Saturday, June 26, 2010

An Experiment in Overdyeing

Silk Overdye
Originally uploaded by Project Pictures
I've spent the past week or so trying to find the perfect silk yarn to knit a shawl for my grandmother. So far, most things have either been not-quite-the-right-color, or extremely expensive.

Then on Monday night, a friend pulled out a ball of gorgeous silver-grey silk yarn. She said she had picked it up from our local Ben Franklin craft store on an incredible clearance sale. But they didn't have much left. Since it was exactly the right weight for what I wanted to knit, and because "golden" was the color my friend said was left, I went immediately to check it out. One of our local dyers (Janis) has often advised me that yellow is a great color to over-dye. And at the sale price offered, this yarn seemed an excellent candidate.

When I got there, I was able to find the last five balls of the yarn. Normally selling for $17, it was marked down to $4. I bought all five. I had hoped for six, but I'm pretty sure five will have enough yardage for what I want to do. Then I went home and cut myself 2-inch samples and tossed them in my dyestock to test it out. I did a second set where I dumped out much of the dye and attempted a less concentrated batch.

I think the full concentration came out best. All four are lovely, but the turquoise and purple (first and third strands) looked like the best combination. Then I had to plan how to dye this stuff up.

Silk Overdye
First, I skeined the balls. This involved winding them onto my niddy-noddy so that the dye would be able to get to all the yarn more easily. I found that after fifty "wraps" on the niddy-noddy, I had to stop and unwind the last of the ball from the inside before wrapping the rest, or I'd end up with a hopeless tangle. That finished, I tossed the lot of them into a bucket of warm water with a little soap to start wetting. Silk takes a notoriously long time to get wet all the way through, and you need that for good dye penetration.

Next was how to dye it without getting dye in my pots. I didn't want to use the microwave method I've used in the past. Heating silk too much can destroy its beautiful sheen. I wanted to keep it around 180 degrees. I figured I could double-bag it in some extra plastic storage bags I had on hand. I put it in and dumped in the rest of my stock dye solution. I punched both through with a long-handled spoon to keep the top above the water in my big boiling pot and made myself a quick double-boiler. I even tied the spoons together and lifted the whole ensemble so that it wouldn't melt to the bottom of the pot while heating. And that worked great!
Silk OverdyeSilk Overdye

I cooked it for a good part of the day and then put the spoons over the side and tossed on the lid. I let it cool overnight and came back the next morning to check on things. Fishing the bags out of the pot, everything looked good. The dye stock had clearly exhausted, or nearly so. Turquoise is well known for never quite coming completely clear. The purple, tho, was obviously all in the silk. I dumped them all out and took a good look--and I was quite disappointed. Both yarns were clearly still very golden under the dye, and the ties had acted as a resist (I thought they were loose enough) and so there were spots with no dye at all. I threw everything back into bags and reheated with more dye solution in each.
Silk OverdyeSilk Overdye

Silk OverdyeSilk Overdye

Silk Overdye
After re-dying both skeins twice, and spot-applying more dye to the resisted areas, I finally had really solid coverage. I'm not sure it's quite as intense as the original test pieces, but they look really good! The skeins aren't quite dry and I think the color will pop even more once they are no longer water-logged. I'm looking forward to winding them all back up into balls and starting to knit tomorrow night!


Anonymous said...

Wow! Looking forward to seeing these in person on Monday!

Araignee said...

My goodness, what a production! The colors are wonderful. I can't wait to see the finished project.

Rosie said...

Whoa great idea! I think every one of us now has bought the lot of one of those colors from Ben Franklin. I know I don't even have to ask, but can you bring it tonight so we all can see? ;)