Thursday, 16 April 2015

It's amazing what you can do...

... with food colouring!!

For several months now I've been wanting to have a go at dyeing my own yarn. I've been reading up on it online, watching videos on YouTube and I even joined a yarn dyeing group on Facebook. None of this makes me an expert, obviously, but I finally reached a point where I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to do.

I've been gradually acquiring the things I would need - I bought 5 skeins of superwash wool/nylon blend double knit from ebay. I thought I'd start off using food colouring, rather than diving in and buying expensive dyes, so I bought some Dr Oetker gel colours in the supermarket. I'd read that our (UK) food colouring isn't as effective as American brands, like Wilton or Kool-Aid, but I thought I'd give them a try anyway. I got a few other things from ebay, Amazon and the supermarket - syringes, plastic cups and spoons, latex gloves...

There are various methods for dyeing yarn, but the one I had in mind to try was to hand paint it; it then goes in the microwave to make the dye 'fast'. This was the video I watched which made me want to try this method.

So, I assembled my bits and bobs:

I chose four colours that I liked - pink, purple, blue and green. I didn't attempt to do any mixing, I thought I'd keep things simple to begin with. I dissolved the gel in hot water, giving it a good stir. The purple one went really grainy for reasons I don't understand, but the other three were fine. In the above video, she dabs a bit of her dye solution onto white kitchen paper to see the colour - when I tried it, there was no colour there at all, even though the water had clearly changed colour! That threw me a bit, but in the end I just thought I'll have a go and see what happens.

You need to pre-soak your yarn in water, with some kind of acid. White vinegar is a popular choice, but I couldn't seem to find it anywhere, unless I was looking for the wrong thing. So in the end I bought some citric acid powder from Amazon. I didn't really know how much to use, so I put 2 tbsp of powder into one litre of water. I then gently laid my undyed yarn in the bowl. This was a tip I picked up on another video - rather than squashing the yarn down into the water straight away, gently lay it in and let it sink down itself, as it absorbs the water. I left it in the bowl for 20 minutes, and it had mostly sunk down, there was just a little bit not under the water so I did give that a gentle push.


 I took it out of the bowl and squeezed as much of the water out of it as I could by hand, but you still need it to be fairly wet, just not sodden. Then I laid it out in an oval shape on the cling film, which I had spread on the worktop while the yarn was pre-soaking. You will eventually wrap your yarn in the cling-film, like a sausage, so you need enough to go around, but you don't want it to overlap in the middle.

Now, in my excited and focused state, I stupidly forgot to take a photo of when I was actually dyeing the yarn! Basically, I used the syringes you can see in the top photo (bought from ebay) to squirt each dye in sections on the yarn. The pink, green and blue worked well, but the grainy purple was a very washed-out pinky colour. I didn't know what to do about it though, so I was just going to leave it. When I was happy that I'd dyed all the yarn, I actually had some pink and blue left, so I mixed them together. It looked like it'd made a nice deep purple colour, so I decided to overdye the wishy-washy purple. It didn't quite work, because I didn't have enough to completely cover it, and to be honest I couldn't be bothered making any more. So it ended up a bit of a mottled pale bluey-purple colour. Oh well.

The next step is to roll/wrap your yarn up in the cling film. The long bits are fairly easy, the ends are a bit more fiddly. Then, put it on a microwaveable plate, and cook it. This was the bit I was really nervous about, because I wasn't sure how long to do it for. I've seen "two minutes cook, two minutes rest, then repeat"; "three minutes non-stop"; "keep going till the yarn is steaming" etc. Our microwave is 1000watt, which is pretty powerful, so I played it safe and did two 30 second bursts. Let it sit for a bit, then did another minute in 20 and 10 second bursts. Then my mum rang, so I was talking to her for about 20 minutes, while the yarn cooled down, and when I got off the phone I did another two 30 second bursts. The yarn was hot to touch, so I took it out and let it rest on the plate.

Once it'd cooled down enough to be able to handle, I removed the cling film, filled a bowl with warm water and gently dipped the yarn into the water. I didn't rub or squish it about too much, just kind of lifted it out and dunked it back in a couple of times. The water changed colour slightly, so I poured it out and refilled it, and then repeated the process, adding a tiny bit of washing up liquid. This time the water stayed clear, which I hope means that the dye is now 'fast' and won't run, if this yarn was ever to get wet again.

I gently squeezed most of the water out of it, and then rolled it in a towel to try and soak up a bit more. Here it is after being rolled in the towel:

As you can see, the pink, green and blue don't look too bad, but the bluey-pink section is a bit of a let-down, although to be fair, I think it looks worse in this photo than in real life.

I hung it over a coathanger to begin with, but then draped it over the top of a clothes airer overnight, and all day today.

By this evening it was completely dry, so I thought I'd have a go at skeining it. I didn't really know how to do this, and I struggled to find any demonstrations on the internet. I found one eventually though, that said you basically twist and twist the yarn, until it twists back on itself, and then you tuck one end into the other. I tried it this evening, and I succeeded on my first attempt!

I couldn't even wait to take a better photo, this is just on the kitchen worktop!

Overall, I'm really pleased with this. It looks exactly like what it is - a first attempt; the colours are basic, and it's far from perfect. There are a few patchy areas where I didn't get as much dye as I could've, although I made a conscious decision when I started, not to worry too much about a few white bits, as sometimes I think that can look quite effective.

There is 100g of DK here, so I'm not sure what I'll be able to make with it, it's not going to go very far. I have four more skeins of undyed wool to practice on, so maybe I could repeat the colours (although I'm not sure I'd want to repeat the dodgy purple) and give myself another 100g of the same colour scheme. I'm also thinking about doing some 'boyish' colours, and maybe making a hat for Junior, or something like that.

If I learned one thing from my first experience of hand-dyeing yarn... it's that I can't wait to do it again!!

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