Red and Other Colors

Wednesday was dyeing day.  I only had two pots on the stove – one for cochineal and one for fustic.  I was aiming for fuchsia and bright yellow.  I didn’t get either one.  That’s what natural dyeing is all about – surprises and experiments.

If you’ve been following along, you know that I bought all my dye stuff from De Kat windmill the week before.  I’ve also been doing my homework.  Besides looking at online blogs and web sites and reading loads of info on Ravelry, I also have in house these books I used as reference:  Colors from Nature by Jenny Dean, Wild Color also by Jenny Dean, The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing by J. N. Liles, Indigo Madder and Marigold by Trudy van Stralen, and finally Verfreceptenboekje by Atelier Bientje.  Every book and web site has their own recipe.  Just pick what sounds good to you and give it a try.  It’s a lot like cooking.

First I did the mordant work – cooking the yarn in chemicals to get it to accept the dye.  For the fustic I used alum, citric acid and a little cream of tartar.  For the cochineal I used tin and a lot of cream of tartar.  I read that the CoT is a modifier that keeps the tin from turning the yarn brittle and hard.  That worked out well as my yarn is very soft and in excellent condition after dyeing.

While the yarn was cooking in the mordant water (for an hour) I made my cochineal dye bath – or at least started it.  Here is a jar full of ground up bugs:

When the yarn was finished with the mordant I took the skeins out and set them aside to cool off.  I could then use those same two pots to prepare the dye.  I followed my recipes – For the cochineal I used 10% weight of goods, 10% cream of tartar and 2.5% tin.  For the fustic 100% weight of goods only.  I skimmed off the scum from the top of both pots before adding the yarn.  I clearly didn’t filter enough of the wood fiber from the fustic pot as there was a lot left in the yarn when I was finished dyeing.  More on that later.

I rinsed my cooled yarn skeins in plain water, and then lowered them into the dye.  I had 4 skeins for the cochineal (1 100% merino and 3 MCN 80% merino, 10% cashmere 10% nylon) and 2 skeins (100% merino) for the fustic.

As you can see, the cochineal pot is a lovely fuchsia.  I was thrilled with this so far.  The fustic, on the other hand, was not at all what I expected.  Ugh.

This was supposed to be bright yellow!  It looked like mud to me.  Or worse.  Oh well, maybe it would change with cooking.  So I watched the pots closely over the next hour and made sure they stayed just at the simmer level, no boiling, lots of steam.  I had the overhead sucking fan working overtime and the windows open.  The fumes weren’t bad at all.

After an hour I carried the pots outside and had a think about what I saw.

The cochineal dye looked fairly exhausted.  The water around the dye was pretty clear.  The fustic, too, unless you stirred it and then all the sediment would come up.  I decided to take out the cochineal yarn and call it good.  Look how red it came out!  What happened to that lovely fuchsia color of the dye?  I don’t know.  A pH change I’m guessing.

I then had a brain wave.  Why not see what effect the exhaust from the cochineal dye would produce on non-mordanted wool?  Why not see what it would do to that brown fustic yarn? What do I have to loose?  So I quickly soaked my two leftover skeins of 100% merino skeins in plain water for an hour and pulled out ONE of my fustic skeins and rinsed it well.  Then I threw all three of them into the cochineal pot.  The fustic skein took up the red right away, I guess because it was mordanted and the other two were not.  I didn’t let it sit in there too long.  I left the two un-mordanted skeins and the one remaining fustic skein sit in their respective pots until the next day.

Here’s a photo of the first results hanging to dry.  The four on the right are the cochineal skeins and the one on the left is the fustic skein with the cochineal exhaust dunk.

The next morning I rinsed all the skeins outside under a faucet and was please to see no dye runoff at all.  This gave me the courage to wash them in my washing machine, wool cycle, to get any remaining residue out.  This worked out great and all the fustic wood pieces easily washed out.  All the bug carcasses too.  Here are my results after everything was washed and dried.

First, the MCN yarn with cochineal.  Super duper RED.  If you look REALLY closely, you can see slightly where the nylon part of the yarn didn’t dye as deeply.  This only adds depth to the color I think.

Second, the 100% merino skein.  Perfect sold RED.

Now, when you see the results of the cochineal exhaust dye you are going to laugh.  Please don’t laugh too hard.

