Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dyeing: Cotton II

At last -- the fun part. Start by applying the dye directly from the jars to the floss. Use eyedroppers or plastic spoons.

Observe and learn. You're working with fat little ropes of cotton floss, and if you paint in broad strokes from right to left, when you turn the skein over, it'll be white on the underside. But if you drop the dye in one area, it soaks through the skein to the bottom. Think about stitching with a skein of floss that is a solid dark color on one side, that is, for the first three or four yards, and . . . something else on the other, the last three or four yards. Mottling the color on the skeins is desirable, but you want to do it evenly. Experiment!

Change the colors by dropping the color direct from the jar onto the floss, then taking the same color and diluting it (Slightly? A lot? What's your pleasure?) and painting in between the dark colors.

If the contrast between the dark and light blotches is too garish for your liking, squeeze the wet skein and moosh it all together. The contrast will lessen as the dark and light areas all soak together. This is why you bought a two thousand yard cone of floss! Invest some of it in your education. Try this, try that, learn what works and what doesn't, what you like and what you don't like. You can't really judge dyed floss until the end of the process when it's completely dry, so you're sort of flying blind at this point. But experience will inform your work quickly.

When you're done painting the three skeins, look them over to be sure you haven't left any areas of pure white.

Then lay a sheet of paper towel over them and press to absorb the extra liquid. You don't want to take a dripping wet skein to the next step.

Put a clean paper towel on your plastic plate and lay your dyed skeins on it. Don't let the skeins touch each other, for they will stain. Be especially careful with pale colors next to dark colors.

Take your plate over to the prepared plastic wrap strips and lay a skein on each strip. When you touch the skein you may stain your glove fingers -- be careful not to transfer that color to the other skeins. Then return to your work station and dip your gloved hands in the pan of water at your feet; dry them with a paper towel and then use that wet paper towel to quickly swipe the surface of the plastic plate you've brought with you. Wipe off the glass or discard the sheet of waxed paper and take another. Lay out another three skeins of floss.

Once you've created a skein from each of the dye jar colors, it's time to mix colors. I'm going to leave this part to you and your imagination. Remembering how the color wheel works, mix and combine colors, streak with additional colors. Have fun. Remember not to make one side of the skein totally different from the other side -- let the dye soak through.

Here's a technique to try: Underdye with a common color. Here I've used pale yellow; khaki is another useful color. Blot the skein, then overdye with another color. The resulting skein colors will work together in a subtle way. This is especially useful for preparing sampler threads whose colors you want dulled down in a uniform manner.

When enough of your skeins have been dyed to fill the strips of plastic wrap you've laid out, it's time to wrap the skeins. Move the skein closer to one edge of the wrap and fold the wrap over it. Then, starting from one end, roll the skein to completely enclose it in the plastic.

Work from one end to the other, and set the wrapped skein aside.

Using a garage sale glass cake pan or two (or six!), fold the skein in half and then in half again and lay it in the pan. Keep a single layer of floss, though you can pack that layer fairly snugly.

Now we allow that dyed, wrapped floss to cure. You want to put it in a warm place. Because I dye during the summer, I put my glass pans of floss out on the back porch step to cook in the sun. To keep the sun from beating directly on the floss and fading it, I cover it with a piece of dark fabric (which absorbs heat) -- here I'm using garage sale placemats cut to the size of the pan. I like to give the pans a full day of sun. If I put them out in the afternoon, I leave them until the following afternoon. (Watch out for rain, of course.)

When they have been taken in and cooled, carefully remove the plastic wrap from the skeins -- but NOT the nylon net. Now you'll begin the rinsing process. You will find abbreviated instructions for this in many places, and they go something like this: rinse in cold water and then wash in hot water. But I had the good fortune to stumble upon printed material produced by the Jacquard Company, which makes a line of MX dyes. IT said to soak in cold water, then in cool water, then in slightly warmer water, then in slightly warmer water, and THEN wash in hot water.

Bake in the sun, rinse in a series of cool-to-warm rinses -- these two steps changed my work. For the first time I was able to get really, really dense, saturated colors.

You will need bowls to soak your floss. I like to separate the color families and keep the dark floss separated from the light to be certain there's no staining. (Unlike some types of dye, MX rinse water is always colored -- you didn't do anything wrong.) After struggling with piles of odd crockery to accomplish this, I stumbled upon the Wal-Mart aisle full of acrylic serveware in summer colors. It all goes on sale as summer winds down, and I found these three acrylic bowls -- lightweight, nest together for storage -- for $4 apiece. This allows me to separate the color families and move them all together through the rising temperature rinses.

Take your time with these soaks. My first soak is an hour, the second 45 minutes, the third a half hour.

