Category Archives: Dyes

Exploring the Black, a dye reference e-book

I was invited to present a talk about dyeing with black to a weaving study group this weekend. They knew that black was a challenging color and wondered if I could provide some tips and tricks for working with black dyes. I usually skip over black in my beginning dye classes because it is challenging and I think it is confusing for beginners when one color breaks all the rules.

So I spent a couple of days dyeing and photographing samples. I worked with 3 dyes (2 for plant fibers and 1 for animal fibers) and 27 different substrates (fabric, roving, ribbon, yarn). I asked friends of mine, who have years of dyeing experience, for their tips for working with black and I incorporated those into my samples. When I got done, I realized that I had way more information than would reasonably fit in a class handout, so I put it all together into a 28-page e-book. It’s not an instruction book about how to dye, but it is a reference manual for how black dyes are influenced by fiber choice, temperature, salt and more. You can get it at my Etsy shop and see sample pages and more info there.

Upcoming Class: Handpainted Skeins


These are snapshots of the student’s work in progress from the last time I taught this class (plus some finished yarn balls).  On Sunday October 25, I am teaching “Handpainted Skeins” for the Weavers Guild of MN.  We are going to focus on dyeing yarns made from animal fibers: wool, alpaca etc and some nylon. I teach how to dye several styles of skeins in this class.  Semi-solids are basically one color but have variations of light and dark.  Self-striping are divided up and dyed in sections so that you can get a striped effect when you knit it up.  Confetti skeins have lots of different colors but can read as one color from a distance.  We will also talk about some techniques for overdyeing, both starting with yarns that aren’t white and learning to overdye as a way of creating a cohesive colorway.  It is a fun fun class and you will leave with several mini-skeins (which we use to practice technique and test out colors) and then you will have time to dye 1-2 of your own skeins.  Class will be held at the Weavers Guild.  (It’s past the deadline to register online, but you can call and still get in!)


Purple Ninjas and why I hate RIT Dye

20110210-081123.jpgAnother conversation, another blog post.   This week the topic of conversation has been all about dyeing.  We have been gearing up for summer camp at work and we do a lot of dye projects.  We have a dye lab and so it makes it very easy for us to do really great dyeing.  I have discovered that there is a LOT of mis-information about how and what to dye, so I thought it might be helpful to post some information in the hopes that someone might Google this someday and get some help.  I have been the supervisor of the dye lab for about 8 years now, so I have seen a lot of techniques.  I am not going to say that any of these things I am suggesting are the right way to do this (there is no one right way), but these are the things I have learned that should improve your chances of success.

What’s your fiber?

So there are lots of kinds of dye and each one of them is great with a certain kind of fabric.  So the first thing to do is to figure out what fabric you are working with.  Read the tag, check the label.  You can even do a burn test if you are totally stumped.  If you have a blend that is at least 80% something, you should follow the instructions for the predominant fiber.  For instance, we dye 80% wool/20% rayon felt (using the instructions for dyeing wool) and get a nice heathered kind of appearance because the wool takes the dye and the rayon doesn’t.

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(Click to download a .pdf of my Dye Chart and to be able to see it larger.)  Once you have figured out what fiber you have, then you can find out what kind of dye you need to use. I have given you very very simple instructions for each dye.  Check out Dharma Trading’s website for really great how to’s for working with all of the different dyes.  They are a great source for ordering both dyes and dyeable fabrics too.

In a nutshell

The reason dyes work is that there is a chemical reaction going on between the fiber and the dye solution.  Molecules of the fiber react with molecules of the dye to make a (hopefully) permanent chemical bond.  If you get the chemistry right, you will have great colorfast dyed fabrics that don’t bleed and fade.  If not, you might have purple ninjas.  But more about that later.

Just in summary…

Cotton & plant fibers • Procion/Fiber Reactive/MX  dye •  needs soda ash • NO heat

Wool & animal fibers • Acid dye • Needs vinegar/citric acid • Needs heat

Polyester • iDye Poly • Needs heat

Silk • Dye like plant fibers or animal fibers with slightly different results

A few interesting facts.  Nylon behaves like animal fibers when it comes to dye.  You can make really cute tights and camisole dresses by dyeing thrift store finds that are nylon fabrics.  Koolaid works great to dye wool because it contains two key components: dyes and citric acid.  You can’t dye acrylic.  They just don’t make consumer dyes that can do it.  There is also one more class of dyes called “sublimation dyes”, which work on most man-made fibers and are activated by vaporizing the dye under high heat.  That is what is in Crayola Fabric Crayons.  But the process is SO different for these, I am just leaving it at that.  I am also not going to go in to natural dyes.  Totally amazing and cool, but the chemistry for those is a whole other art form.