Yes, they are a tangled mess.  There’s a reason for this.  Remember, I decided at the last minute to throw them into the dye pot.  Because it was last minute, I completely forgot how these were delivered from the shop – with ties so tight that dye couldn’t reach the yarn.  For all the other skeins I spent 20 minutes the night before re-tieing everything more loosely so that the dye could reach everywhere.  An hour after I threw these pink ones into the pot I went to check them.  When I pulled them up I could see clearly that they were completely white under the tie places.  I grabbed my scissors and cut the ties and dropped them back in.  It was too late to tie new ones.  Oh well.  At least they are evenly dyed after sitting in the pot all night.  I’ll just have to spend a few evenings winding them into balls while watching tv.

Now the fustic.  Here’s the one with only fustic, which sat in the pot over night.

It’s a nice light golden brown.  It’s not a color I wear, but it’s a nice color all the same.  Warm.

And here’s the one dyed in fustic, then dunked in the cochineal exhaust.

Isn’t it interesting?  The combination of red and brown makes a kind of weird salmon color.  I like it.  DB saw it and didn’t like it at all.  It’s not to everyone’s taste.  As my mom would say, “it’s different”.  Here are the two together so you can see the combination.

And here is the entire lot.  800 grams, in 8 skeins, all fingering weight.  Just waiting to become something even more beautiful.


Dyeing Day

On Wednesday G. came over and we did some dyeing.  I did yarn, G. did fabric.  I did indigo and she did cooking pots of madder and weld.  Above are the results of my first ever indigo dyeing.

Left to right: 2x 100% merino wool, sport weight, 2 dips; same yarn that was previous dyed with weld (nearly 3 years ago!) and over dyed with 1 dip in indigo; 2x Cascade undyed sock yarn, superwash; 2x 100% silk lace weight.  I was really curious how the different yarns would dye differently.  It’s true what everyone says, superwash yarn takes up dye, even natural dyes, much faster and deeper than non-superwash yarn.  The silk came out beautiful too!

I started out in the morning making a jar of indigo powder, an alkali and a reducing agent, which turned it from blue to a greeny-brown.

Then I filled a plastic tub with hot water and more of the same chemicals.  Then gently dipped the glass jar into the tub, without disturbing it, and poured the contents into the tub under the water.  All of that was to avoid getting any oxygen into the mixture.

It smelled foul and looked green.  Perfect!

Meanwhile G. was busy mordanting fabric and stirring up her pots of color on the stove.

Then I started dipping my yarns, sliding them in and out of the tub gently, watching the magic of the green yarn turning blue before my eyes as it hit the oxygen in the air.  Presto!  In no time I had this:

I then dug into my bag and pulled out a skein of yellow wool that I had dyed almost 3 years ago.  Funny, that day was also with G., dyeing in my back garden.  I decided to take that skein and throw it into the indigo and see what kind of green I would get.  Not bad actually.

Here’s my yarn after a second dip and with the newly green skein.  G. is in the background showing off her bright red madder fabric.

And here are some of G.’s results.

It was such a fun day!  I love this stuff.  I love the chemistry and the mystery and the magic of dyeing.  I can’t wait to do it again.

And that might come sooner rather than later.  My indigo vat is now blue, which means it still has indigo in it, but has become oxygenated.  I need to put some chemicals in it again and it should turn green again and be ready to dye some more.  I think I’d like to try some simple tie-dyeing on t-shirts.  Why not?  Isn’t that back in fashion?


I’ve been reading forums on Ravelry and topics that come up very often are “what is your favorite yarn (for socks, for sweaters, for lace, for pooling, for kids, etc etc)?” and “what are your favorite needles (for knitting socks or lace or interchangeables, or general knitting)?”.

If someone asked me, what is your favorite yarn, you’d just have to look into my stash.  Madelinetosh and Wolmeise.  I have expensive tastes.  These two brands of yarns have in common their amazing colors, and also the fact that they are hand dyed.  The variation and beauty you can achieve with hand dyeing makes the yarns seem like works of art in themselves.  You can knit plain stockinette stitch garments with these yarns and they will look stunning.