Finally, I wash them in hot water and Synthropol textile detergent (an alternative is Dawn dish detergent). Rinse until the suds are gone, and squeeze them dry.

At this point I remove my cotton skeins from their netting (*carefully* snip one end off and draw the skein out) and open them up so they'll dry all the way through. I hang them to dry on a pasta drying rack (procured from a garage sale, of course).

Dyeing: Cotton I

Begin with one of your dye additives: soda ash, or, as ProChem calls it, "Dye Activator." This is a powder, and is a caustic material: don't breathe it and try not to get it on your skin (wash with water if you do). This product is essentially super-strength washing soda. Wear gloves and keep your face away from the jar as you measure. You'll want to add 1/4 cup of soda ash to a quart jar of water; fill the jar half full of warm (not hot) water, put in the soda ash, stir until it dissolves, then top off the jar with cold water and stir it all together.

When it has fully dissolved, pour the entire quart into one of your garage sale glass dishes: a bowl or casserole dish. Sink your netted, washed cotton floss skeins into it. Be sure they are immersed and leave them for at least a half hour.

Set up a workstation. I've fallen in love with Wal-mart's little fold-in-the-middle white plastic tables (with very sturdy legs). This is my workstation in the corner of my fabulously appointed dye studio. Lay down protective materials over the tabletop. I use heavy clear plastic (available by the roll at the hardware store) and then newspapers over that.

At another place in the room -- another table if you have it, prepared with a protective covering -- lay out strips of plastic wrap. Each strip should be slightly longer than the skeins you've prepared.

After the strips are laid out, cut each strip down the middle.

Back to the workstation: Assemble your jars full of already prepared dye, plastic spoons, and whatever you have at hand to mix colors in: custard cups, baby food jars, bowls, plates. You'll want paper towels nearby. I also like to use eyedroppers. Dharma Trading carries a line of large eyedroppers (6/$3.95) that have far greater capacity than ordinary drugstore eyedroppers. And I like to have a cup or jar to scoop water from the pan of clean water at my feet.

Recently I found a glass deviled egg platter at a thrift shop and it works wonderfully as a palette.

It has unexpectedly changed my work for the better, made my colors far more complex, for it's easy to mix a little of this, a little of that without worrying about creating a whole custard cup full of something that doesn't work.

Have at your feet a waste container (a brown paper bag works well), a pan or pail of water to dilute your dyes and also to rinse your hands in, and a bucket for colored waste water. A word about water: dyes react with the minerals in water, and dye companies recommend using distilled or softened water. I use the water from my basement dehumidifier reservoir, which is distilled water.

I use large disposable plastic plates to ferry my floss around. One for floss fresh from the soda ash bath, one to carry the dyed floss to the wrapping table.

Open the dye jars you will use in this session and set a plastic spoon in each. I like to have two jars with plain water in them at hand so I can drop stained spoons and eyedroppers into them before the dye dries. You will need something waterproof to hold your skeins while you paint them. I originally used sheets of waxed paper, and then a repairman replacing the glass in my oven door offered me a second pane of oven door glass he'd brought by accident saying he'd dispose of it if I didn't want it. It's double-thick and the edges are sanded -- it's been a wonderful addition to my workstation.

Bring your plastic plate over to the skeins soaking in soda ash. Take the skeins out a handful at a time, squeeze them dry and bring them all on the plate to your workstation. Lay three of them out on the waxed paper or glass, and you're ready to begin.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Goal!

Whew. Enough with the lists, with the procedures, with the blah blah blah. Let's not forget why we're all here. Before we plunge into the actual dyeing, I want to remind us all why we're doing this. Here's some eye candy, some unabashed show and tell of completed work so far this summer.

This is about 2/3 of my cotton floss to date,

ironed and skeined.

And this is my silk,

unironed and unskeined.

(I decided I had autumn to do that part, and

ought to concentrate on the dyeing.)

This isn't brain surgery, friends. It's all produced via simple materials and procedures, using dyes that are marketed as ideal for children to use. You need not be an artist or a scientist to make beautiful threads for yourself. And when you've accomplished this, you will have, in addition to a spectacular stash, some wonderful currency for bartering! Take five of your thirty-yard cotton skeins and break each down into six five yard skeins. Now you have six complete sets of five different colored skeins. You've seen, and will see here some simple weaving equipment put to good use. Make friends with a weaver! Borrow her warping board or umbrella swift, or niddy-noddy for the weekend to prepare your threads, and return it/them with an array of colorful skeins for her own embroidery as a thank-you gift.

