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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preparing for a forthcoming natural dye workshop. 

This morning I have spent a happy hour picking and scouring some fleece I harvested off bushes whilst walking beautiful around beautiful Cwm Pennant in Snowdonia.  What a delightful experience that was this summer. 

The wool is not brilliant, but will be fine to play with to see what colours we can achieve. I may get time to spin some up before the workshop, but people have already got their yarn organised, so no sweat. 


I’m also chopping avocado pits and skins to make two dye baths – one redder, one orangey. They will sit and develop over the next week or so. I will stop them going mouldy by re-boiling every couple of days. 

Starting the dyebath
Chopping avocado pits

Chopping avocado skins

Next will be prepping the marigolds, but not until nearer the time. Then the yarns and fleece must be mordanted. 

A copper and iron modifier have been steeping for ages already in the shed.

It’s all in the preparation! 

I must buy some ammonia for the avocado bath the deepen the red. 

The plan is to experiment with red cabbage, turmeric and madder as well. I am considering an indigo bath, but will probably chicken out this time.