Breaking Black

Breaking Black Yarn

I’ve been enamored with the notion of intentional spinning of late, which is to say, spinning yarn for a specific project. I spun several hundred yards of a Romney-Angora laceweight blend, intending it for a shawl. When I finished, I was quite pleased with the end result, and, overambitious soul that I am, I said, “Hey, why not dye this intentionally too?”

I have only played with dyeing yarns solid or ombre up until now, but for some reason, I thought my beautiful skein of handspun would be well served by my assassination of the handpainting process.

*facepalm*

The color palette I was using for inspiration was this room design off Pinterest. I aimed to get two different shades of gray, a deep chocolate brown, and a pop of rich teal in medium color runs. What I got was this:

Breaking Black Yarn
So…not even close to what I was going for.

It’s not entirely hideous, but neither is it the carefully designed set of colors I was aiming for. Mangy is the word that comes to mind, but maybe it will knit up better?

I had watched this very good tutorial on using food colors and a microwave to do handpaint dyeing, and the gal mentioned the possibility of “breaking black,” which is to say, breaking black into its component pigments. I somehow thought she meant that this would be difficult to do, not difficult to avoid, and so I blunder blithely on, thinking I could just using differing concentrations of black pigment for the different grays.

I swear that the paper towel test gave me the exact colors I was looking for. Clearly, there is something more going on in how the yarn takes up dye and I have much to learn. Especially about producing gray, because I happy to love gray at the moment, and I would like to be able to produce it consistently.

I think my next approach will be to try doing a gray ombre, with teal at one end and foregoing the brown. Hoping that the immerson bath will keep the dye more consistent and less broken. Any advice, you veteran dyers?

Resources for Dyeing Wool

Just a quick follow-up to my dyeing post–these are some of the resources I found helpful while deciding how to dye my last batch of yarn.

Using a Slow Cooker

Leethal’s post on using Kool-Aid and a slow cooker to dye yarn was very helpful the first time I dyed yarn. She uses multiple colors to produce variegated yarn–a technique I haven’t been brave enough to try yet.

Getting a Hand-Painted Look

Julie Theaker’s article at Knitty covers three different techniques. I used her slow cooker dip dye method on my most recent dyeing project and it came out beautifully.

Using a Microwave

Nell’s Instructable has some great photos and covers the technique of using a microwave. It’s a little more hands on than using a slow cooker, but definitely faster.

Getting the Right Color

It’s hard to see how the color in your dye pot will translate to yarn, but the DyeYourYarn.com has formulas for Kool-Aid, Wilton, and McCormick along with pictures of yarn samples. They also have a wide array of videos and tutorials for branching out.

Dye Another Day

Can I get a drumroll, please? (Ba da Ba da Ba da Ba da Ba da…Shiing!) I have finally finished spinning all of the roving John gave me with my first spindle! Which means…it’s time to dye again.

I was so excited to start dying that I forgot to take a picture of the skeins before starting the process.
I was so excited to start dying that I forgot to take a picture of the skeins before starting the process.

It’s been a while since I did my first dye job, and I’m finding the online tutorials to be a bit murky for my purposes. I’m going to try to break the process down for you according to what seems to be the common threads between them all.

N.B. This process is for animal fibers only and is aimed towards using food-safe dyes like Kool-Aid and icing tints.

Step 1: Skein Up!

Wrap your yarn  into a skein using a niddy noddy (or the backs of a chair). Tie your skein. I’d recommend a cotton thread that won’t take the dye so you can see the ties easily later. More ties = fewer tangles.

Step 2: Pre-Soak

Soak your yarn in water overnight. White vinegar in the water will make the yarn take up the color more quickly, which might be not so helpful in dip-dyeing but can lead to some seriously vibrant color.

Step 3: Heat

Swapping your yarn too quickly between temperatures can cause it to felt, so find a method to apply heat to your yarn and water gradually, such as a slow cooker or microwave.

Using the slow cooker to set the dye.
Using the slow cooker to set the dye.

Step 4: Acid

White vinegar is a cheap, food-safe acid that will open the yarn up to accept the color without ruining your cookware. It also softens the yarn quite a bit, which might not be a great thing if your yarn is fragile. Use your best judgment.

Step 5: Dye

I’ve used Kool-Aid once, McCormick’s food colorings get mentioned a lot, and this time I’m going to play with Wilton’s icing colorings (for which this color chart might be useful). Mix the color in water the same temp as your dye bath in a separate container and test the color on a paper towel before adding it to the yarn!

The counter is covered in plastic to protect the tiles from the dye as I pull it out in batches to get varied colors.
The counter is covered in plastic to protect the tiles from the dye as I pull it out in batches to get varied colors.

Step 6: Time

The longer the yarn sits, the more concentrated the color. If the water runs clear before the yarn has reached the color you want, add more dye. Take notes on your dye proportions if you’re doing a mixed color.

Step 7: Cool Down

Letting the yarn cool its heels until it gets close to room temp will make it easier to handle and easier to not shock the yarn when you wash it. “Shocking” yarn is apparently somewhere in between “fulling” and “felting” and is probably best avoided.

After the yarn cooled, I soaked it gentle in a water and vinegar bath to set the color.
After the yarn cooled, I soaked it gentle in a water and vinegar bath to set the color.

Step 8: Hang & Dry

Wash the yarn with wool wash in water that is not colder than the yarn. Wring it out very gently. Hang it to dry. If it’s curling back on itself, you might want to weight it down lightly by hanging a towel over the bottom loop of the skein. Be careful not to overstretch the yarn if you do this, though, or it will lose its spring.

My clothes drying rack works nicely for hanging the yarn.
My clothes drying rack works nicely for hanging the yarn.

Step 9: Hank & Store

Wind your skein into a hank and store in a place where the moths can’t get to your lovely work. I like to store my yarns in freezer bags in a big plastic bin, but you can repel moths with cedar as well.

Raspberry Sorbet Yarn, ready to be knitted up into a shawl.
Raspberry Sorbet Yarn, ready to be knitted up into a shawl.