Knitting with hand dyed yarns isn’t all fun though.  You have to be careful that the yarns don’t bleed dye when you wash them.  Be careful if you are combining colors in a garment that you wash the yarn first and make sure all the dye is out before you start knitting.  This is a serious pain in the neck, but I don’t do a lot of color work so I’m not fussed about that.  The other down side to an addiction to these yarns is that they are somewhat scarce.  You have to stalk them in shops or be lucky enough to catch a shop update to get what you want.  Or buy yarn off someone who is destashing.  And of course the cost.  It’s a costly addiction.  (Remember not so long ago I had an online yarn shop?  Talk about a costly addiction!)

These days I’m on the lookout for new needles.  I just ordered a set of HiyaHiya interchangeables – the steel, sharp, 4″ small set.  I can’t wait to try them out!  They get excellent reviews, from the sharp points to the very flexible cables.  I’ve been knitting the past several years with a set of KnitPro(KnitPicks) wood interchangeables, and while I love the feel of the wood, I have fallen out of love with them.  They break and fall apart easily.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve superglued tips back into the metal bases.  A few times the cables have come out of the metal connector and can’t be fixed.  Sure, the company replaces them no questions asked, but what a hassle!  I don’t like how stiff the cables are either and how they have too much memory in them (once kinked, always kinked).  I’ll certainly let you know when the Hiya Hiyas arrive and what I think of them.

I’m also on the lookout for new sock knitting needles.  I like knitting socks on 2 circular needles.  Here’s what I’m looking for:
3″ to 3.5″ needles
16″ cables
very pointy tips
very flexible cables
perfect joins
not costing a fortune (like Signature needles!)

What would you recommend?  I’ve put this question to the “Sock Knitter’s Anonymous” group on Ravelry and I’m now waiting for replies.  Surely there are needles out there that can meet these basic requirements!  If not, I should go into business…..

Starry Starry Night

I’ve been playing with yarn again.  This time I wanted to try tie-dyeing yarn.  I already had a name for it before I started: Starry Starry Night.

My goal was to make a night sky blue/violet/black with bright yellow “stars” here and there.  I decided to jump right in using 3 skeins of nice yarn.  So brave of me! “In for a penny, in for a pound” as the saying goes.  I used 80/10/10 merino/cashmere/nylon fingering weight yarn that I bought from Dharma Trading when I was in California.  It’s so soft it almost melts in your hands.  I figured if I was successful with this dye job I’d have enough yarn for a summer sweater.

First I soaked the skeins in water and a little bit of Eucalen.  Then I tied up the yarn with cotton string that I had to block it from getting dye.  I wrapped 2 skeins in 4 places, and 1 skein I wrapped in 6 places.  I didn’t wrap them at even distances (i.e. 1/4 skein, wrap, 1/4 skein, wrap, etc) but instead made the distance between wraps a little more random.  Why did I wrap 1 skein 6 times?  Well, to be honest, because the yarn was so soft that when I took that skein out of the water it kind of fell apart and started to get tangled, so wrapping helped keep it under control.  And, I figured, I can use that skein for the sleeves. 🙂

Here’s the wrap on one skein:

After all the wrapping was done I mixed up my dye colors.  I used 40% sapphire blue, 40% violet and 10% black.  From my previous experience with the black, I figured it wouldn’t mix with the other colors quickly, which was fine with me.  I wanted the colors to stay a little separate in the pot.  First I poured in the blue dye solution into the big pot and stirred well, then I added the violet and didn’t stir at all.  Finally the black, also without stirring.  Then I lowered all 3 skeins, held together at the top, into the pot.  I only gave them a slight swirl to make sure they were all under water.  I turned on the heat and let them sit, just under the boiling point, for 45 minutes.

Here’s how they came out:

It looks to me like the blue and violet mixed together really easily.  I don’t see much separation and the violent is certainly the “weaker” of the two, not making much impact.  The black, like my previous experience, stays separate quite a bit and made some nice transitions between blue/dark blue/black.  Lovely!

Before rinsing them, I laid them out on some plastic on my table outside to do the stars.  I mixed up some super concentrated fluorescent yellow dye and put it in a little sqeeze bottle.

Working around, from tied section to tied section, I sqeezed on the yellow and worked it into the yarn carefully.  I didn’t move the skein around so that the yellow didn’t spread to other parts of the skein.  When one skein was done I put it into a glass pan, with a little water and microwaved it for 2 minutes on high.

