Dyeing Sock Yarns (In Pairs!)

Maybe it’s the dour dark nights of winter drawing in already but I’ve been finding myself really craving working with fibre. It’s been a struggle not to cast something new one the needles, but I have had the wheel out and some delightful yak for a bit of sampling work I hope to share soon. Somewhat dangerously, I did end up going to the virtual Indie Untangled Trunk Show, which is probably what inspired the current bit of dyeing.

As Indie Untangled, I figured I would probably be safe from buying too much from there. While I do like buying skeins as souvenirs when I go somewhere cool, I try to keep myself on a relatively strict yarn diet. As those of you who have been following the Sockhead Hat saga, I’m not the quickest knitter and it has got to the stage where doing crochet with even size 10 thread feels like using jumbo yarns, so I am strictly a lace person there.

I mostly lurked around ooh-ing and aah-ing at other people’s ninja-like knitting skills and the wonders of their hand-dyed displays. It was great to discover a few new dyers whose work I love. I like my colours strong, and it doesn’t get much more intense than Deep Dyed Yarns pieces! I was also in admiration at all the mosaic knitting pieces which seems to be very much on-trend at the moment.

Whoops, Kemtex Black…

While I left fibre-less from the festival, I definitely left wanting to have a go at a hundred new things and feeling inspired to dye some new yarns. I really love indie dyed pieces – I think I am ruined for standard yarns forever, because even for solid colours, I love those subtle tonal variations you get that make the piece feel so much more alive. However, while other people’s skeins always catch my eye and get in the inner colour magpie crowing, I do sometimes wonder if I could manage to make a lots of the colourways myself, customised to exactly what I wanted.

I had a few skeins of sock yarn bases left over and so I decided to set myself the challenge of dyeing a yarn pair in colours to complement each other, one dark and one light. I did consider whether to go as far as dyeing specifically for a pattern but that seemed far too disorganised and trying to dye a pair of skeins rather than my usual random approach to everything was already enough like organisation for me.

I’d decided to opt for going for a dark/light pair in similar blue/green shades. One I’d run at full saturation, so approximately 5 % dye concentrations and the other I would go ‘as low as I could bear’. This was probably the most painful bit of dyeing I had ever done. It was torture trying to resist concentrating up the dyes and slapping on lots of flashes of interesting things but I tried to stick to the plan as intended… That was the point of the plan after all.

This skein is mostly a mixture of Kemtex Turqouise, Emerald and a tiny bit of Blue, all from their acid dyes. As this base is 85 % merino and 15 % nylon, I much prefer acid dyes. You can use Procion MX dyes with acid conditions and they’ll dye wool, and to a lesser extent nylon, just fine but, if you have a choice of acid or Procion MX for this blend, I’d pick the acid dyes every time. Colours are brighter and more predictable in my experience.

The second skein was much easier. On the first it had been an agonising balance of trying to colour everything but not swamp the skein with dye, but on the second one I could just whack everything up to higher concentrations and play a little more. I kept to the same colour scheme, just used a lot more dye and there’s a lot more colour mixing in this one too.

To add a little more interest, I did try and sprinkle some Kemtex Black on but as per usual that went well until part of the skein disappeared under an unintentionally large cloud of charcoal. Whoops!

I’ve mostly been working with Procion MX dyes lately but one of the things I’ve really missed about a bit of yarn ‘cooking’, where you set the dyes with heat is that there’s so little rinsing to do after. While I usually err on the side of a little too much dye as I love bright, intense colours, I still find I get very little run off when steaming and nearly nothing comes out in the rinse. Given what a pain it can be to clean up sometimes, this is a welcome relief!

With summer gone, the skeins had to come inside to dry and I am very glad I have discovered the weird radiator hanger things for drying clothes on radiators. They’re very convenient for skein drying as they keep the potential dye-staining yarn away from anything and you can just leave a bucket under it to catch any drips.

Since I started having problems with colours looking ‘washed out’ despite dyeing at 5 % + concentrations, I’ve always been quite careful to make sure my skeins are relatively dry before dyeing. This is much easier with yarn than top as top tends to hold onto the liquid much better. For the paler skein perhaps I was too cautious and there are a few more white patches than I would have liked and perhaps I could have even been slightly more bold on the colouring. I had felt the dye would wick more through the yarn but as I’d been so conservative on everything, this ended up leaving some patches that were, in my opinion, undyed.

However, much as it is not ‘my thing’ and I much prefer its more vibrant, lively sibling, there are some lovely subtle changes in the paler skein and it has this same ethereal ‘glow’ to it that the darker one does as well. I would have worked to add more tones and complexity into it but it is excellent proof that I can occasionally show restraint and even go for tasteful.

The darker skein is wonderful. I had been worried that the excess of Kemtex Black would just kill large patches as I had covered much larger areas but instead it just added a little more interest in places and isn’t too overwhelming. There are some gorgeous mallard blues and teals in this and I just love the green undercurrents. Again, I had misjudged the dye mobility slightly for this one and there are a few whiter streaks, but overall, I’m really pleased.

Please excuse the skeining for all of these shots. I don’t know why this particular supplier seems to make skeins that always feel to me really horrible to handle (I usually add extra ties for dyeing as a ‘just in case’) but I am too lazy to reskein for aesthetics.

As Socktober draws to a close, do any of you fabulous sock knitting experts have any (idiot-proof!) sock patterns you’d recommend for this colour combo? I’d love to see some suggestions!

10 thoughts on “Dyeing Sock Yarns (In Pairs!)

    • Thank you! I think keeping the choice of dyes relatively restricted so they at least have the same ‘base’ colours helped with this and trying to to do my usual ‘get the entire selection out of the closet…’

      Liked by 1 person

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