I’ve wanted to try acid dyeing for a long time.. Being the great pre-planner that I am, I bought all the books, read them, imagined myself going through the motions and… froze in panic.
It wasn’t that I likened dyeing to quantum physics, it’s just that there’s always a part of me that believes things to be much more complicated than they really are before I begin, and often dismisses my ability to create nice things when the end results don’t come naturally in my brain. In this case, I was already considering myself a probable failure even before I begun. Great.
I was afraid of the powder dyes, because they are toxic if inhaled, and I have asthma; I needed a mask, but what type, and what if I chose the wrong one? Where would I heat up the wool or yarn, and how about toxic fumes? Would I have to buy another microwave? Could I find a big enough pot for a reasonable price, and could I find more than one type? Where would I keep all this stuff, plus the dye stock? In no time, my creativity was paralysed by fear, sadly most of it having to do with lack of storage space and possibly talent.
Bottom line, I’m a big baby, but one day I just wake up and throw caution to the wind. Took me a few months (gasp!) but I got there. After reading extensively on the subject again. After pestering people who were more experienced than I, and had the patience to put up with my insomnia-ridden silly questions. I just went for it. Sort of. Cautiously and dreading the results.
Deciding on the project I wanted – creating a colour wheel with only three primary colours – I set up making twelve 25-yard mini lace weight skeins to play with. Then, I had to soak them in an acid solution to open up the wool’s scales. This helps the yarn take up dye better, and wet fibres dye more evenly than dry ones.
Whilst the skeins were soaking, I had to prepare the dye stock and calculate how much of it I needed. I confess to being nervous for this step, because it involved the things I dislike: careful planning, maths, and invisible nasty airborne powders. But, with the help of my trusty book, I went ahead and did everything.
I know a lot of you dyers don’t use maths when working, but I wanted repeatable results, so I had to be very precise. I weighed my dry yarn, found out how much dye I needed, and how much water to place in the jar.
Here is a glimpse of my work space, and the primary colours I used. If you want to get technical, I made a 1% stock solution, meaning there’s 1% dye for 99% water; this seems to be the most common dye stock, but if I wanted a darker colour, I might need a 2% or even 4% dye solution (this is especially true for black).
I decided on steam setting the yarn, which means placing the goods inside jars for that. Needless to say, all the items you use for acid dyeing need to be kept solely for that purpose. I only had three, so I could only make three colours at a time. The photo bellow shows some tertiary colours, before they were steamed – the dye hadn’t set on the yarn yet.
Then I placed my jars in the stainless steel pot I bought for this purpose, on top of a rack so they didn’t touch the water on the bottom. I turned the heat to a medium, lowering it slightly once it started to steam, and let it ‘cook’ for 30 minutes. After that, I carefully removed the jars, opened them and let them cool down completely before I messed with any of it (this is safer and also makes the colours brighter, I’m told.)
I’m not sure you can tell bellow, but the water is absolutely clear (‘exhausted’), meaning all the dye has been absorbed by the yarn and there’s no waste of stock, which is great for your wallet and the environment. This is possible if you calculate what you need in advance.
This water is still very acidic, so before I threw it away I added some sodium bicarbonate to make it more alkaline (after I removed the yarn). Again, thinking of the environment.
Then came the drying and waiting to see the final result. I was very happy with the way the colours came out. They weren’t so solid that they resembled commercial yarns, but they weren’t too pastel, either. If I used a 2% dye stock I’m sure I’d get a deeper colour saturation.
Finally, here’s all 12 skeins together. If you know your colour wheel you’ll be able to recognise the positioning of the skeins, with the three primaries having the secondary and tertiary colours in between. All of this with only three colours to begin with!
If you’re interested in the formula, it went something like this: the primaries were 100% the only colour, the secondaries were 50/50 of each primary, the tertiary were 25/75 of a primary and a secondary.
Have you ever tried acid dyeing? What results did you get, and what recommendations do you have for a newbie like me?