Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Challenge of Dyeing Red

Just yesterday I joked with a Twitter friend that dyeing dark red roving is my "white whale". I'm not really laughing though. Red makes me crazy. I can only imagine that whenever you buy anything that is a deep dark red, some pretty strong fixatives were used to get it there. Why do I think this? It's because in my dye kitchen where the strongest fixing agent is white vinegar, a good dark red still eludes me.

So what's this dark red roving in the picture then? It's my latest attempt and I'm on day 3 of working with it.

When it comes to custom work at Wind Rose, I mostly limit myself to dyeing larger quantities for people. My life has just become a little too busy to make accessories and spin custom yarn as I have done in the past. Still, when a customer asked about making her a yarn in a dark red, I said yes. I knew committing myself to a project would push me to do what I have, until now, failed to create. I will, if it kills me, dye a nice dark red roving!

So I decided to paint the fiber. I'm newer to painting roving, but I felt like I'd have a better chance of getting the concentration I need without felting the fiber. The project calls for Merino and most of us know how easily this wool will felt on you. I also went with Landscapes Dye as I feel like I have already exhausted every possibility for dark red working with Jacquard. I've done all sorts of mixing and have produced many pretty colors, but none quite like what I'm going for here.

Still further out of my comfort zone was picking a Landscapes color. I just haven't used them as much, but they have 66 premixed colors to choose from. I went with Waratah and decided not to mix it with anything. From color charts it can be hard to know if a red will lean warm or cool, but it was my best guess.

At this point it's going pretty well. This is totally the red I want, but what you can't see from the picture is that it is still in the dye bath. If I were to rinse this now, I would lose a lot of that rich color. What have I done so far?. I presoaked the Merino in water and vinegar for around an hour. Then I mixed 10grams of the Waratah dye with water and more vinegar. Landscapes do not require vinegar, but I wanted a higher acidity to help the process along. Then I worked the dye into every fiber of this roving by hand. When satisfied, I set the color with heat as I would do any painted roving.

This is where I've added more steps. After heating the roving, I let it cool all the way and then I heated it again. I have now gone through this heating and cooling process 5 times. I heat it to the point where the fiber will take the color, but not so hot that I'll risk felting. After each time, the fiber has gotten a little darker. I let it cool all the way between heatings also to protect the fiber from felting. It's has been slow going, but I am gradually getting the color I want. I think a couple more times should do the trick. Talk about over dyeing!

So it's things like this that go on in the background here at Wind Rose. I make myself crazy sometimes, but I learn a lot along the way. Even as I write this, I imagine a reader with more experience finding this post and shaking their head at my methods. If you really are here and know of a much easier way to get to my red, comment away. I confess that I don't do much research. I lack a library of "how to" books. You see, for me the love is in the quest. Believe it or not, this is both maddening and fun!

1 comment:

Heather said...

I really identify with your 'learn as you go' method!! I also hate to follow patterns or directions in my home or 'art' lives (maybe because my work life is so rigid?!)
I can't wait to see your end result. Good luck!