Food colour dyeing

Today I wanted to dye some of my hand spun wool yarn a bright green. No natural dye I have would do this, and I didn’t have any green acid dye, (or any acid dyes at all), so I decided to use food colouring. I already knew that food colouring works as a fibre dye but did not realise that it was an acid dye, (thank you Google) so works best on wool, silk and other protein fibres that will dye with an acid dye. Acid dyes are not acid, but they require an acid such as vinegar or citric acid to attach themselves to the fibre.

Initially I’d intended to use liquid food dyes but discovered I have either thrown them out or someone had used them up, so had to resort to the paste colours I used to use for sugar flower modelling. These seemed to work fine and are quite intense, if a little harder to dissolve, (I had to squash some lumps against the side of the jug). I may use them again as they are just sitting in the cupboard at the moment.

So to prepare the yarn I soaked it in a mixture of one part vinegar to two parts water for about 30 minutes. This did two jobs at once, soaked the fibres to remove trapped air and added acidity. I could have added vinegar to the dyebath instead.

Meanwhile I put some water to heat on the stove and mixed the bright leafy green I wanted from my stash of food colouring dyes.

I mixed the food colouring paste with hot water in a small jug, and added a teaspoon of salt, (this helps to level the colour and increase its take-up), stirring them well until the liquid was clear, then added this to the pan of water that was warming on the stove.

When the dyebath was ready I removed the hank of wool from the vinegar and water soak, gently squeezing it to remove excess liquid, and immersed it in the dye. The temptation to stir the yarn into the dye bath is always with us, so I gently prodded it below the surface and walked away and left it. It took about 20 minutes of gentle simmering, turning the yarn very gently once, to achieve the colour I wanted.

Because I liked the colour so much I decided to dip a second hank quickly into the dyebath so I got very pale green and then, having rinse it to check the colour, I trailed half the hank into the dyebath again and let it stay in there until it became darker. This gave me a dip dyed, ombre yarn in tones of the same green.

Post-dyeing rinses brought the brightness down a little on both hanks, but overall I was pleased at how little colour came out. I rinsed quite hot; wool can take high heat and won’t felt, as long as you don’t agitate it or put it straight into cold water. The important thing is to have the rinsing water at a similar temperature to the dye bath. Wear gloves to protect your hands during these hot rinses. To save energy you can slowly decrease the temperatures through the rinses. Never let the tap run onto the wool or it is likely to felt.

Because it was a lovely day today I hung the hanks out in the garden to dry, but you can spin dry them as long as you put them inside a mesh laundry bag or a calico bag.

Both yarns were handspun with a bouclé effect. The dip dyed one took the colour less well partly because it was from a different fleece, and partly because it should really have had an additional scour before going into the vinegar soak.


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Spinning wheel drive ratio – getting down to the nitty gritty, and learning to control my tendency to over-spin yarn

Spinning wheel drive ratio is the number of times the bobbin revolves whilst the drive wheel makes one revolution. It is governed by the size of the whorl that drives the bobbin. There is of course the effect of any brake to be considered as well, but this has to be adjusted to get the yarn to wind onto the bobbin and is not the same as the drive ratio.

Most modern wheels offer different ratios by providing several different sized whorls on the bobbin or flyer. Probably because my upright double drive is an old wheel, and I mean old, wobbly and fragile – one that would be termed ‘vintage’ on eBay, it only has one ratio (it only has one whorl on the bobbin). I tend to over-spin when using this wheel, so I wanted to teach myself to make softer yarn and thought understanding drive ratio might help me. Being a bit techie and liking to understand how things work, I decided as a first step to check out what the drive ratio is on my upright double drive wheel.

Using advice from ‘Spinning Wool – beyond the basics’ by Anne Field, I started the process. Firstly I removed any yarn from the orifice and bobbin and slackened the tension screw to the lowest setting. Next I tied a tag of yarn on one arm of the flyer as a marker, and aligned this arm with the rear maiden. Now, using my hand I turned the wheel one complete revolution, counting how many times the tag of yarn passed the rear maiden. This figure is the drive ratio of the wheel as it is set up (remember that a different sized whorl will give a different ratio). In this example, the bobbin revolved 6 times during one revolution of the drive wheel, which means that my old double drive upright wheel has a 6:1 ratio.