After I was finished with all 3 skeins I rinsed them all out and here is the result:

Now, when I picked up my camera to take the above photos, I suddenly thought “Damn! I’ve made the Swedish flag!”.  This was not my intention!  Whatever sweater I make from this will definitely not be worn on a trip to IKEA so I won’t be mistaken for an employee.

Today they were finally dry enough to wrap up and take a final stash photo:

My sweater ideas:

1.  Stockinette stitch in blue and when ever I come to yellow yarn, make purl stitches.

2.  The opposite of 1., meaning reverse stockinette for the blue and knit stitches for the yellow.

3.  Stockinette for the blue and when I come to yellow make a 3-into -3 Estonian lace stitch.

I like option 3. the best but will have to swatch to see if the yellow is wide enough to make it work.

I really like this technique, and there are hundreds of things you could do with tie-dyeing yarn, but does it make any sense for large volume dyeing for someone with a shop or selling dyed yarn?  I don’t think so.  Tying and untying the skeins took a lot of time and it’s really fiddly.  But for a one-off dye job to use for yourself, it’s super fun!

I have no idea when I will get around to knitting up this yarn I’m dyeing.  My shoulder is still really f-d up and I only knit about 90 minutes a day.  I’m still VERY excited about the book I’m working on and I’ve made a lot of swatches for that.  More news about that as the project progresses and I decide how much of it I want to share.

Next dyeing project?  I think I want to try making muted colors by starting with brights and then over-dyeing with their complimentary colors.  This should make some nice Fall yarn……



Dye Job

Even though I can’t knit (the shoulder saga continues), I can dye yarn.  I’ll always find some way to play with fiber!  These projects were done specifically for the Ravelympics Ravellenic Games “Hand Dye High Dive”.

For this event, I gathered up some sock yarn that I didn’t like.  I didn’t like the colors and knew I would never knit with them.  The answer was to either give them away, or over dye them.  Dye it is!

First I’ll show you the before photo, then the after photo.  All the skeins are 50g of fingering weight yarn, 90% merino and 10% nylon.

Pink to Purple –


Now, isn’t that better? What’s interesting is that 2 of the pink skeins were darker but in the purple, only 1 looks just a touch darker (the bottom skein).  It’s a lovely semi-solid color with just hints of lighter purple throughout.

Now the green –

Wow, I have to say, I LOVE how this came out.  What’s interesting to me is that all the original skeins were different shades of blue and green and all turned out dark green with hints of kelly green throughout.  The bottom skein has just a touch more lighter green than the rest.  The dye I used was 80% kelly green and 20% black.  I mixed the colors together in a jar before putting into the dye pot, and stirred it really well.  Did the dye just not mix as well as I thought it did?  Why did the yarn dye in this semi-solid way?  I just don’t know, but I’m thrilled with the result.

And finally, the blue –

I love this blue!  As you can see in the “before” photo, 2 skeins were dyed blue and black with some grey between, and 2 skeins were dyed with just the blue.  I didn’t expect the new blue to cover the existing black, and it didn’t, but it did cover the grey (like a good dye should, you know).  The dye I used was sapphire blue with just a touch (10%?) black.  The depth of color is really lovely.  I’m going to make a short sleeved T with this, alternating the skeins to get black stripes here and there through the entire sweater.  200g should be just enough, I hope.

So, that’s my games, done and dusted.  I am super happy with these results!  I love dyeing yarn.  I have to stop myself from thinking about making it a side business.  I think, as with a lot of things, it would kill the joy.  I will dye what I will knit myself.  At least for now!

Bright Dyes

With my bum shoulder I haven’t been able to do much knitting lately.  But I can still dye yarn and that’s just what I did yesterday.  Above are the results (plus some black silk, photos below).

The 4 skeins at the front of the photo are all Rowan Purelife British Sheep Breeds Chunky Undyed.  I used these colors on this yarn mainly to test out the dye and see how it looks on wool.  And yes, it’s kind of expensive yarn for a dyeing experiment, but undyed yarn is not that easy to find around here and it’s what I had.  (I bought these from Ribbels, in Leiden) Now that I see it, I’m super happy with the results.  You know, bright colors are the in thing, so I’m planning now to make a hat and cowl/scarf with these four colors together.  THAT ought to brighten up a dreary Dutch winter day!

The dye colors are all Dharma Trading acid dyes in colors:  fluorescent lemon, fluorescent safety orange, true turquoise, fluorescent fuchsia.

