After making many test swatches, I finally got my nerve up to try over-dyeing all the yarn I salvaged from the sweater I found all those weeks ago. The original color was yellow-green, and I wanted to go for a range of greens, blues, yellows.
I chose the microwave method of dyeing, for the ease and instant gratification of it. For anyone who’s interested in trying their hand at this, it is time-consuming, but quite straight forward. You will need:
– Kool-Aid, or equivalent powdered drink mix, in flavors/colors to achieve your desired colorway
– a squirt bottle/applicator bottle. I got mine at a beauty supply store. It’s the kind used to apply hair-dye.
– a microwave-safe, high-sided dish
– a flat sheet of water-resistant material. An unopened garbage works fine, or a large plastic bag cut into a flat sheet.
– a microwave with a timer
The first thing you want to do, after making test swatches and picking your favorites, is plan your colorway. Keep in mind that related colors (i.e. blue and green or red and orange) blend more readily into each other, while complimentary colors (orange and blue, purple and yellow), always make brown or gray when mixed.
I knew I wanted my colorway to run from yellow to green to blue to purple. To get from purple back to yellow, I was going to have to go through brown (purple and yellow are complimentary colors) but I decided that was OK.
One you know where you’re going, you want to get the yarn ready for dying. First, you need to get it into a long skein. I used the back of two chairs, set about three feet away from each other. I used strips of rag to tie the skein in four place, to keep it nice and neat. (Note, if you tie too tightly, you may make an inadvertent “resist”, that is, an area that is covered, so that the dye does not penetrate it and it stays the original color. This technique is used deliberately in some dyeing methods, like tie-dye, but it’s not what I was going for here. I left the ties quite loose and made sure the dye penetrated under them in each bath.)
Once the skein is nicely tied off, you want to get it wet. I soaked my wool for about fifteen minutes. Wetter wool is more porous and accepts dye more easily. Some people recommend a longer soak, up to an hour, but I’m impatient. 🙂 After you finish soaking, lifting yarn out of soak bath and softly squeeze out excess water.
Cover your microwave safe casserole dish with your garbage bag (or other water-resistant sheeting) and lay a section of your damp yarn — however much you want to dye in your first bath — in the bottom of the dish.
Mix your dye formula to the specifications your determined while making your test swatches. First, pour dry drink powder into squirt bottle. The rule of thumb I read was 2-3 grams of powder to 1 ounce of yarn. (Kool-Aid packets are 3.6 grams each.) Add water to bottle, screw on applicator cap, and shake well.
Squirt dye bath into section of yarn to be dyed, making sure to penetrate all the yarn in the skein. I found that lifting the ends of the dyed section out of the bath and draping them over the edge of the dish allowed the dye to run back out of the fiber and help create more subtle blending between color sections.
To further blend color sections, I used dye baths that overlapped in color: first a yellow bath, then a yellow-green bath, then green, then green-blue, blue-green, blue, etc. This requires a little time and thought, but the results are really worth it.
Once your dye bath is applied to the yarn, fold the edges of the garbage bag up around the yarn and dye bath and arrange undyed yarn on top, making sure undyed yarn is not coming into contact with dye bath.
Place the dish in the microwave and zap for 1 minute 30 seconds. Allow to set for a minute or so, then zap for 1 minute 30 seconds again. Give the yarn a moment to cool, then bring out of the microwave and check the color.
If the yarn has absorbed all the dye, then the bath will be clear or milky (that’s how you know it’s “exhausted”) and the water running from the yarn will also be clear. Be careful lifting the yarn out of the exhausted bath, as it will be quite hot.
Hang the yarn up, preferably outside, to drip, and/or give it a gentle squeeze. You want to excess water out (so you can work with the skein without getting water everywhere) but you don’t want to wool to dry out all the way, or you will have to soak it again.
When excess water is out, you are ready to mix the next dye bath and dye the next section. When you dye the next section, you may want to overlap the dye sections by including some of the section you just dyed in the next dye bath. This helps make a smooth color transition between sections.
Keep repeating until you make your way all the way around the skein, and “marry” the last dyed section to the first. Then hang up to dry completely. Yay! You have hand-painted yarn.
I’m pretty happy with how this turned out. The transition between the purple in the last section and the yellow in the first section made an olive/rust/brown patch in the colorway, but I was expecting it, and not unhappy with it. For my first experiment with handpainting, I’m pretty stoked. The colors remind me of a peacock. I’ll have to find a pattern that makes the most of that. (Suggestions welcome!)