As an artist and all-around creative person, I have always had a fascination and love of color and patterns. When I was in college one of my fine art teachers told me my colors were “too bright”. “Tone them down” he said, “they are not realistic.” My response? “But that is how I see color. Bright and vibrant. That is what is real to me” Unfortunately, I needed to get a good grade to keep my average up, so I did as I was told. I added greys, browns, blacks and whits to tone down the exciting colors. Did they look more realistic? I guess so, but they also looked more boring. Boring is not my forte.
Fast forward to a few years ago. I am sitting in my best friend’s basement where we and a few other friends gathered monthly to scrapbook and spend time together (kind of like a knit night, but with photos, stickers and pretty paper). I start putting together some page layouts and, once again, I have all kinds of crazy colors and patterns happening all at once. My dear friend comes over to see what I have so far and she tells me there is too much going on. “It’s too busy; you need some more solid colors to break up the patterns. You want the focus to be on the pictures” Was she right? Absolutely. Her layouts are clean and crisp, like something you would see in a magazine or framed on a wall. But they are not me. I like loud and fun designs that express my personality.
These days, I don’t do much painting and very little scrapbooking (to the dismay of my husband and the huge pile of photos and supplies we shipped across the country. Twice.) I do, however, continue to create bright and patterned crocheted pieces. So it only made sense to me that the next step would be to create the yarn colors myself as well. There is a need for yarns that have a longer color change, so those of us that crochet can create stripes of a decent length. Most yarn on the market is dyed for the smaller stitches of knitting. Crochet, on the other hand, can have small to very tall stitches that take different amounts of yarn to make. This creates a very different look depending on what stitch you use in your project. Crocheters have learned to work with what they are given, hence the new craze of using store-bought variegated yarns for color pooling. Some yarn companies are figuring it out and creating longer color changes and gradient yarns that work great in either knitting or crocheting. There is also a trend of speckled yarns that don’t have any color pooling at all, letting your project have an even disbursement of color throughout.
With all of these thoughts rolling around in my brain, I decided that I should try my hand at dyeing yarn. I watched and read a ton of tutorials online, and I even tried my hand at some cotton yarn at home (you may have already seen it on my Instagram feed). Then I found a listing for an in-person class being held at Slip Stitch Needlecraft, an independent yarn shop in Brooklyn, NY. I live in Northern NJ, so it was worth the drive to get the hands on experience and ask questions of someone who actually knows what they are doing. I signed up immediately and this is how it went…
It must first be said that Claudette, the shop owner, is one of the nicest people I have ever met. She has a passion for the yarn arts and welcomes all people into her shop as if it were her home. It is certainly the place I will go for yarn whenever I am anywhere near Brooklyn. I just love this place!
There were 3 other students besides myself and we all were very excited to be there. Claudette started with basic color theory and how to put colors together even if you aren’t sure what will look good together. We then learned about what tools are needed, which dyes work on which fibers and the different techniques we would be covering.
First up was hand painting. Claudette had yarn for each of us that had been soaking in a citric acid bath overnight. We had plastic wrap down on our stations and started playing with the mixed acid dyes (with gloves on, of course). I decided to try making a rainbow with some of the yarn left bare. Unfortunately, I dripped some color on the bare spot and had to go over it with black. We were working initially with just the primary colors, so I blended the dye to make the secondary colors.
The second technique we learned was to speckle yarn with plastic forks. What a great idea! Claudette showed us multiple other ways to speckle as well. I had such fun with this, I forgot to take progress photos. I probably could have done it for hours, but we had 2 more techniques to try.
We moved on to dyeing in a pot. This was by far my favorite. The only downside is that you don’t have as much control as to where the dye ends up. There are a few different ways to prepare the yarn and the water to create different dye patterns. I can’t wait to experiment with them all! For this skein, I plopped the yarn in and added dye to either side of the pot. I used a spoon to pull the each side to the center and then at the suggestion of a fellow classmate (Thanks Emily!) added some grey sprinkles where the colors came together. The most amazing part about dyeing in a pot is that the water eventually becomes clear again because all of the dye gets sucked into the yarn. Then you get to reuse the water for the next skein. This creates very little water waste, which is important to me. We each took turns using the pot. It was great to see how each of us chose different colors and different techniques to create our yarns. There was an awful lot of Ooh-ing and Aah-ing. [Shameless Plug: You can see my new yarn buddy, Emily, on her podcast Emiliabedilia Knits]
The last technique we learned was over dyeing. This is when you take a yarn that has already been dyed and you dye over it again. You can use this technique to blend mismatched yarns or just change them completely. It is best to test small pieces of the yarn to see how the dye will come out when put onto an already colored base. I didn’t have any suitable yarn to over dye, but thankfully one of the other students brought enough to share (Thanks Gina!). We each took a different approach and color plan to the over dyeing. I went with a deep red and burgundy for mine. I love the saturation of color on this one. It reminds me of a vampire red. Bwa Ha Ha!
So after all 4 techniques, I would say that hand painting creates the most controlled color but pot dyeing is the most fun 🙂 Here are some pics of my new yarn babies in all their glory. I do plan to get some crocheted and knitted samples made to see how they work and I will be posting them on my Instagram feed.