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The Great Dyeing Adventure, Part 2

Despite the sheer volume of cooking I undertook over the weekend, I hadn’t forgotten my commitment to dyeing yarns!

I’m glad I’ve discovered the opportunity to dye with things like food colouring, because I think if I tried to use the hardc0re acid dyes, we’d just end up with bits of hand skin hanging off cupboards. I’m on the sloppy side, and don’t put a lot of work into ensuring the workspace is completely cleared and sterile, etc. etc. Nor can I afford to buy a whole new range of dyeing-only crockpots, saucepans and implements. I’ve been doing all my dyeing so far in the huge stainless steel stock pot, over the gas cooker. Perfect!

So, here we go. Step one, procure the yarn you wish to dye. In my case, three skeins of Peach Twist and one of Cream Twist. These were remnant balls, handed to me in a job lot of leftovers when I first started knitting. They’re quite nice, in a flecky way, but they’re not the kind of colours I’m ever likely to wear. I skeined them on my niddy noddy, measured them and estimated how much I had of each. I made them little secure ties using some leftover sock wool — colourfast, natural fibre, nice and loose, unlikely to felt. This stops the skeins tangling too much. Then I washed them, and soaked them in a pot full of water and white vinegar for a few hours. The idea behind this is to ‘open’ the fibres; the acid makes the yarn more responsive to sucking up colour. Or something. When using Kool-Aid to dye, which those lucky fruits in the US get to do, the citric acid in the Kool-Aid powder takes care of that.

After its wash and soak, Peach Twist (right) and her shy cousin Cream Twist (left) were ready to be dunked. I filled the stock pot with a few litres of water, making sure that the temperature of the water in the pot and the temperature of the yarn weren’t too different — after all, Peach and Cream Twist are mystery yarns, and I didn’t want to risk felting them. Into the stock pot I liberallty squirted some green food dye, procured from the local exotic food emporium (Woolworths) and swirled it all around. I was clever enough to not use a wooden spoon for this, since the wood would stain to a pretty green and who needs that? After the dye was evenly distributed through the water, I grabbed Peach Twist (Cream could wait for now) and squinched out as much fluid as I could. Without twisting, of course, because what does that do, children? That’s right, it breaks the wet fibres! Into the pot she sank, and I turned the heat on underneath (nice and low — if the heat goes up too quickly, protein-based fibres tend to get a bit shirty and retaliate by felting) and wandered off.

I checked the pot regularly to make sure that it hadn’t begun to boil, and when it started looking too hot, turned the heat off and left the lid on, so that the remaining heat would do the work. So exciting, this magical transformation; I imagined wussy old Peach Twist coming out verdant, lush, and altogether desirable. As you can see in the before photo, Peach Twist is so named because half the plies are peach-coloured, and the other half is cream-coloured. I imagined they’d take up the green dye differently, and I’d have a rich, varied green yarn on my hands. Yum.

After a few hours, I went back to gloat. Peach Twist hadn’t done a thing.

The water was still dark green, and the dye simply hadn’t taken. I huffed about, plunked the wet yarn into a strainer and gave it some squeezing to get the liquid out. After some sulky Googling, I decided I had found the problem! It’s not an animal-based fibre! Of course. Apparently, the mild dyes in food colouring are really not strong enough for plant-based fibres, which Peach Twist clearly was. I smiled ruefully and chalked it up to experience. After all, the yarn was more or less the same as it was when it went in (except for a slight tinge of green through the cream part of the twist), so I would simply dry it out and try again with a proper clothes dye.

Here you can see Peach Twist drying, thinking about what colour she wants to be. You can also see the skein ties I used, which have enthusiastically adopted the colour I had in mind for Peach Twist.

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