Struggle to shop for goodies to include with your cross-stitch exchanges? What about skeins of your own threads? Use your computer's word processing program to design and print lovely hang tags for them: "Threads by (whomever)." Are you familiar with Fish Pepper? Soot? Deadly Nightshade? Apply your own lovely evocative names to the colors you've created and write them on your hang tags.

Ready? Enthused? Let's dye.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Preparation: Dye

Your dye will come from the vendor in small jars of powder. One particularly useful form of MX dye for the beginner is starter kits from Pro Chemical and Dye.
Look for the "Reactive 6 Dye MX Sampler," for example. This has everything you will need to mix up 8-ounce jars of working solutions in six colors. Another option is the MX Dye Sampler/Cool Primaries or the MX Dye Sampler/Warm Primaries. Each of these has four jars -- the three primary colors and black. All three of these samplers are the same price, $10.95, but the Cool/Warm Primaries samplers have twenty-gram jars of dye and the 6 Dye Sampler jars are ten grams. If you're particularly interested in a range of warm colors, take a look at the "Autumn Blend 6 Dye Sampler:" Turkey Red, Tangerine, Rust Brown, Eggplant . . . These sure look like sampler colors to me.

If you know about or are willing to learn about the color wheel and color mixing you can buy fewer jars of dye and mix the colors yourself. It's easy and fun!

In addition to your dyes, you will need a small bottle of Synthropol, a special textile detergent, and Soda Ash (or, as Pro Chemical calls it, "Dye Activator"). You will find these additives are included in any of the Pro Chemical starter kits described above.

All dyes need to be mixed with care. Dry dye in particular must always be respected. This is what well-known dye scientist Dr. Paula Burch says about dry MX dye:

Be careful when you measure out the dye...leave the jars open as short a time as possible, and use a face mask. Don't breathe dye! The stuff isn't very toxic, but you can become sensitized to it, which would put an end forever to your dyeing.
Her website is a treasure trove of information and FAQ's about dyeing of all types. Having the wisdom of an expert like this accessible to home dyers is beyond wonderful. The woman is a goddess, I tell you.

Don't work where you'll be distracted; don't work around children. Use a paper dust mask to avoid breathing the dye powder, and wear gloves. Lay down a newspaper under your work, spritz it with water, and any loose dry dye that falls on it will soak in and stay in place. Some dyers set up a cardboard box on its side with the inside spritzed with water, and mix their dyes inside the box.

How I Mix My Dyes

I work in a basement, and I use my laundry tub for this task. I line the tub with newspapers and spray them down with water. I set my 8-oz. canning jars, with about an inch of room-temperature water in each, on the newspaper down in the tub. I set the dye jars down on the newspaper and have plastic spoons at hand. (Note: if you set the plastic spoons down on the wet newspaper, you will introduce moisture into the jars of dye. Leave them standing up in an empty canning jar.)

I open a jar, spoon out a rounded spoonful of dye, empty it into one of the canning jars and screw the lid back on the dye jar. Then I mix the dye in the canning jar around with the spoon, mooshing it against the inside of the jar -- this is called "pasting" the dye -- to force it to absorb the water. I leave the spoon standing in the canning jar and move to the second canning jar, second spoon, and second jar of dye, and repeat the action. When I'm done with all the jars, I pour water into each jar almost to the rim, stirring as I go. The dyes must be completely dissolved at this point. Then I cap the jar and set the spoon aside to be discarded with the newspaper.

Useful information learned the hard way: Remember that you have spoons standing in jars in that sink, and if you move your hands around indiscriminately, you'll hit the spoons and knock over the jars.

When I'm done, I wipe down each closed dye jar and each closed canning jar with wet paper towels as I remove them from the laundry tub. This will insure I'm not bringing dry dye into the room which could escape into the air. Then I bundle the spoons and the paper towels into the newspapers, creating a package to enclose any dry dye that may remain; throw the package away.

At this point what you have is a set of working solutions; these are safe to work with. You won't need a mask, but you will want to wear gloves to keep your hands from being stained.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Preparation: Cotton

To be dyed, the DMC floss must be wound into skeins. The diameter of the skein and the number of yards in the skein is up to you. I wind a thirty-yard skein. You may wish to wind shorter skeins until you feel more confident about your dyeing skills.

This is a small warping board, the kind of equipment a weaver would have. I wind my skeins on it. You can get the same effect by placing two kitchen chairs together and winding around the tops of the chairs. Once, with no equipment at hand. I wound a warp for a small loom around the knobs of the two dressers in the bedroom, with the warp threads crossing the room like a barrier. When the winding is done, my long weaving warp or your shorter floss skein is tied and removed, and you get your kitchen chairs back!

Here's the completed skein. The next step is to tie it.

