29 April 2011

Getting Ready for Irish Beach

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend a few days on the wild and beautiful coast of Northern California.... four days of nothing but hooking with friends!
A beautiful pattern has been waiting several months for me to pull together wools and hook it. I decided my time in Irish Beach would be well spent working on it but first, I had to be sure I would be prepared with the right materials. So the pattern laid on a table in my studio for a week while I worked out a plan.

I'm sure you can tell..... the rug has a Fall theme.
This is my favorite way to plan a rug; placing wools around the pattern, leaving it out where I can look at it in different light through the day, remove wools that I think aren't right, trying something new and eventually coming up with a collection of colors that I think will work.
But, of course, once I start hooking it can all change again!

23 April 2011

Playing With Wool

It's been awhile since I spent time marbleizing wool. I forget at times how much fun it is. I had intended just to marbleize a few light colors together for backgrounds but, before I knew it....I got completely carried away.
Now I have a bunch of beautiful new pieces to pick from the next time I start a new rug

And then, I started playing with my photos on the computer.....I love the way the colors soften into each other.
Happy Easter!

12 April 2011

It's 6 AM....Time to Dye

I've had a few questions about dyeing recently so I thought I'd bring my basic dyeing tutorial up again for those who didn't see it when I originally published it....enjoy! I dye a lot of wool. I try to do a lot of other things too! Over the next few weeks I'd like to give you a glimpse of my basic dyeing process and, perhaps, share a few tips along the way. I use a variety of techniques in dyeing the wool that I sell on my website and this is just one, but it's good basic dyeing. So, let's get started..... Most of my dyeing is done in the early morning....about 6 AM. Oh! What's the most crucial item I need to get started on an early morning session in the dye pots???? Yes, you guessed it! It's that nice big cup of steaming hot coffee ( my favorite is Peet's Italian Roast...no wimpy Starbucks at my house). For a successful and efficient session of dyeing, planning is really the key. I keep a hand-written journal with a never-ending list of the colors that I need to dye. This helps me to plan the fabrics I need to soak and to be sure I have the proper dyes in stock. All of my dye formulas are stored on computerized worksheets. This is a big help in planning and record-keeping. Keeping good track of my formulas and any variations I may make in the formulas comes in so handy when I'm trying to recreate that perfect deep gold a customer bought a year ago who now wants another yard! I keep all of my dyeing implements, dye measuring spoons, wisks for stirring, Pyrex 2-cup measuring cups, citric acid, etc. all in one cupboard so that it's always within quick reach. Last night I got all of my wool soaking for the 5 colors I hope to get dyed this morning. 2 yards per bucket; 2 yards per color...... 5 big five-gallon painter's buckets with 10 yards of wool soaking overnight in warm water and Synthrapol. Many dye books suggest that soaking your wool for an hour or two is sufficient but I find that I get the best results when I'm patient and allow the wool a good, long soak overnight. There really is a difference in the way the wool absorbs the dyes. More in a day or two....

It's 6 AM....Time to Dye II

The wool has been soaking overnight, the coffee's made, the dye formulas are up on the computer...... now, it's time to set out the dyes.

I use both Cushing's Acidfast and Prochem dyes. I'd love to try out a couple of other lines but, as you can see, I already have a small fortune invested in dye. I'm afraid if I try other, I'll have to invest yet another small fortune! But someday I will ....it's so much fun to experiment with color.

This is my cabinet of Cushing's dyes. I transfer the dyes from those silly little brown envelopes with the tiny baggie inside to these plastic 2 and 4 oz. jars. It saves a bucketful of time and it's so easy see when it's time to reorder. (And, truthfully, don't you love looking at the colors stacked in the cabinet just waiting to be turned into more beautiful wool?)

My kettle of water is on the stove to boil, my counter top is protected with paper and a jar of uniodized salt is open beside my work. To measure out the dyes, I start with about a 1/2 inch of warm/hot tap water in the bottom of a heat-tempered Pyrex measuring cup. (I will, of course, never use this cup for food preparation!) Using Gray dye spoons ....my absolute favorites, I carefully open one jar of dye at a time and scoop up the granules. Using an old abalone knife, I'll level off the dye in the spoon and gently tip the dye into the measuring cup. After swishing the dye spoon around in the jar of salt to clean off any remaining dye, I set it aside and immediately replace the lid on the jar of dye. To help prevent errors, spills and dye catastrophes, I measure one dye color at a time. Can you imagine the mess from a spilled jar of dye?!!! Yes, I've done that and no, I didn't take any pictures. I repeat this step for every color I'm adding to my solution.

I love imagining how the various dyes will mix together.....it's like magic!

