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A Yarn is Born Part II: A Yarn is Dyed

In my last post, I described what I do to create a skein of yarn. That skein wasn't finished, though; it was still a natural color. And since that color was a blend of grayish-blackish angora and tannish-beige-ish alpaca, it really wasn't particularly pretty--just a dull, non-descript neutral tone. Now that I've spun a few more of those skeins, I'll dye them.

I think a light turquoise green would be a good color for this batch. Maybe the black tips of the angora fibers will show through, and evoke thoughts of the black veins in turquoise stone.

The first step is to wash the yarn. Even though lots of dirt and and VM fell out during carding and spinning, there's still a good bit left. A squirt of dish soap and a few changes of warm water should take care of it. I'm not going to swish the yarn around in its bath, though, because agitation, heat, moisture, and soap applied to animal-sourced yarn would give me a tangled mess of felt. Felting is a fun process--but not right now.

After a few rinses to remove the dirt and soap, I'm ready to dye. I partly fill a big 20-quart stainless steel stockpot with water, add dissolved dye powder and citric acid, gently place the yarn in the pot, and heat it all to close to boiling.

I use acid dyes from the Dharma Trading Company. These dyes come in a powdered form, and must be mixed in warm water before adding to the dyepot. When I started dyeing, I wondered "What's the ratio of powder to water I should use?" That was not a useful question. I should have been thinking of the ratio of dye powder to yarn. I use 1%-2% OWG--"Of Weight of Goods"--which means that I have to weigh my yarn while it's still dry. I also have to hope my little scale can give a fairly accurate weight for a few grams of dye powder. Mostly, I just concede that I will not be able to reproduce a particular color if I try dyeing another batch of it.

As the dyepot simmers (NOT a full rolling boil--boiling causes bubbles, which agitates the yarn, and turns it into felt), something magical happens: the dye in the water is absorbed by the yarn, and the water turns clear. At this point, the dyeing is done, so I remove the yarn, let it cool slowly (rapid temperature change "shocks" the yarn and causes it to felt), and wash the excess dye from it.

When I hang the yarn up to dry, I use gentle weights to "set the twist," or teach the fibers how they're supposed to hang. A heavy weight would stretch the yarn.

I don't think that black veining I was hoping for worked, but's still a pretty color. The high angora content of this yarn will give it a dense fuzzy "halo," and anything made with this yarn will be toasty warm and oh-so-soft.

Once the yarn is dry, I twist it into a skein and add my label, and it's ready for you to buy!


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