Hosting dye parties

A Dye Party: Easy Projects with Natural Dyes

This blog post was originally from 2010. Sheep to Shawl will in the future be having our Dye Parties in the next couple of years. Stay up to date by visiting NEKRETREATS.COM for upcoming events at Sheep to Shawl Studios.

Originally published in Fibre Focus magazine, Spring 2004. Copyright (c) 2004 Donna Druchunas, all rights reserved.

by Donna Druchunas
photos by Dominic Cotignola

There are many reasons to dye your own yarns. You may need a specific colour to add to an intarsia tapestry; you might be trying to recreate the colour in your favorite worn out sweater; you might just like to play with colour. Whatever reason you have for dyeing your own yarns, there is no denying that nothing is quite as magical as dropping a hank of yarn into a dye pot and pulling out a handful of colour.

Planning a Dyers’ Party
A dyers party is a great way to have fun and learn touse natural dyes. Planning the party doesnt take much more time than planning a barbeque.

The host or hostess will need a large outdoor area with room for several camping stoves or gas barbeques and easy access to a  water hose. Each guest should bring four ounces of fibre, an equal amount of dyestuff, and a small amount of alum. If the hostess does not have enough pots and buckets to go around, each guest should bring their own. The easiest way to coordinate this is to include a list of what you should bring  on invitations.

Planning a Dyers’ Party
A dyers party is a great way to have fun and learn to use natural dyes. Planning the party doesnt take much more time than planning a barbeque.

The host or hostess will need a large outdoor area with room for several camping stoves or gas barbeques and easy access to a  water hose. Each guest should bring four ounces of fibre, an equal amount of dyestuff, and a small amount of alum. If the hostess does not have enoughmadderandfiber-small pots and buckets to go around, each guest should bring their own. The easiest way to coordinate this is to include a list of what you should bring  on invitations.

At the party, each guest will be responsible for one dye-pot.  However, everyone usually walks around curiously looking in all the pots. The hostess should  oversee all of the pots, because new dyers may forget not to let the pot boil (so the wool does not felt or the colours like red turn muddy), or they may forget to watch the clock.

 Most dye baths cook for at least thirty minutes, so therell be plenty of time to chat, have snacks, and catch up on a neglected knitting project. Just remember to relax and have fun. Working with natural dyes is not an exact science, but you will end up with a rainbow of beautiful colours.

Natural Dyes from your Kitchen and Garden
In my last article, I wrote about growing Plymouthtweedyarn5321and dyeing with Japanese Indigo – not for the faint of heart (Winter 2002). Happily, there is an easier way to get dyes from your garden, although blues are elusive. Most natural dyes from plants are easy to use. Colour is extracted from pigments in the leaves, roots, flowers, or berries by simply simmering the yarn and dyestuff in a large pot.

The following list includes dye plants you can find growing in the wild, or that are easy to grow in your garden. For deep, strong colours, use equal weight of fibre and dyestuff.

  • Yellow/gold–marigold, zinnia, goldenrod, onion skins
  • Pink/mauve–oak bark and acorns; pear or elm bark
  • Purple/lilac/gray–blackberries, hollyhock or hibiscus flowers, dyers alkanet roots
  • Green–ivy, dandelion leaves, comfrey leaves
  • Brown–walnut leaves and husks

Red and blue dye plants are not easily found at garden centers or in the wild. Blue dyes, from plants in the indigo family, also require a completely different recipe.

  • Red–madder root, yellow bedstraw root
  • Blue–woad, indigo, Japanese indigo

Madder Plant with Dyed Fiber and Yarn                                     

Mordants
Mordants are chemicals that bind the colour to the fibre and help resist fading. When experimenting with small amounts – up to 225 g (8 oz.) – at a dye party, its easier to mordant and dye at the same time using a one pot recipe.

If you want large amounts of yarn ready to dye throughout the growing season, you can mordant your yarn in advance so you are ready to dye at a moments notice. Dissolve the mordant in a large pot of water, simmer pre-wetted yarn for an hour, and leave it to cool in the pot overnight. Label the dry skeins so you dont forget what mordant you used. For dyeing cotton, you must also add tannic acid. See Further Reading for sources of information on using different mordants and for recipes for dyeing cotton and other cellulose fibres.