Purple Ninjas?

You will notice that RIT dye is nowhere on any of my lists.  Why?  RIT is a Frankenstein Dye.  Because they want to make it work with anything you throw at it and so they can say it dyes anything, they mix together all kinds of dyes in one little packet.  In the mixture there is bound to be the right molecule to bind with whatever fiber is dropped in the dye bath.  The problem is that in trying to do everything, it really does nothing very well at all.  All of those extra chemicals just get in each others way and the heat/salt/acid that one reaction needs, makes some other ones not work so well.  So the overall result is everything works a little and nothing works very well.  A good friend emailed me just before Halloween a few years ago with an example of just this effect.  While trying to make a ninja costume in proper ninja black, she got something more like yucky faded purple.  Black is a hard color to dye even if you are using exactly the right chemistry; throw in some Frankenstein and you get nothing close to black at all.

So it turns out….

…that sometimes it is more important to live your life than it is to write about it.  There has been a lot going on behind the scenes here and I had other places where I needed to spend my time and energy.  But spring is finally in the air a little bit and I feel like clearing a few cobwebs.

Just a few weeks ago I lost two very dear ladies in my life.  My Gramma Muriel was a storyteller.  She made up adventure stories for us when we were kids and told them to us while she buzzed around the kitchen at the farm house.   The last time I saw her, my husband and I spent a wonderful quiet evening with her just talking.  She told us about all kinds of things in her apartment that were special to her and funny stories about my dad.  She loved to read and we talked about books (we liked the same kinds of stories).  She taught me to do the lazy daisy stitch which has always been one of my very favorites and she gave me my first sewing box.  I remember thinking it was so weird because it was full of all these strange tools like seam gauges and bodkins.  I know she was so proud that I know exactly how use all of those tools now.

We also lost our darling Lucy Thunderpaw, age 16 1/2.  We got her from the humane society over Christmas vacation when she was just a little pup .  She was an “overstock clearance” because the shelter had too many puppies since they don’t usually adopt out over the holidays (too many come back).  She was a crazy handful of a puppy and a truly sweet and loving old lady.

So there is lots more interwoven between those stories and our lives, but that is enough to say for here and now.

We also celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary this last weekend and a dear friend got married.  When you see her face in the photos you can’t help but smile right along with her.  We planted heirloom tomatoes that a friend started from seed – beautiful sturdy plants.  The blue flag iris and the bluebells are blooming at home and although I am not there to see them, my mom has been taking and posting gorgeous photos of them.

20130530-190559.jpgI haven’t had time to really make any art, but I did decide to take an hour and do something  purely for fun this afternoon.  This is mawata silk.  That means it is silk cocoons that have been scoured (washed) and stretched out into a square shape layer by layer.  Each layer is one continuous fiber.  My friend Doreen dyed them.  I am knitting them, straight from the fiber.  Because I can.  You pull up one layer, stretch it and draft it out into a big soft “rope” and just knit.  The Yarn Harlot caused a big trend making mittens this way.  I am making nothing in particular except that it is soft and shiny and highly entertaining.



Happy New Year

Hello there blog.  It’s been a while.  I have been reading all kinds of inspirational posts on all of the blogs I follow all about the year in review and all of the things everyone talked about and most popular posts and all of the goals for all of the things that they want to do.  I saw one whole post that was 12 different projects for the holidays that were all carefully color coordinated with tutorials and downloads and printables.  And while I actually enjoy reading it from everyone else, it just makes me wonder how some people have time to do that kind reminiscing and collecting of old posts and analyzing.  I would much rather spend my Christmas break cooking and reading and spending some time with my darling husband and elderly hound who I haven’t seen enough of this fall.

So none of that here.  I am sorry that I haven’t been posting much.  Not so much sorry for you, although I enormously appreciate all of you that read and lurk and comment, but really for myself.  This blog over the years has become a journal (hence the name) of all of my projects and I look back and reference things here all the time.  I love the idea of keeping a beautiful journal but the reality is, I am not a journal kind of girl.  But this blog works for me and I love it.  The last few months have been a challenge.  It’s been nothing earth shattering.  The people I love are safe and well.  I am safe and well, but I have been creatively and professionally challenged in ways that have squeezed a lot of what I am willing or able to share here in to a trickle.  It’s been stressful in good and bad ways and it has made me re-prioritize some things and totally drop the ball on a few things (which makes me crazy) and just plain let some things go.

But, I think we are heading towards the end of the drought and in that spirit, I have some Christmas presents that I am really proud of to share with you.  The handmade gifts were very carefully planned this year and although they didn’t arrive quite on time, they turned out beautifully and I am happy with them (and I believe the recipients were too.)