Next in my experiment to spin softer yarn I trawled further advice from Anne Field. She suggests that the fibre itself can give you information as to how to spin it, and that frequency of crimps along the staple length of fibre can give you a clue about how the twist frequency. In her opinion a fibre with 7 crimps in 2.5cm, for example, is best spun with 7 twists per 2.5cm of singles. OK, I thought, so I pulled a staple from the Shetland fleece I am working with, and counted the crimps per 2.5cm. I used a magnifying glass to help me, and came out with a figure of 5 crimps in 2.5cm, which meant that I needed to aim for 5 twists in every 2.5cm of singles as I spun the fibre.

Once again I referred to Field’s book, and from the suggested methods for establishing a visual reference for the distance in which the twists should lie, I chose to mark 2.5cm on a piece of paper. I then taped this my lap whilst spinning. Other methods included marking these lines in your spinning apron, or using points on your fingers, e.g. tip of thumb to knuckle. This last one is the one I plan to move to once I am a bit more confident.

To re-cap, my aim, based on the Shetland fibre’s crimp, was to have 5 twists in 2.5cm of yarn. This meant 2.5cm of twisted yarn had to be drawn onto the wheel during one revolution of the drive wheel (5 revolutions of the bobbin), thus 5 twists would be inserted into that set length of yarn.

Anne Field estimates that approximately 1 twist will be lost in each 2.5cm of singles once the yarn is plied (although I am a bit hazy about how that happens), and so it seemed to me that I could spin the yarn with 6 twists per 2.5cm and finish with the 5 twists I wanted. This fitted in really neatly with the wheel’s drive ratio of 6:1, (1 treadle, and therefore 1 revolution of the wheel, turns the bobbin 6 times). This made me wonder whether this wheel was designed and made for spinning this type of wool from the older British breeds.

So by treading SLOWLY, drafting 2.5cm of fibre and releasing 2.5cm of yarn into the bobbin for each revolution of the drive wheel (one pedal motion), I actually managed to make a start.

To check how I was doing I stopped after a few metres of singles, pulled some back off the bobbin and let the yarn twist back on itself to emulate the final plied yarn. After evaluating the twist, and adjusting my spinning accordingly, I eventually managed to achieve approximately 5 twists per 2.5cm! Yes….I was getting it – slowly.

The resulting yarn is so much softer and fuller than my normal attempts – and a small hank is now drying in the bathroom for me to evaluate tomorrow.

My next step is to lengthen the draft and feed 5cm of yarn onto the bobbin in 2 treadles (revolution s of the drive wheel). In theory I can increase the length of draft and feed depending on the length of fibre I am working with, providing it has 5 crimps per 2.5cm.

I’m not sure what happens if there is more or less crimp, and therefore more or less twist required in 2.5cm. That is my next learning curve.

I may I have made some mistakes and probably over generalised, so welcome comments and advice.


Brighton Textile Art Group meeting 11th May

Well I did it, I made it along to the meeting today and joined the group. Thank you to all the kind members who made me feel so welcomed. There was a natural dyeing workshop today, but of course I had not booked in advance. However, I took some singles spun on my Spurtzler and plied this using my hands in an Andean ply. Then I had two little hanks to dye in the onion skin and the daffodil dye baths.

Click on the photo to visit the brighton Textile Art Group website and see what other events and workshops are in the future.

There is a little more detail of the day on my Natural Dyeing page.

Natural Dyeing workshop

Yesterday was a busy day, and included a two hour workshop on very basic natural dyeing. Because I wanted to make it as accessible as possible, and keep costs low, it mainly featured ‘kitchen’ dyeing.

I’d asked people to provide thier own 100% DK wool yarn, (I even suggested a yarn brand to look for as I know this one dyes really well), and prepare it in hanks. I then mordanted it over the weekend, and took it into the workshop ready to go into the dye. Unfortunately there was some confusion (well isn’t there always), and so some brought Aran, others brought 4ply and they were all different spins and types of wool, (but luckily only wool blends, not with synthetics).  I’d written out clear instructions on how to make balls into 10g hanks on the back of a chair – but even that went a bit wrong for some, so I then had to unwind and re-hank it all. At that point I began to wonder why I was doing this for free!

So now I had a kilogram of yarn soaking ready to go into an Alum mordant. Of course the more wool, the more water, and the more likelihood that you will soak the floor – which of course I did. So by the time I got it into the mordant I was not in love with the yarn!

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My BIG pan was not big enough, so two lots were necessary, and the room was a bit steamy by the end of it all. I use a portable induction hob for dyeing – I think it is pretty energy efficient – and love it’s responsiveness.