Safety
To make sure your dye party is relaxing and accident free, pay careful attention to safety. Most dyestuffs are as safe as common cleaning supplies; however, a few dyestuffs such as rhubarb leaves, and mordants such as chrome can be toxic. I do not recommend using these for home dye projects or parties.

  • Make sure everyone wears rubber gloves. Even with food dyes, the yarn gets hot!
  • When working with hot liquids, wear safety goggles and be careful not to splash.
  • When working with powdered dyes and mordants, wear a mask and work in an area with no breeze so you wont inhale any of the powders.
  • Make sure your workspace has good ventilation. Work outside if you can, so everyone has room to move around freely and look at all of the different pots.
  • Use separate pots and tools for dye projects. Never use those you use for preparing food.
  • When youre finished with a dyepot, dispose of the used dye baths and chemicals according to local regulations.
  • Store any unused chemicals safely out of the reach of children and pets.

 

Most dyes can be used safely with a little common sense and care. Check with your supplier about the safety of any dye or mordant that is unfamiliar, and always read dye recipes and instructions that come with purchased dyes or mordants to check for special safety warnings. If you should get any powders or liquids in your eyes, or if you think you might be having an allergic reaction, wash immediately with water and contact your physician. Bring the instructions from the dye package to your doctor.

Supplies and Workspace
Although you may already have many of these supplies in your kitchen cupboards, resist the urge to use the same pots and utensils you use to prepare food. You should be able to find all of the tools you need for dyeing at your local discount or hardware store.

  • A pot large enough to hold 15-20 litres (4-5 gallons) of water. You will also need a lid for the pot.
  • A large bucket or tub for soaking and rinsing yarn.
  • A small bottle for mixing mordants or powdered dyes. An old plastic water or milk bottle will work fine.
  • A scale for measuring dyestuffs. A kitchen scale will work, but the more precise the scale is, the more control you will have over the resulting colors.
  • Measuring and mixing spoons.
  • A candy thermometer.
  • A burner or stove.
  • String to tie skeins.
  • Pantyhose or cheese cloth to tie up loose dyestuffs.
  • A mask, goggles, and rubber gloves.

To make your dye party go smoothly, read through the recipe and collect all of the equipment you will need before you get started. Working in a clean, well-organized area will also make your party more enjoyable for everyone. The workspace should be well ventilated and have easy access to a hose or sink so you do not have to lug heavy tubs of water for long distances – water weighs about 4 kilograms per litre (8 lbs. per gallon).

Preparing, Dyeing, and Finishing Yarn
Wind your yarn into skeins that are 25-50 g (1-2 oz.) each. This will allow the yarn to float freely in the dyebath to take up the dye evenly. If you don’t have a skein winder or a niddy-noddy, you can wrap the yarn around the back of a kitchen chair to make skeins.

Tie the two ends of each skein together using a simple knot or a bow. Then tie each skein very loosely in four places with a piece of string wrapped around and through the skein in a figure-eight  shape. This will prevent the skein from tangling during washing and dyeing. Before you dye your yarn, wash it in warm water with dishwashing soap or shampoo to remove any finishing or excess lanolin. Treat the yarn gently. Let it soak and swish it around in the water a few times. Rinse the yarn and leave it soaking in clean water so its wet all the way through when you are ready to dye. Use the one-pot recipe below, or select a recipe from the books listed under Further Reading.

After youve finished with the recipe, let the yarn cool off. When it is cool enough to touch with your hands, rinse it in tepid water until it runs clear. If you have wool or any other yarn that might felt, dont put the yarn directly under the running water. Then, put the skeins in a pillowcase and spin out any excess water in your washing machine.    

No matter how carefully you tied your skeins, they’re sure to look like a tangled mess by now. Do not panic. Put your hands inside the skein and pull them outwards quickly so the skein snaps tight. Do this two or three times, and your skein will straighten itself out. Hang the skeins to dry out of direct sunlight.

Have fun at your dye party!

***

Originally published in Fibre Focus magazine, Spring 2004. Copyright (c) 2004 Donna Druchunas, all rights reserved.

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