me) because I had trouble keeping the water temperature steady.
Then I used the paint-with-dye, then-wrap-in-plastic-and-steam method, which works very well for both roving and yarn, but is a pain for doing bulk dyeing. Also, I often find my little plastic packages melted or steamed open and dribbling dye all over each other, which produces interesting, but unplanned, results. I always have a lot of dye run out in the rinse water after using either of these methods as well, which can be very disappointing, as I feel like I’m wasting dye.

I was reading through Knittyspin articles, and found a very interesting one about dyeing and spinning. Given that the two wool artists featured run successful dyeing businesses, I though I’d give their method a try – simply paint the wool, put it in a roasting pan, spritz with vinegar, and bake for 30 minutes at 250 degrees. Given that it is heat that sets the acid dyes, and the wool already contains the moisture and added acid (vinegar) I couldn’t see any reason why using the oven wouldn’t work.
Turns out, it works fantastically, and I’ve found that there is very little dye not absorbed by the wool. For the most part, the colors I put on stay on, and there is no running or smearing or blobbing while they set. Perfect. And it lends itself well to bulk dyeing; I can paint an oven-full, then prepare the next batch while the first heat-sets. There seems to be very little risk of felting, which is the bane of my existence. Beyond that, the oven is well insulated, so the kitchen doesn’t become a sauna during a day of work.
(By the way, I’ve found it works just as well with a large metal bowl covered with aluminum foil, if you don’t have a roasting pan, or if you want to do more than one batch at a time.)

Another thing that might help the blues and reds “stick” better is to mix the acid into the dye when you make a stock solution. I bought some dyes and citric acid crystals from Halcyon Yarns, and their instructions said to mix the citric acid directly into the stock solution after the dye powders were mixed with hot water, so I tried it for the first time. I’m not sure what sort of difference it makes, but the magenta I used was prepared in this way, and there was not excess dye at all in the rinse water.

Cayli said: “I am interested to see how that 2ply works out. That is an idea I have not seen done before. You must post pictures.”
I haven’t done this sort of dyeing intentionally before, but I’m taking a hint from the way Teyani at Crown Mountain Farms does her roving for her amazing Sock Hop yarn. From what I’ve read, she dyes the roving in sections, each with increasing levels of dye saturation, then spins two bobbins with equal amounts of each section. Once plied together, it helps blend the colors so you won’t end up with one dark sock and one lighter one, or one more stripey than the other. I figured doing something similar with this yarn would make a nice even skein. I’ll be sure to post photos along the way.

For Tala, the only advice I can give on spinning sock yarn is to make sure the roving is very “fluffed” and pre-drafted as much as you can make it without letting it fall apart. I probably spend 15 – 20 minutes preparing 4oz. of fiber, pulling it out so it is loose, before I start spinning. It makes it much easier to spin a thin single if you don’t have to tug hard to draft.

I hope this post helps someone out along the way. When I first started spinning and dyeing wool, I relied heavily on bloggers’ posts for instruction and ideas. When some brainstorm or “new” method (there’s really nothing new under the sun, I’m sure) works out well, I want to share it – the more good spinners in the world, the better, right?


4 thoughts on “Methods to my madness

  1. I follow the microwave instructions in “Yarns to Dye For”. I would be able to do a larger batch more easily using your method, thank you for the informative blog!

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