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Mom got a handwoven camera strap (or maybe it is for binoculars).  She is a major birdwatcher and wildlife photographer, so she will use this, I think.  It is a pick up pattern on an inkle loom, made with 5/2 perle cotton, a few scraps of ultra suede, and some webbing/buckles I found on Etsy.  A pick up pattern is similar to brocade fabric, you choose threads out of the pattern and pick them up to float on top of the regular weave.  That is what is making the zig-zag/diamond pattern you can see.

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Next, my youngest niece and nephew (ages 2 and 4) got a “Map to Uncle Andy & Auntie Becky’s House”.  I took a google map of our neighborhood, traced/simplified it in Illustrator and printed a fabric “map” of our neighborhood. (Thank you Spoonflower!)  I didn’t think it was too smart to post a map to my house for the whole internet to see, so you get a section of it so you get the idea.  We added all of the best parts of our neighborhood, like the pool down the street and the very important location of the coffee shop and the pizza place.  I filled in between the streets with photos of textures – grass, gravel, sand.  I found the little tiny cars and was really thrilled to get a set with a police car, fire truck, garbage truck and parking enforcement.  Then finally three big dice with different locations on each face so you can roll the dice and drive to each location, making a very simple game for them to play.  Mommy has to read the words right now, but I think after not too long they will start to recognize the words on their own.  This niece and nephew live out in very rural farm country and so the city is a pretty fun thing to play pretend about.

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My youngest sister got the (hopefully) ultra cool accessory of the season.  A giant cowl made from baby alpaca with a tiny bit of sparkle.  This thing is seriously decadent.  Seed stitch with a half twist before I seamed it up, so it has a little mobius shape happening.

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Mom got the poker chip silk scarf.  I hosted a “dye day” just before Christmas for my new co-workers to make gifts for their family members and I did this one and knew that my mom had to have it.  It is a technique called itajime shibori and is folded and then clamped with poker chips (top and bottom of the folded scarf) held in place with clothespins.  Then you add the dye and the poker chips mostly keep the dye out and leave polkadots.  (You can get fancier tighter clamps and make the resist shapes very distinct, but I like this more organic look better.)

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Finally, it was the year of the bat for my dad.  He is an architect and one of his projects this year involved some renovation on some historic buildings.  Historic buildings that happen to be home to an endangered species of bat.  (Which means you have to remove the bats before you can renovate and you just can’t even imagine what that involves.)  So the bat jokes and puns have been a thing this year.  I found a great collection of other batty items for him on Etsy (which I will show off tomorrow), but this ornament was my contribution.  A snoozing bat for the Christmas tree.  (He’s about 3 inches long.)

Hoping you all had a creative and peaceful holiday with your loved ones.  Cheers to the new year!

Sniffing Glue

Polyvinyl acetate aka the good stuff

I just finished ranting about hot glue and four year olds over on Facebook and I thought I should share with you at the blog.  We have a dye lab where I work, which is a super-cool-amazing classroom space that is set up for just about every kind of messy project out there AND you can rent it for the day and do all of your messy projects right there.  It has 4 ventilation hoods, it has safety equipment, it has washers and stainless steel counters.  It is seriously cool.

It is also the place where strange things go to die (and I don’t mean dye!)  Because it is a shared space, strange chemicals sometimes wander in and then don’t go back to their rightful homes.  About twice a year, I go through all of the shelves and boxes and sort out the mystery chemicals.  Sometimes it is things like laundry soap or salt, which are easy to get rid of, but sometimes it is things I don’t know what to do with, like glacial acetic acid or urea.  I don’t want to just dump things down the sink without neutralizing them or disposing of them safely.

So I always spend some time with MSDS sheets.  That stands for Materials Safety Data Sheet.  You can look up nearly any chemical and see what it is, what it does, what you should worry about and how to get rid of it.  Very useful.

So I looked up ethylene vinyl acetate, aka hot glue.

Hazardous decomposition products:  ACETIC ACID, TOXIC AND IRRITATING FUMES AT TEMPERATURES >204 °C.

Hmmm.  So I looked some more.  Hot glue melts between 250-380 degrees.  Easily hot enough to release bad fumes.  No other major red flags, but enough there to make me not want to use it with a classroom of kids without some good ventilation.  (And that’s ignoring the fact that it is hotter than boiling water and I don’t want anybody burning themselves.)

How to find them?  You can google “MSDS” with the name of the chemical.  ProChem (where we order a lot of the dye lab chemicals) has MSDS for all of their products posted right on their website.  Dharma does too.  End PSA.

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