This is how you tie a skein so it won't unwind. I've used blue thread here so you can see it clearly, but the actual tie will be in a fine white thread. I commonly use a fine crochet cotton or perle cotton. (What sort of leftovers do you have lying around? Use them!) To tie the skein, you will make a figure eight that weaves through the threads and ties loosely atop them. How many of these ties you put on a skein depends how you want to handle the threads in the dye. I tie two figure eights, one each on opposite sides of the warp.

Then I lay the tied skeins out on strips of nylon net.

I fold the strip of net in half, enclosing the skein, and stitch the packet closed. Some sewing machines will balk at sewing on this flimsy net. I experienced more balking when I sewed a zigzag seam. When I changed to a long straight stitch, which has proven to be quite adequate for the task at hand, the machine calmed down a lot. Experiment.

After stitching, I trim the edges down, and the result looks like this. Cotton on top, silk below. Now I have an easy-to handle package that will take my skein through, in order, washing, rinsing, dyeing, rinsing, washing and rinsing. You can wring the skeins out like a washcloth and they won't tangle or tear! It has simplified things immensely.

Seems like a big investment of time, does it? If you do not stitch your skeins into these nylon net package, you'll need to tie more figure-eight ties on each skein -- six or eight. And you will have to handle them carefully.

Decide how many skeins you will process at once. I do fifteen in a batch. You can space out all the tasks to this point -- wind a few skeins every day, stitch a few skeins into net every day, but from this point on It takes a certain amount of stamina to do all the necessary steps in a row, and you will need to have your wits about you when you sit down to paint your skeins. You don't want to be worn out at that point.

Wash the skeins. I do these in a big bowl in the kitchen sink using Dawn dish detergent. You can also do them in your washing machine, but I'm wary of the stuff in laundry detergent: softeners, brighteners. Dyeing outcomes are changed by virtually anything: the makeup of your water, the additives in your detergent, the temperature of your rinse water after dyeing. The good news is that I've never seen a skein of dyed embroidery floss that was utterly unusable! This isn't like draping the colors over your body and going to the theater -- ugly colors, horrible combinations will find a home in what you stitch, and they will often set off the other colors magnificently.

Hang your washed and rinsed skeins to dry. And at last you are ready to dye!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Preparation: Equipment and supplies

Safety equipment:
Rubber gloves and disposable dust masks (available from any hardware store). Old clothes or a smock to avoid stains.

A word here about the future if and when you move on to other types of dyeing. Don't generalize the simple safety procedures and equipment we use with innocuous MX dyes to other classes of dye. Working with some types of dye will require special procedures, special gloves and goggles in addition to a dust mask or respirator. Be sure you review pertinent safety precautions!

It is necessary that you have a special set of measuring tools and containers just for dyeing. Store these where whey can't be mixed up with your kitchen equipment. Garage and estate sales are immensely useful for acquiring such things.

Watch for measuring spoons and cups -- these don't have to be complete sets. I find 1/4 and 1/2 cups and 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon most useful. You may want to watch for pint and half-pint canning jars (to hold your dyes); I used to do this and it was such a pain to wash them and buy rings and discs that now I just buy them new by the dozen from Wal-mart for $7.00 or so; of course you can reuse them over and over (ONLY for dyes, please).

Particularly important are glass bowls and casserole dishes (to soak your floss in dye activator) and glass cake pans (to keep your plastic-wrapped dyed floss warm while it "cures"). It doesn't matter if these are chipped as long as they're not dangerously sharp.

Above: Floss soaking in a glass loaf pan of dye activator; half-pint and pint canning jars holding my dye working solutions.

Look also for small glass custard cups (to mix dye colors) and for big bags of plastic spoons (people keep these surprisingly often, then get tired of washing them).

Veteran garage salers will realize that one doesn't find all these things in a single afternoon. Keep an eye peeled, and alert your garage-saleing friends to your needs.

Paper goods:
You'll want a roll of paper towels at hand and good clingy plastic wrap for wrapping skeins after dyeing.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Current Work in Progress

We have a small septic system here at our summer place, and I don't pour colored rinse water into it. I thought I was being careful ferrying buckets of rinse water up the basement stairs to dump outside, but the work has been exciting and I was really cranking out the finished product; I hurt my back with the multiple trips. Rats. That has slowed production, I'm afraid.

I've been working on cotton floss, striving to produce colors with subtle variations along the lines of the Weeks Dye Works floss. The final steps in the process are all done rather blindly, and it's hard to tell what you have until the last step, when the finished floss is ironed and skeined, and only then you can see how the subtle striations of color travel through the threads. It's hard to tamp down the urge to pursue the task aggressively until my back feels better.