This green is 50/50 wool acrylic Mille II from Lana Grossa, also a bulky weight.  The dye color is chartreuse.  I’m going to make a new iPhone sock with it.  You know, green apple green.

I also dyed some 100% silk lace weight yarn, 3 skeins 50g each.  One skein had already been dyed black, but it wasn’t a good dye job.  There were some grey and white spots where the dye didn’t get under the skein ties.

If you look hard at the above image you can see that the skein on the far right is the one that had already been dyed black.  It’s just a bit blacker.  They aren’t quite dry yet but I don’t expect the colors to change much.  Silk is tricky to dye.  It takes stronger dye to get the same strength of color as you would with wool, and you have to watch the temperature carefully.  If you cook silk at too high a temperature it will loose its shine.  For this dye session I used quite a lot of black dye powder (double strength) and it soaked up every bit of the dye without any rinsing out.  I think I will just call it good and consider them 2 different dye lots.  At least there are no light spots or streaks of color.

All of this dyeing was done with the immersion method on my stovetop.  First I made up dye solutions.  I could have made the solution right in the pot I would use for dyeing, which I did for the green and the black (the first and last to cook), but I used the time while the green was cooking to make up these other colors ahead of time.  I made up 2% solution which is double the strength I needed.  I just wanted to be ready in case I wasn’t happy with the ‘normal’ strength and wanted to boost the color.  For each dye cook I poured in half the jar of dye solution, 1/4 cup of vinegar and 2 liters or so of water – for 100g of wool.  It was only with the yellow that I ended up dumping in the second half of the dye solution.  I wanted a super yellow and seemed to need the extra dye to get there.

Each dye pot was cooked, at just below boiling, for 50 minutes.  I then drained the water out and dumped the wet yarn onto my rack outside to cool off completely before I rinsed them.  The only variation was the silk, which was cooked at a little lower temp for an hour.  I also let the silk sit in the pan with the fire off for a couple of hours to cool, but that was mainly because I was eating dinner and didn’t want to bother with them.

What’s next?  I have a lot of other colors I want to try out, and lots of fingering weight yarn to try it out on.  The Ravelympics Ravellenic Games are coming up (beginning 27 July) and I will dye yarn then for my event.  I want to do some multi-colored skeins using paintbrushes and spray bottles.  Those skeins will then be either steamed or heated in the microwave to set.  I can’t wait to try it out!

I end up dyeing yarn like I do most things – I expect, and want, my experiments to be good enough end products to be usable in projects or wearable designs.  I don’t make time or resources available for true experimentation.  Is that because I tend to be a Type A personality? Or because I just never seem to have as much time/resources as I think I need to experiment?  Or do I think deep down that experimenting is a waste of time?  Am I so practical and so non-artistic?  When I have some more time I’ll have to think further about that….

New and Colorful

Look what came in the mail last week!

Isn’t it beautiful?  It’s Madelinetosh DK Twist in color Mansfield Garden Party.  I can’t stop looking at the photo.   I’ve made it my desktop photo.  I love it.

I’m going to make a summer cardigan with it, that is knit sideways in garter stitch.  I think that will keep the color from pooling and will mix it up enough to look good.  At least I hope so!  All I can do is try it and see how it looks.

Do you see the one rogue skein?  The one at the very top is different from the others.  I’m hoping I won’t need it at all for my sweater and can either sell it or make something else with it, like a hat.  That skein doesn’t have much pink in it but instead some dark purple that none of the other skeins have.  They are all hand dyed, ok, but still, don’t send me a non-matching skein in such a small order of yarn!

I’ve also started a sock as part of a KAL (knit a long) on Ravelry.  I’ve knit these socks before but they were too big for me so I gave them to my mom.  The pattern is La Digitessa by Yarnissima and I’m making them with Wollmeise Twin in color Red Hot Chili.  Wow! What beautiful yarn!  I knit this much…

…and then discovered it’s a little too big.  I frogged it and started over using 2mm needles.  I was using 2.25mm before, which are normally the right size for my sock knitting.

Now, as soon as I hit the PUBLISH button, I’m going to close this computer and start sewing together my blue Smocked Cable Coat.  I will first join the shoulders and then knit the collar before sewing in the sleeves.  No point dragging the sleeves around while knitting the collar.  I hope to have the whole thing finished in a week.  You’ll be the first to know!