Oh summer, where hast thou gone? The bright mornings and the long evenings, not stumbling to and from work in the dark, and the general piece and quiet of being in a city that seems to lose a significant proportion of its inhabitants over the summer vacation… All gone… Seemingly in an instant. As I’m doing most of my dyeing outside now, it’s probably also coming towards the end of dyeing season and the start of needing the daylight lamp for any fine embroidery work. I think I start to understand why some people are seasonal silk shaders, it’s much easier when you can actually see what you’re doing!
Sometimes simplicity is best. After my last batch of dyeing, I’ve been trying to work through various colours to create a ‘palette’ to be able to spin from. The nice thing about dyeing top for spinning rather than dyeing a skein of wool directly is that this still leaves a huge number of possibilities for colour blending and mixing at different stages of the process.
Oh how I’ve missed splashing around with colours and silks. It has been far too long since I’ve had fun playing with dyes, partly out of fear of destroying my deposit for my overly white apartment. The colour scheme for most of the paint isn’t even magnolia, beige or cream, it’s brilliant white and therefore completely unforgiving on all things dirt or dye related… If anyone would like to preempt my future problems and has any advice on removing dyes from surface where it is not supposed to be, please offer away!
I’ve recently discovered the joys of sprinkle dyeing, where the dyeing process is reduced to 1) soak yarn at required pH, 2) dump powder dye directly on yarn, 3) fix dye as necessary. No solutions, no mixing, no syringing. I can actually clean up in less than five minutes after sprinkle dyeing, ideal for a busy schedule, dangerous as I am now drowning in very lurid sock yarns with no time to knit socks.
While roaming around Pinterest one day, I saw some interesting looking fabric that had been dyed using a technique known as ‘ice dyeing’. The name sounds a lot more glamorous and complicated than the technique actually is. All you do is dump a load of ice on your fabric, put powder dye on the ice and wait but, for such an easy technique, the patterns it produces are actually very interesting.
While discovering that Procion MX dyes are very happy to dye wools, I came across something else that gave me pause for thought. Although there’s not a wealth of information on using Procion MX dyes with acid, most of the advice that is out there says you need to steam or heat the fibre after applying the dye.
For acid dyes, heating the dyebath is standard practice to help fix the dyes. Fibre reactive dyes, like Procion MX, don’t require this, which is definitely an advantage when trying to do large bits of tie-dying. The standard advice when working with fibre reactive dyes on cellulose fibres and silks is to do your dyeing, then leave your fibre damp with the dye on it for at least a good few hours, closer to 24, if you want strong colours.
As I tend to like very intense, saturated colours, I tend to err on the side of giving the dye a longer reaction time. For some short-sighted reason, I’d always assumed that there was some kind of degradation of the Procion dyes at higher temperatures, hence leaving them to react at ‘room temperature’ but seeing as steaming the wool lately with Procion dyes had worked just fine, that obviously couldn’t be the case.
Was there really a way to go speed up Procion dyeing so I didn’t have to wait so long to see what wonderful mess I’d made?
A common theme of frustration since I’ve started dyeing has been how difficult it can be to get good, informative resources on the hows and whys of certain dyeing techniques. For most other techniques, I have a series of ‘go to’ reference books which I can consult to at least have some idea of what I’m doing but I’ve yet to find something similar for dyeing. Fellow dyers, what is your favourite literature on the subject?
I’d seen in a few places that Procion MX dyes could in fact to be used to dye wools, as well as cellulous fibres and silk. The only thing you needed to change to use Procion MX dyes with wool is that, instead of using an alkaline dye bath with soda ash, you needed something acidic instead.
There was some ambiguity in the sources I’d read as to whether the wool could be left in the dye to react just at room temperature or required steaming, so I thought I’d give up reading and just see what results I’d get for myself.
When you first start dyeing, there’s an overwhelming range of colours to choose from. As well as thinking about what kind of materials you want to be dyeing, whether you are going to need any auxiliary chemicals for the techniques you want to use, you need to think about what set of dyes you’re going to use to get you started.
Now this is all a lot easier if you have an infinite budget and the cupboard space to match. You can just buy a bit of everything to try. Some suppliers offer ‘starter kits’ as well, with smaller amounts of a range of different dyes to get started. Many dyers will tell you though that all you need is a small select palette and you can mix the rest. So is it really worth investing in a big range of different dyes?
Sod’s Law for Crafters says that, no matter how big your stash, you still will never have the right material for the project at hand. Having recently started weaving, that saying is more true than ever. All of my non-acrylic yarns are committed to projects and I don’t have quite the volume of silk I’d need for a decent sized warp.
That meant it was time to indulge myself in a bit of ‘necessity’ shopping. Shopping for weaving threads is quite an experience, particularly as a UK resident. ‘wc’, ‘nm’, ‘cc’ are all units you might see, as well as various fractions, weight per length and often, a complete absence of any useful information.
When it comes to colours, I like a palate that could be described as ‘bright and bold’ or, if you were feeling less complimentary, lurid. Typically, I use acid dyes for silk and wool, partly out of habit, partly because I don’t generally spin plant fibres, so haven’t needed to dye them. However, I’ve had a few people now say that if you want the boldest, brightest colours for silks, then it’s Procion MX dyes you need to use.
Procion MX dyes are a type of fibre reactive dye and as they are out of patent, a lot of different manufacturers now make them. There are a few kinds of Procion dyes, but the MX part of the name refers to the cold reactive dyes that are ideal for dyeing silks, cottons and even wood. Probably the biggest distinction between them and acid dyes is that with Procion MX dyes, you don’t need to heat the dye to get it to fix. You also generally dye at alkaline pHs with them too. (It is possible to use them at acidic pHs on silk but that’s not what I’ll be worrying about here.)
New dyes means new stock solutions, so I started by making up about 5 % dye solutions in a range of different colours. One advantage of acid dyes is they keep very well so you can make up your stock solutions and keep them hanging around in a cupboard until you next need them. Procion MX dyes are not so stable; if you don’t add any acid/alkaline to them, the solutions will last about a week but as soon as you add the soda ash, the dyes start to react much more quickly and will only last a few hours.