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So on to the workshop. Our dye materials were:

  • red cabbage
  • turmeric
  • spinach
  • avocado stones (soaked in 1:6 ammonia/water solution for a week beforehand)
  • avocado skins (half soaked in 1:6 ammonia solution for a week beforehand)
  • used coffee grounds
  • onion skins

Ammonia and vinegar were the only modifiers used to change the acidity of the dye baths, as I did not want to work with copper or iron in this situation.

Firstly a concentrated dye was made by boiling up  the chopped red cabbage, onion skins, and coffee grounds in enough water to cover them. The avocado baths were brought to a high heat, but not boiled as this helps keep the colour fresh and pinker. Once the colour was really released (this took between 30-60 minutes), these concentrates were strained into larger pots, cold water was added to make them lukewarm, and salt stirred in to help fix the colours. The red cabbage was divided into three baths: one left plain, one with ammonia added and one with vinegar added. The plain dye yields a purply-blue, ammonia encourages the dye to yield blue/green and the vinegar brings out a lilac colour. This was the fun part; the students introduced their hanks of yarn to different dye baths and they were brought back up to tempature. There were lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ at the lovely colours – even though I explained that they may change or wash out!

They experimented with tie-dying, dip-dyeing and rinsing and over-dye colours. Some more successful than others of course, and time (and hanks of yarn) were limited. One asked me, ‘Can I do this at home?’ , which seemed a strange question to me, but in retrospect it was a reasonable one, because it all seemed a bit to easy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another day of natural dyeing

I spent a happy (ha ha) half hour picking nettles last week, and another not-so-painful time collecting laurel leaves. These were going to be my latest experiments in natural dyeing. Yes, I know everyone else has probably moved onto far more exotic materials, but I am still plodding along with what I remember to collect in the park or garden. Luckily I had a pair of gloves (it was windy and cold), and a clean dog poo-bag in which to store those nasty nettles. I didn’t think the nettles would sting through gloves, but they seemed to. My fingers were still stinging when I went to bed.

So I chopped up the nettles and laurel and boiled them in large pans, left them to steep in the cooling water and re-boiled the next day, left them to steep again.

Laurel leaves steeped for 24 hours
Nettles steeped for 24 hours

So far the liquid was looking a pretty good colour. Next I strained this off and pressed the remaining soggy leaves to remove all that precious colour. To encourage the dye bath the give up all its colour, I added some salt to the dye bath.

I had already mordanted hanks of DK wool, and some of Aran 60/40 wool acrylic in a pale tweedy beige to see what happened with this coloured blend. The mordant was 8% Alum with a teaspoon of cream of tartar added to the water. This was also boiled for an hour and left in the mordant overnight before being rinsed and used damp.

The damp hanks went into the dye baths, and simmered away for an hour or so, then I removed those and added some vinegar to the laurel bath and added some new hanks. This was supposed to make the colour a little pinker, but not sure it did.

The nettle hanks were put into a bowl of copper modifier to see if the green would intensify. It did.

Because I wanted to check out the colour saturation possible with the 60/40 blend, I had included a hank of this with each test.

Next I made a madder bath (cheating here with madder extract), and dyed two hanks – keeping the heat below boiling to try to preserve the brighter red. Not sure I managed this, but got some lovely rich reds.

Finally I made an onion skin bath and dyed a hand of 60/40 wool acrylic – bingo, this worked really well!

Out of the dyebaths and drying well

Above hanks left to right are: laurel (DK wool), Laurel (60/40), laurel +vinegar (DK wool), madder (60/40), madder (DK wool), nettle+copper modifier (DK wool), rather obscured hank is nettle (DK 50/50 wool acrylic – this slipped through when I was mordanting), nettle +vinegar (60/40), and at the top, onion skins (60/40).

And below are the small hanks wound into knitable balls.

On the left is a hank of hand spun yarn that I dyed the week before last using oyster mushrooms gathered from a tree trunk.

Oyster mushroom dye process

I dyed a couple of hanks with mushrooms, not an exciting colour, but very pretty.

Hand spun yarn dyed with oyster mushrooms. In background the yarn has been machine knitted with a silk in stripes before being dyed.

So that is that for the moment, but I am pleased with the results, and will be sharing them with students before a natural dye workshop next week. There won’t be time to stew up plants as I did for these, but we will be using red cabbage, carrots, madder extract, onion skins and turmeric with vinegar as a modifier. Plus we will be over-dying, dip dying and tie-dying for effects.

Should be fun!

