Friday, April 02, 2010

Dyeing Cakes

For Valentine's Day my mother sent me a Valentine with a $20 bill tucked inside. I promptly spent it on Gail Callahan's new book about dyeing yarn and fleece which I bought from Nancy at Custom Handweaving.

I have read quite a few (and own several) dyeing books but I learned many new things from this one and am pleased to have it in my home library. Thanks Mom! One technique Gail describes that I had never seen in a hand dyeing book before is dyeing yarn while it is wound in a ball or cake. She shows how one can inject dye into different locations in the cake to create a multicolored yarn.

Usually I make a skein of yarn before I dye it and this "dye in the cake" idea intrigued me. I decided to dye some cakes of yarn using immersion dying in the hope that I would get a semi-solid effect. I used some off-white 80% acrylic and 20% wool yarn I had frogged from a thrift store sweater and dyed the yarn in the microwave in canning jars. I used the four basic colors of liquid food coloring--red, yellow, green, and blue--and a vinegar/water solution.

I chose acrylic/wool because I wanted to use the yarn for the class I teach at the local library.

Here's what the three quart and one pint jars look like in the microwave:

Here's what the four balls looked like after they were dyed:

And here's what the "red" cake looked like after it dried and was put in a skein:

Not surprisingly, the color is pale. You can't dye acrylic with food coloring. Only the wool took up the color.

I like the technique but I will need to experiment more with wool. Because I used a mostly acrylic yarn the color seemed to "sit" on the yarn in places and required a lot of rinsing which was impractical with a cake of yarn and, consequently, I had to skein up the yarn to open it up for effective rinsing. Not having to skein yarn was one of the features that attracted me to this technique in the first place. In addition the yarn took a while to dry because air can't circulate well when the yarn is compressed into a cake.

-You don't have to skein up the yarn in order to dye it which is wonderful for those with no niddy noddy and swift and those in a hurry.
-Leaving the yarn in a cake greatly reduces the risk of felting during the dyeing process.
-You don't need a large container to hold a cake of yarn. You can dye yarn in a canning jar and a saucepan. Just be sure to elevate the jar so that it isn't sitting directly on the bottom of the pan or it might break.
-No plastic wrap is necessary which makes this a "greener" process. Usually I color a skein, wrap it in plastic wrap and steam it; I don't steam it in a jar because it is hard to stuff a skein into a jar. With this method I can put each cake in its own canning jar or larger glass container and place the jar or container in the steamer rack of my dyeing pot. (I only use the microwave when dyeing with food safe dye.)
-This would be a fun way to dye with children who might get overly enthusiastic with skeined yarn and make it hopelessly tangled.

Not So Positives:
-It is difficult to rinse out a cake of yarn. I assume, however, that when dyeing 100% wool the dye solution will exhaust and little rinsing will be necessary.
-A wet cake of yarn takes a while to dry.

Clearly more experimentation is in order. I especially want to determine whether I can use this technique to produce a semisolid.

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Blogger Ellen Bloom said...

Thanks for the tutorial, Molly! I like how the pink yarn looks! Happy Easter!

4/02/2010 4:27 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Pretty pink yarn!

4/04/2010 9:02 AM  

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