When I first started dyeing soy silk, I used a stove top method. Now, my new preferred way to dye this roving is by painting it. This way, the roving is less agitated during the process, and I think it's easier on the dyer too!
I like to dye 4 ounces of roving at a time. I have 4.1 ounces on my scale so this is just about perfect. Then I place my roving in a bowl of water to soak. Make sure your roving is nice and loose and free of twists. To the water I add a splash of distilled white vinegar, somewhere between 1/8 to 1/4 a cup. I give the roving a jiggle with my hand to mix in the vinegar and make sure the water fully saturates the fiber. Now I walk away and let it soak for at least 30 minutes.
This is a great time to get your dye ready. There are lots of different formulas for dye stock and colors. I talk a little about mine in How to Dye Wool Roving. Today however, I happen to be using Lanscapes Dyes which comes in a powder form. I know from experience that I need about 7 grams of powder to achieve the color I'm going for. Whether you are working with a liquid dye stock or a powder dye, the total amount of water we'll be adding is 4 cups. In a 4 cup measure, I have first added my powder, then, about 3 and 3/4 cups warm water. After stirring to fully dissolve my dye powder, I add about another 1/4 cup of white vinegar. I mix again. Now I have the concentration of color I want in a 4 cup mixture of dye, water and vinegar.
*Note: This is more vinegar than I use with wool. I have found that it really helps the soy silk to have a little more vinegar in the mix. This is even true with the Landscapes Dyes which are formulated so that they need less acid.
Okay, now it's time to have some fun. To paint my soy silk, I use a 9x13 inch clear Pyrex dish and a good pair of gloves. A lot of people actually paint their roving with brushes or sponges. In the case of soy silk, I like to get right in there with my hands. Yes, that's right, we'll be finger painting!
Now it's time to remove your roving from the bowl where it has been soaking in water and vinegar for at least 30 minutes. Squeeze out all of the excess water. Then lay the roving out in the Pyrex dish in a zig zag pattern. Once again, be sure to work out any twists. If your fiber is twisted, It makes it more difficult for the dye to reach the inner core of the roving.
(Click on pictures to view larger images)
After you have your roving all lined up in your dish, pour your dye mixture over the roving. Then put on your gloves and start to gently work the dye into the roving.
In the picture on the left, I have picked up a piece of the soy silk and pulled it apart to see if the dye has worked through the entire roving. When soy silk roving gets wet, the fibers like to cling together. You can see that the center of the roving still has some light areas where the dye has not reached. One of the reasons I like to use Pyrex is because I can pick up the dish and see through the bottom. This is another way I can check on my roving.
I basically just use my fingers to work the color into the fiber. I even gather the rows of soy and turn them over so I can get to both sides. When I'm satisfied that the dye has evenly penetrated all of the soy silk, I cover the dish with plastic wrap.
Now it's time to heat set the color. I want to heat the soy silk and not cook it, so I use a knife to cut a few vents into the plastic wrap. Then I put my dish in the microwave. My microwave is fairly typical. It has a rotating glass dish in the bottom. Since my Pyrex dish is a rectangle and is too large to turn in circles, I set it with one end on the rotating plate and the other side hanging over the edge. This helps to prevent a lot of excess movement.
My cooking time is 2 minutes, then open the door and turn the dish around so that the other end is toward the center. (I do this so that the heat is more even.) Then 2 more minutes and turn again. I repeat this until my soy silk has had 8 minutes total in the microwave. If you are worried about your color, you can check your roving after 4 minutes. Just be sure to wear those gloves to protect your hands from the dye and the heat!
Take your dish out and set it to cool. You can see the steam clouding the plastic wrap. If we take a peek through one of the vents, you can see that the water is clear and the fiber now holds all of the color. If your water isn't clear, you can give it a couple more minutes. If that doesn't do the trick, you may have more dye than you need in your dye mixture. Don't worry, you can rinse it out after the roving has cooled.
*Note: This is a longer heating process than I use for wool. You have to be much more cautious about wool felting. For wool, I do 2 minutes, turn, 2 minutes, turn, 1 minute, turn, 1 minute. Remember that all microwaves can vary in temperature.
After your soy silk has cooled, rinse it out. The water should run clear when you are done. Squeeze out the excess moisture and then lay your roving out to dry. I live in the southwest, so I lay my fiber on a towel in the sun. It will be dry in no time. You could also hang it over your shower.
If you look at the picture of the fiber laying out on the blue towel, you can see how nice and intact the roving is. It has not lost any of its integrity. It's ready to be divided and drafted by a spinner, or perhaps teased and needle felted.
Well, you've just seen me paint one of my favorite colors of soy silk at Wind Rose Fiber Studio. This shade, Grass Green, was developed for one of my customers. Now you can have fun developing your own colors!