Monday, November 9, 2015

The simple joy of making color

I love dyeing my own yarn. I love it so much that I just don't understand when people say to me, "I don't want to learn to dye." How can that be? You can make any color you want!! And if you run out, you can make more if you took good notes and were careful.

(Any color you want!)

To each their own. There are perfectly reasonable reasons not to be a dyer.

Dyeing can feel like hard work especially when in the middle of a big run. At some point last year I cut way back on the hand-dyed yarn I bring to my workshops and that has made a significant difference in my dyeing joy. Now the pots only have about 4 ounces of fiber in them, sometimes less. I rarely need more than that of a single color. And pots with small amounts of yarn heat up much quicker. And so I can dye more colors in a day. And that makes me happy. Oh I'll still bring some hand-dyed to my workshops, never fear. But much of that work is now done by someone else. (And how many people really noticed they were working with hand-dyed yarn that I created, lifting endless very heavy pots in the process? Not many. 10 gallons of water weighs about 80 pounds. I may not be as strong as I was, but my back is happier.)*

I tried something new this week. I am working on new ways to manage colors in tapestry weaving and have done some experimenting with handspun. I bought some white and brown roving when I just happened to be in was in the yarn store the other day and with the help of the most excellent Deb Menz**, I did this.
I was pretty skeptical about it at this stage. I was sure this was going to turn into two big globs of brown as the dye was setting in the steam pot. But I was wrong. It isn't perfect, but it is a skill worth perfecting.
I will spin this before the next dye trial... and I will also choose my colors a little differently next time. If it spins well and I didn't felt it, this idea will undoubtedly find its way into a tapestry soon.

I also finished these samples for the big dye run I am now doing. I dye samples in quart canning jars so I can do many at once. The first run produced this.
This was the point where I stood on the deck looking at those colors and I thought, I have finally become a dyer. I know what I'm doing and I can pull this stuff off with very few mistakes. While I will tell you that dyeing with acid wool dyes is very easy (it is!), learning what dyes to combine to make a certain color and in what proportions takes a bit longer. After ten years I can say, I'm good at this! I totally know what I'm doing.

I had to tweak about 6 colors and then I had this.

The larger amounts are being dyed now and might even be done by tomorrow. There is just that one little problem of the big tapestry still occupying the loom upon which I want to weave the next piece. It'll take me about 80 hours to finish weaving that one off. Just a few more colors in the dye studio which sounds cool but is my garage, I promise, then I'll be back to weaving... really.
* One of the great things about acid wool dyes is that all of the dye ends up in the fiber. The water is completely clear (though acidic!) when a color is finished. I can use that water over and over again for subsequent baths.
** By the way, if you want to try doing some hand painting of yarn or roving, I recommend Deb Menz's book, Color in Spinning. It is magnificent. Even if you only dye yarn and don't spin at all, this book is fantastic. In fact, I recommend everything Deb Menz has published. She is something of a color genius.


  1. Beautiful!! I'm a newbie to the dyeing art and so inspired by your results. I'm really hoping to be able to use some of my recent experiments in my final project for your course. Fingers crossed! Ha. :)

  2. love the colors. what kind of yarns do you use for your dying. do you dye any singles ignorer to blend? are all plied?

    1. These are all singles made for me by Harrisville Designs. Wool. I use three together at 8 or 10 epi. These are real singles, not plied. I do sometimes ply them myself on my spinning wheel depending on the effects I am looking for in the tapestry.

  3. I love to dye wool and also learned from the books by Deb Menz. I'm still learning how to combine dyes to get the colors I want, but I'm getting better each time I do it. Roving has been a bit trickier, due to felting, but that is also an amazing journey. Just think, you can take that roving and make it into any type of yarn you, plied, gradients, fractals, art yarn, beaded could just go on forever!

    1. I know! I love that you could go on forever. An infinite amount of possibility. I spun that roving I dyed last night--turned out fine. It was BFL which I think is a little too squishy for tapestry fiber, but if I can paint that without it felting, certainly I can paint a heartier top.


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