Once all the dyes are in the measuring cup, I give the dyes a really good stir with a small whisk to moisten all of the granules and form a slurry.....in this photo I've still got a bit more stirring to do. Once the dyes are thoroughly mixed you're ready to add boiling water. Be careful when doing this.... I find I have fewer splashes if I pour the boiling water down the side of the measuring cup rather than pouring it into the bottom. After the boiling water is added I give the solution a really good stir with the whisk, let it rest for a minute or two, and then give it another good stir. It's really important to stir enough to dissolve all of the dye otherwise you may get an unwanted surprise on your wool! (A tip from personal experience: red dye takes more time & more stirring to dissolve completely.)


An aside about leftover dye solutions....I adjust my formulas to the amount of wool I'm planning to dye because I don't like to waste expensive dyes. In other words, if you're using a formula from a book and it says, "Add one cup of boiling water to your dyes and then use 1/4 cup of this solution to dye a 1/2 yard piece of wool.", then you're going to have 3/4 cup of dye solution left over to store or throw away. It's much easier and less costly to just measure out 1/4 of the amount of dye given in the formula, add your boiling water and use all of the solution.....no waste, no storage!


Dyes are mixed and ready to add to the dye pot!

More in a day or two......

It’s 6 AM….. Time to Dye III

Oh dear! I said a day or two for this post in my series about basic dyeing....life just gets in the way of blogging sometimes. But, as promised, here's the third and final installment of my early morning dyeing series…..

This first picture is really the end of the process, of course, but all the colors are so happy that I just had to start here. Would you believe that there are 26 yards of wool stacked and folded on my kitchen table? So our dyes are mixed & stirred….time to get the big pots of water onto the stove. I like to use these big 16 qt. white enamel pots but any big canning-type pot will do (except aluminum….). I generally fill the pot about ¾ full with warm water. Sometimes, if I want a more mottled look to my wool, I'll add less water.


More water + more stirring = more evenly dyed color

Less water + less stirring = less evenly dyed color (more mottling!) Next, I'll add my dye solution to the pot, give it a good stir and turn on the heat.

While the dye bath begins to heat on the stove, I'll pour my bucket of wool into the sink and let it drain for a couple of minutes. I'll gently squeeze out the excess water, gather the wool into soft folds and

into the pot it goes!

I'm a compulsive stirrer so the first thing I do once the wool is in the pot is give it a really good stir. I want to be sure that all of the wool is exposed to the liquid very early in the process because the different colors in my dye formulas move into the wool at different temperatures. Blue tends to move into the wool very quickly. Yellow moves into the wool much later in the process and at higher temperatures. When I want a mottled effect I force myself to walk away after that first stir and find something else to do….maybe a bit of hooking?

Let it simmer (never boil!) for awhile…..

Once a good amount of the dye has moved into the wool and the dye bath has begun to clear (generally 15-30 minutes), it's time to add the mordant. This is the important step that chemically binds the color to the fiber permanantly. Since I use acid fast dyes my best choices are acetic acid (common household white vinegar) or citric acid crystals (the chemical form of Vitamin C).

When I first began dyeing I used vinegar because it was so readily available at my local grocery store. However, it definitely has its drawbacks! Some time ago I switched from acetic acid to citric acid because I took pity on my teenaged offspring and got tired of hearing "Mom, it stinks in here!" every time he walked in the door. Having made the switch, I'd never go back. I've seen no difference in the quality or shades of my colors and the convenience of citric acid is wonderful. I fill a labeled Mason jar with the chemical and keep it with all of my other dyeing supplies....it's so easy to use. Since I really hate to run out of supplies I buy 20 pounds at a time. It would take up my whole linen closet to store an equivalent amount of vinegar! A good source out here on the Left Coast is Dharma Trading Company.

I add about a teaspoon of citric acid per yard of wool into a large 2-cup measure…

Then I carefully dip it into my pot, fill it with liquid from the dye bath and give it a good stir until all of the crystals are dissolved (this doesn't take long).

Finally, I slowly pour the solution back into the depot while stirring at the same time. Many people advise removing the wool from the dye pot, adding the citric acid and then adding the wool back into the pot. I find this to be an unnecessary, messy and risky step and don't advise it.

Once the citric acid is added, I'll let the wool simmer just below the boil point for a full 60 minutes and then remove it from the heat. It's very important to apply heat for a full 60 minutes after adding the citric acid in order to fully bind the dye to the fiber. (If the dye bath isn't completely clear it really is not necessary to add more citric acid or vinegar. If you're patient and allow the wool to cool completely in the dye bath you'll usually find that the water will be very close to clear. If you're dyeing dark, saturated colors (especially reds) the water will never be completely clear…..don't worry about it!

After the wool has cooled, I drain it in my kitchen sink and then I place it in my washer & run it through the spin cycle to remove all of the excess moisture. Finally, it goes into the dryer on the normal setting with a big fluffy towel. Pull it out of the dryer as soon as it's dry to prevent wrinkles and…… Now you have beautiful hand dyed wool! Tigger does get rather insulted when the table is full of wool because she thinks I've placed the table there just so she can watch the world go by from the big kitchen window!

Have fun in the dye pots.....