Most of our dye days start early because most of our year is hot, hotter or really hot. Our summer can be 10 months long although I guess 8 months is probably more normal. It gets warm early and is hot by lunch time so we start early getting the pots on the fire and yarn wetted in large tubs of water with a little soap to help the wetting process. The wetted yarn is dyed in a variety of ways. Once the yarn has taken all the color it can we rinse it out and spin out the water so the damp yarn can be hung on the line to dry. When it’s dry the yarn goes to Peggy to be re-skeined so it will look its best.
On cool or warm days the process rocks along until we are tired and decide we have had enough fun. On the really hot days we take the middle of the day off and find something to do inside – spinning, weaving, photographing our items for sale, etc. – and go out later in the afternoon when the temperature has begun to drop to finish up.
We love dyeing yarn. It’s great to see what the colors will do and how they will blend. We never try to get all the yarn from one dye pot to be the same color. We could work on that but don’t want to. All the yarn that comes out of a single dye pot will have mostly the same colors but not exactly and not completely. It’s part of the wonder of dyeing yarn. And we cannot recreate any of our dye pots. We could use the same dyes if we could remember what they were but it wouldn’t look the same – at least not enough the same to be called the same dye lot. The bottom line here is if you see yarn you really like, please be sure to buy as much as you could possibly need because it’s very unlikely to ever be here again.
We use quite a few different techniques to dye our yarn. Sometimes we vat dye with a large pot of water and some dye. We put the dye into the pot before the yarn if we want a more even color for all the yarn. Sometimes we put the yarn in first and then add two or three different dyes that have already been mixed with hot water. Sometimes we put the dye in dry as we are putting the wetted yarn into the dye pot. Each different technique means the yarn will look a little different. Sometimes the color is well saturated and continuous; sometimes it’s in patches with white in between. It’s always wonderful.
Sometimes we paint the yarn. This means we lay the wet yarn out on the table and add dye in specific places to get the colors exactly where we want them. This technique takes longer than vat dyeing but is a great way to get more colors on the skein of yarn. Or we may dip dye the yarn. We mix the dye in large 1 gallon Mason jars and dip portions of the wetted yarn into the dye. The yarn gets squeezed out as it comes out of the jar so a different portion can be dipped into the next jar. Both the dip dyed yarn and the hand painted yarn needs to be steamed to set the color. We have a huge pot that we put on the fire with about 3 inches of water in the bottom. We have a shallow flat bottom strainer that goes in the bottom of the big pot and we lay the yarn on top of it.
All of these techniques are used on protein fibers – wool, silk, mohair – and on cellulose fibers – cotton, flax, hemp. The dyes are different but the techniques are the same. The protein fibers need an acid dye and the cellulose fibers need a fiber reactive dye. The acid used in the acid dye is vinegar. You wouldn’t want to drink it but it isn’t highly toxic.
We will be dyeing on Saturday August 8th so come by and help!