Monday, 2 February 2015

Dipping my toe in the dye pot (so to speak)

Hello :-) I've been wanting to try dyeing for ages now and in particular, using dyes from nature. I decided to bite the bullet and treated myself to "A Heritage of Colour by Jenny Dean. It's a wonderful book and brilliant for anyone thinking of giving dyeing a go. I really like the historical slant to it but there's plenty of info in there for anyone (like me) who hasn't got a clue about how to go about dyeing. You can find it here.

I bought some alum from eBay as that seems to be the most commonly used mordant and, for ease, some cream Regia sock yarn as it happened to leap out at me at a local wool shop. I decided to start off with birch bark for my first experiment. Now, living with an artistic wood carver husband has it's advantages because he just happened to have some rolls of birch bark stashed away :-)

Cream sock yarn in the alum mordant solution
Jenny Dean's book says to use 150% dyestuff for birch bark so I would have needed 150g but mine fell just a little short at 135g so I bunged a handful of onion skins into the dye pot towards the end for good measure.
Inside of the birch bark
 Outside of the birch bark

I wetted out the yarn for about 15 - 20 minutes by soaking it in cold water with just a touch of washing up liquid, then used 10% of the yarn weight of alum and simmered the yarn for an hour. I left it to cool in the liquid overweight.

The next day I cut the bark into small pieces - hard work on the hands! The book said to simmer it for at least an hour but the colour was still deepening after that time so I let it carry on and altogether it simmered away for two and a half hours with a handful of onion skins being thrown in for the last hour. The water was a really lovely warm chestnut colour by that time. 
Birch bark cut into small pieces ready for dyeing
I was hoping for a self-striping sock yarn to decided to dip the yarn skein in thirds - the first third to go in at the start plus 15 minutes of simmering time, then the next third for 15 minutes followed by the last for another 15 minutes. What I found was that the majority of the dye attached to the first third of the yarn so I ended up giving the second third about 20 minutes and the last third got a good 30 minutes or so. Altogether it had about an hour.

First third in the dye pot
I was surprised how little dye came out when I rinsed the finished yarn - hardly anything at all :-) Drying it was a challenge because I was just so impatient to cast on and see how the pattern knitted up, lol. After drying it for a while on the radiator, I bagged it into a pillowcase and tumble dried it (the label says it's tumble dryable). I'm not sure whether it was the tumble drying or if (I suspect) I agitated it too much in the pot but it was pretty knotty! I spent the next 3 or so hours in various stress positions persuading it back into two balls o.O Got there in the end though!

Finshed yarn being rinsed (under a harsh yellow light)
Finished yarn in daylight - love the colours!
In daylight, the colours are beautifully warm and gentle and remind me of butter and syrup. It's making me crave waffles (!). I want a textured sock that doesn't have a pattern hidden by the colour changes so I'm thinking of a waffle pattern for them - well, I'm on a diet so I can't have real waffles! Might aswell have waffle socks ;-) I cast on this afternoon and I'll finish the ribbing before deciding for sure. I love the stripes which are emerging so far though. Definitely addicted to this dyeing lark :-) 

Notes to self
Yarn: Cream Regia sock yarn 2 x 50g balls
Mordant: 10% (so, 10g) alum. Yarn simmered for 1 hour, cooled overnight in liquid.
Dye extraction: 135g birch bark + handful brown onion skins. Bark simmered for 2.5 hours with onion skins thrown in for last hour.
Yarn dyeing: Yarn simmered in strained dye for around an hour, each third having roughly 15, 20 then 30 minutes. 

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