Sunday, 30 November 2008

A Dyeing Art

I've been quiet (again!) on here these last few weeks, because November is my busiest time at work, with most things I do having a deadline of the end of the month, so that other people can then work on the data generated for year-end close. This means lots of late nights, but I don't mind that for a couple of weeks a year - my last job involved that every bloody day so this is a great improvement. It doesn't stop me actually going out and doing stuff in the evenings, but that leaves no time for blogging. It's all finished now, so I can catch up on some of the things I've done in that time. First up, dyeing!

I mentioned back in October that I'd received some undyed yarn and Kool Aid in a swap, so I was eager to give this a go. Being a hopeless overachiever, I was not content with my first go being plain or even random splodges that would knit up with no purpose. Oh no, I wanted self-striping sock yarn, with contrast heels and toes, and god damn it, that's what I was going to do.

I armed myself with this article from Knitty, on how to dye with Kool Aid. I decided to go for a colourway in the red part of the spectrum, using the three flavours of cherry I'd been sent and the colour chart in the article. I planned on using Cherry as a bright red for the contrast yarn, then stripes of Blastin' Berry Cherry (pink) and Black Cherry (purple) with white stripes in a pink-white-purple-white sequence, with four rows per colour, ie a sixteen row repeat.

I must pause here to share my horror at Kool Aid. This is food? For children? Even before opening the packets I was struck by the strong, sweet, violently chemical smell. Opening the packets nearly made me gag. This was not something I'd be prepared to put anywhere near my internal organs. It just can't be good for you.  That's not even counting the Jonestown connotations of drinking it.

OK, so I'm not entirely stupid, I did start with the easy bit. In my stash was a 50g skein of undyed Bonny (75% wool, 25% nylon, fairly rough, hardwearing, unknown washability) from The Yarn Yard, which was included as a freebie with an order I made ages ago. I figured that in dyeing that solid red for the contrast yarn, I'd work out anything else I needed to know. I dissolved two packets of Kool Aid in a large glass of water (water quantity doesn't matter by the way, just enough to cover the yarn) and put it into a bowl. Merrily, I started off by completely ignoring the first step of the Knitty article, which was to wash the yarn. Why on earth would I need to do that? It was clean yarn and was going to get wet anyway. Here's why:

Dry yarn doesn't soak in the dye solution properly. Damn. I poked it with a spoon, a lot. It got pretty wet but not entirely. There were loads of dry, white sections which just kept repelling the liquid. Bugger. I put a lid on it anyway and put it into the microwave for a few minutes minutes, as directed. On having a look, it was better-soaked, but there were still white patches, so I added a third packet of Kool Aid, aiming at the paler parts. Another two minutes in the microwave and I had this:

Pretty even-looking, I thought, and I was impressed by how clear the water had gone, as if by magic! All the dye had been taken up, hoorah! So I rinsed it and hung it up to dry, like so:

However, here was the dry yarn the following day:

Far too patchy. I therefore washed it with actual detergent this time, to use those surfactants to get it properly wet. I then repeated the dye job with my fourth and last packet of Cherry. The result was much, much better:

Buoyed by my success, and determined to include the washing step this time, I started on the main event, the Knitpicks Bare (75% merino, 25% nylon, very soft, superwash) from the swap package. So how do you get self-striping yarn? By dyeing a sequence long enough to give a set number of rows per colour. I wanted a sixteen row repeat, so I had to make a skein that was 16 rows' worth round, and then dye the first quarter pink and the third quarter purple, leaving the second and fourth quarters undyed. First of all, I had to work out how much yarn one row of sock would take. Unusually for me, I swatched:

As you can just about see above, I marked with a red pen where my sock row ended. I then frogged back to the start of that row. I measured how much yarn that was between the DPNs and the mark:

It was roughly 30 inches, which meant my big skein would need to be 480 inches or 40 feet around! Luckily my main living area is an open plan lounge/kitchen/dining room. I placed two dining chairs the right distance apart and started the rather boring task of walking round and round the room, stringing out the yarn into a giant loop, like so:

You can see from the picture the usual general disarray in my flat - I am not a tidy person. I tied off the skein and also added further ties at each quarter point so I'd know where I was. This skein was not going to be able to go into the microwave so it was time for some hob-top dyeing:

Above you can see quarter one in a pan containing the pinky-red Blastin' Berry Cherry, and quarter three in with the purplish Black Cherry - needless to say this was after I'd washed them. The linking sections, ie quarters two and four, are just in another pan (with no water) to keep them out of harm's way. As directed, I brought the two dye pans up to nearly boiling, then covered them, turned off the heat and let them sit for about an hour. Again the water was nicely colour-free as can be seen better with the pink than the purple:

Except, well, they aren't really pink and purple, are they? More like red and brown. I don't know why, maybe because the yarn was superwash? For whatever reason, the Bonny took the dye true to the Knitty colour chart, but the Bare had a much more yellow-toned cast to it. Oh well.

Anyway, the big skein was rinsed (a fair bit of excess dye came out but the colour didn't fade) and hung up to try all around my kitchen:

I then had to put it back into a workable format, which was tricky as my swift obviously can't handle a 40 foot skein. I had to drape it over the sofas and walk around it again, very slowly and carefully winding onto a wooden spoon. It was intensely frustrating, even more so when I had to then wind a proper ball from the spoon. I've since invested in a niddy-noddy from here to save my sanity next time. But here it is, ball-wound:

And here are the two together:

Not bad going, apart from the colour-tone issue. What I didn't want was for the red of the contrast yarn to just look like an odd dye lot to the stripes, I wanted it to be distinctly different. Just slightly different would have been bad. As luck would have it, the contrast red is exactly the same colour as the stripe red, even though they are different flavours of Kool Aid - you really can't tell. It must be the yarn bases. I do quite like it, and it is very arterial and venous blood against bone. The balls smelled faintly sweet for quite a long time afterwards.

Just to prove that my sums worked, here's how the socks are knitting up:

More than that's been done now, although I've stalled because I've reneged on my commitment to do no Christmas knitting, so I'm working on that at the moment.

Finally, look what it did to my hands!

This was with me being very, very careful not to get it on anything, but I still ended up stained for several days afterwards. Even more grossly, breathing in the airborne powder stained my snot reddy-pink - yuck! And surely if it dyes yarn so well, what is it doing to your digestive tract? Again, people drink this stuff? Disturbing.


Gail said...

I love your scientific approach, just brilliant. I only wish I had your patience! x

Denise said...

amazing! I would never have the patience, but I love how those socks are looking - they are a keeper right? I don't think anyone, other than a devoted knitter like yourself, could ever appropriately appreciate them and the work that went into their genesis!
As you know I live in the US, have never fed my son Kool-Aid - the Jonestown thing far too prevalent in my mind to feed it to my 4-year-old. Plus knowing him he'd probably love it and refuse ever to drink milk again...

Cassie Louise said...

I like the red/brown/white combo a lot (although I admit it might be frustrating having colours other than those you intended... particularly given all the work that went into it!). The cherry red is also stunning.

I can't get over the fact that people ingest that stuff though!

ZantiMissKnit said...

So, THAT'S how you did it. Hm. I may be able to attempt something like that, except I don't have a really open floor plan. I'd also have to make sure the cats don't attack it.

I think it would be well worth the try!

When I dye stuff, I wear a full-on apron and rubber kitchen gloves. I've gotten that stuff on my hands before, and it will permanently stain your fingernails. You have to wait for the stuff to grow out.

I live in the U.S., and DID drink Kool-Aid as a kid. I don't think I drank it too often, though, as my mom limited the amount of sugary drinks we drank. The thought of drinking it now makes me gag.