Spinning days

Last week I hosted a ‘learn to spin’ afternoon. We had drop spindles and two wheels. Because no-one had spun before I started with lengths of commercial my sun yarn – about 12 metres each. These were used to learn the basics of working the spindle and twist direction.

After everyone was feeling more confident, fibre was introduced. This was lightly scoured Jacobs fleece with a little oil left to make it easier to spin.

Strengthened by team and home made oat biscuits we progressed to the wheels.

The Ashford single drive, double treadle Traveller was the most popular. But even that took some easing into.

Everyone got some yarn made.

We plan another soon.

The Multipom

The designers of the Multipom have been kind enough to send me one of these little gadgets so that I can try it out.

This is me discussing how I fared following the packet instructions and making 12 tiny pom-poms in DK yarn. I chose acrylic yarn for these test pom-poms, because I thought that would be a good test. In my experience wool yarn, or at least with some wool in it, makes the most luscious pom-poms. They must be steamed though. This opens out the fibres at the cut ends of the yarn, plumping them beautifully.

This was my method, following the instructions that came with the Multipom.

Firstly I wrapped the yarn 40 times, lengthwise around the Multipom. Doing fine so far.

Next it needed to be tied off into 12 equal lengths. Well not equal, as the end tie is closer, which was tricky. Somehow I managed to tie only 11 ties, but couldn’t work out where I had gone wrong. A ruler has been printed on the instruction sheet so it should have been easy. I put it down to me being tired!

Tied yarn on the Multipom

Tying the wrapping threads was challenging. Another pair of hands to hold the knots tight would have been helpful. The advice to use a strong thread is very sensible as you have to tug hard to make a nice ‘waist’ on each pom-pom before cutting.

Tying the knots tight enough was fiddly. Strong yarn needed, and strong fingers.

Anyway I decide to get ahead and cut them anyway. Cutting the end ones was awkward,so that pom-pom was more ragged than the others immediately after cutting.

Getting the scissors in to cut the end folded yarn was a bit awkward.

I rolled each cut pom-pom between my palms to encourage them into balls, and then started to trim them. This is where a pair of curved blade embroidery scissors would be useful.

The pom-poms after cutting but before being rolled between my palms.

Once again, a good tip is given in the instructions, ‘Don’t be afraid to cut too cut off quite a lot’, and thats what they mean Take it a little at a time and turn the pom-pom as you work; there is a lovely nugget of firm roundness inside those straggly monsters.

Trim,turn,trim,turn. And again

It took me at least 10 minutes to trim them all to my satisfaction.

Trimmed and almost done

Then I steamed them by hanging them inside an electric kettle. Do be careful if you do this. Don’t put too much water in the kettle so the pom-poms won’t get wet, and when you take them out be very very careful not to scald yourself with the boiling steam. Use an oven glove and let them cool before handing them. If they do get wet, don’t worry as this can improve their density. It just means you’ll have to wait for them to dry before working on them any further.

After steaming the outer fibres expand and fill in the shape.

So what’s my verdict on the process and result?

Is it quicker than making individual pom-poms on other gadgets?

Yes, although the trimming is a bit more arduous.

I find the yarn management much easier than when wrapping the small, individual pom-pom makers. It also avoids that situation where you are struggling to pop the two parts together, but they always spring apart again, or worse still the hinged bit pops off.

Cutting is a lot easier because you are just slicing straight across rather than inserting the blades between the plastic halves and trying to cut in a narrow space, whilst trying to hold the maker together. When using the Multipom there is the rather fiddly end cuts on the frame to deal with, but that’s only 2 per 12 pom-pom s, so pretty minimal compared to using an individual maker.

Wrapping core yarn is easier on an individual maker, as you seem to be able to get a better cinch around a circular waist, although that may improve with practise.

I haven’t tried larger pom-poms yet, but I suspect the individual pom-pom makers may give better results because trimming becomes more important to the final shape on big pom-poms.

So the Multipom gets my vote if you want to make lots of smaller or mini pom-poms, which after all is what it was designed for. However there is still space in my workshop drawer for the larger, individual pom-pom makers

Thanks once again to the Multipom team, it’s good to see innovative tools being designed to meet the diverse needs of the craft community.

‘Translating between hand and machine knitting’ is about to be published

i have just received my pre-publication copy of ‘Translating between Hand and Machine Knitting’, it was waiting here on my arrival home from holiday. It’s a great welcome home present.

Holding the book
My pre-publication copy just out of its wrapper.

Here are some sample pages.