Dyeing

How in the world did I get talked into another dyeing class? After the last dyeing experience I was pretty certain this would not be something I was going to invest a lot of time and money into. So, how in the world did I end up in another dyeing class Saturday? Chris from Dakota Fiber Mill sent me an email about the class. For $30 I would get a chance to play with several dyeing techniques including Food Coloring and Rit Dye. I thought those dyes worked on cotton threads and fabrics which fits better with my stitching. Plus, she was making us lunch and I would be able to play with her menagerie of fiber-producing animals. So, I signed up.

Then the day before we got our first snow…okay, so it wasn’t several inches, but it did coat the ground. Thankfully, the roads cleared up and weren’t an issue since Dakota Fiber Mill is outside of Kindred, ND, about 20 miles south of my house. Saturday turned out to be the coldest day of the season though. I think when I woke up it was -7! It had warmed up to 0 by the time I left town. I did decide it was time to break out the winter coat and put a blanket in the car just in case I had car trouble.

Julie Mangnall was the brave soul who tried to keep 7 of us under control as we were like kids in a candy store. She started out with Kool-Aid dyeing. This is a great project for young kids so I will give you an idea of what is involved.

Kool-Aid Dyeing

You need to use an animal fiber like sheep or alpaca. This doesn’t work well for cottons. Julie provided us with a handful of fibers from a suri alpaca which is really different from sheared wool. These fibers are twisted, long locks that drape down their bodies. It is so soft and has a shine to it.

    What you need:

  • Fibers, preferably a wool yarn already in a skein or wool roving.
  • One package of UNSWEETENED drink mix per ounce of yarn or roving
  • A microwave and microwave safe dish
  • Work surface covered with a plastic cloth
  • A container to hold enough water to cover your yarn
  • A colander to rinse your wool in
  • A salad spinner is a great way to help dry the wool
  • Plastic baggies
  • Always wear plastic gloves!

We covered our suri fibers with warm water and then chose among Grape (Purple), Mixed Berry (Blue), and Mango (Orange). Of course, I went for the Grape. Jean had us use 2 packages, which we opened up and sprinkled on top of the fibers. She also added a splash of vinegar to our water. Vinegar makes the water more acidic and wool takes color better under acidic conditions. This became very apparent when my pan got more vinegar than another pan. Despite using three packages, Heidi’s fibers turned out much lighter than mine.

Once you add your dye you need to set it with heat. We scooped our wool from the pan and let it drip to get some of the excess water out. Then we put it into a baggie, but didn’t seal it completely. Then heat it on high in the microwave for a minute. Carefully remove it and rinse it under running water. You want to start with warm water and work up to cold water. If you start with cold water it shocks the wool and can start the felting process. Make sure the water runs clear and then put it in the salad spinner to get the excess water out. Hang it to dry. Here are my results, before and after, which I called Wooly Wine.


For more information on Kool-Aid dyeing, Knitty’s blog has some great tips and pictures. You can also use this technique to dye your hair. Here is a great site with step-by-step pictures if you are brave enough to try it!

Next we moved onto Rit dyeing. Rit has a great webpage covering all aspects of using their dye.

One of our ladies had requested a deep red for felted Santa hats, so Jean had a pot simmering already set up with a red dye. Jean soaked the wool roving in warm water and vinegar. She cautioned us not to be poking and pushing the roving a lot or it might start to felt. Jean put the soaked roving into the pot and let it start simmering again. After about 5 minutes we looked at it and it was red but not deep red, so she put it back in for another 5 minutes. It came out a deep, beautiful red. Then it has to be rinsed, again starting with warm water working towards the cold water. You want to be sure the rinse water is clear or your yarn could bleed when you use it. I tried the Rit dye on several things. My show-and-tell pictures a little later in this newsletter.

The majority of the morning was spent with the reactive dyes specially made for animal fibers. Jean uses Cushing’s Perfection Dyes. This company has been making dyes since the late 1800’s! We each got a 4 ounce ball of roving (about 8″ in diameter). Starting with about an ounce, we soaked it in our plastic containers, drained the excess liquid and turned it out onto the table. Here is a great shot showing the large ball on the right, my project on the table, and my neighbor’s project still in the container.


Next we were to add colors however we wanted but not poke much on the roving. Jean had mixed up 4 or 5 colors so here is my rather strange concoction.


I followed Jean’s instructions (I heard that collective “What!!”) Yes, I did and I only microwaved my masterpiece for 1 minute. It came out very, very light….I call it Cotton Candy. Several people really soaked their roving and put it in the microwave for over 2 minutes. Their results were much darker.


I did another attempt using more of the dark purple and put it in the microwave for 2 minutes and it still didn’t come out quite as dark as others. We determined it was again the amount of vinegar used in the water. This one I called Kansas Storm Clouds.


I decided the funnest (is that a word?) part of dyeing is making up the creative names!

Chris had encouraged us to bring other fibers to dye. Since I don’t spin yarn, I decided to try a variety of white cotton threads: Size 3 Pearl Cotton, (DM003-white) Coton a Broder in two sizes, (DM020-WHITE) and cotton floss. (DM001-WHITE) The Rit dye worked with cottons, so I put them in the pot fully expecting different results depending on the fiber. I also soaked half of them in a vinegar solution and left the other half dry, straight out of the wrapper. As you can see, it made absolutely no difference. Won’t this be fun trying to untangle??? If I were to name this mess, it would be “Rat’s Nest Red”.


Class was held in the working side of Chris’ shop where we had access to the large sinks and couldn’t ruin the concrete floor. She has a couple of “helpers”, this is Fred, an Angora rabbit. This picture doesn’t really show how fluffy Fred is. I have seen people actually set an angora rabbit on their lap and spin fiber right off the rabbit! No, it doesn’t hurt the rabbit.


So, now we were on our own to try whatever we wanted. Jean had brought food coloring as a dyeing option, so I pulled out a skein of floss. She had some neon colors and I put a dot of each along the skein to create a very colorful rainbow like Bradley’s Balloons (TH001-1154) from ThreadworX. I was so excited to see the results, but as I rinsed it, all the color ran off. I was left with a variegated pink. It is a pretty color, but not at all what I expected. Today, I looked up dyeing with food coloring, and found it only works with the animal fibers. The site said cotton wouldn’t take the dye, so I guess I am lucky I got Just Pink!


I still had a bunch of roving left and since I have no intention of spinning it, I decided to go for red colors I could needle felt for tomtes and trolls. Jean added more red Rit to the simmering pot and had me divide the ball into 1 ounce balls. I did the balls individually, letting each one simmer for 10 minutes. Each one got a little lighter as the dye was being used up. Here is my study in red!


Then Chris treated us to a wonderful taco buffet for lunch. It was too cold to go play with the animals so after lunch I bagged up my fabulous fibers and headed back to Fargo. It had warmed up to about 4 above! I think winter has officially arrived.


We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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“The following article was written by Debi Feyh of Nordic Needle and published in their weekly e-mail newsletter. Permission was granted by Nordic Needle to share this article in (name of your publication). For information on subscribing to their weekly e-mail newsletter, visit www.nordicneedle.com. A free mail-order catalog is available to you upon request if you live in the USA or Canada.”

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