Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Spinning to dye for

After building up a sizable basket of handspun, it was time to dye. 

Most of my dyeing experience has been with natural dyes and I do love them--from the collecting through recycling nature's color-laden gifts to the lovely, soft colors. 

I've done my share of roadside collecting, but two things have spurred me to consider dye alternatives. One, most free and readily available dyestuffs--marigolds, walnut hulls, onion skins, etc.-- result in colors that dominate the yellow end of the color chart. And two, it may be fun, but it takes time. Precious time. 

As I'm focused primarily on wool fibers, I've puttered a bit with acid dyes but it's effect on the environment has been an ongoing concern. We live in a beautiful but fragile ecosystem--the Pinelands of New Jersey. We also have a septic system. 

Seeking a greener alternative

Dyed skeins drying
At the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival last month, I came across Greener Shades dyes offered by Still River Mill in Eastford, Conn. As advertised, "Greener Shades is a non-hazardous, non-chrome, low impact, heavy metal-free acid dye for use on silk, wool, nylon, or any animal fiber. 

Formulated without the use of hazardous metals, these dyes provides superior light and wash fastness without relying on metal compounds to achieve bright and beautiful colors."

It seemed worth a try so I bought a starter kit. Then I proceeded to gather the tools and equipment needed to dye. My old stainless steel dyepot was long gone (It had been appropriated to make beer!). It's been replaced thanks to New Jersey Guild of Spinners and Weavers member Pat, who alerted guild members to cheap pots at a local discount store. pH paper was harder to come by--at least locally. After trips to four pharmacies and one medical supply store, I ordered it online, along with an inexpensive thermometer and citric acid. Oh, I also bought a burner.

Directions to use the Greener Shades dyes are simple, but I still needed to get into the rhythm of doing it. Perhaps most surprising to me was to discover that our well water is pH neutral! These dyes require an acidic pH of 4.5. Citric acid does the trick.

I dyed several batches over the weekend with depth of shade ratios ranging from 0.5% to 1% and played a little. That lovely soft mauve came from throwing a skein into the pot before all the amethyst dye had been discharged. It's the skein on the right in the photo and I like the effect.

Thanks also to the kind soul at the recent New Jersey Guild meeting who offered the yarn drying rack for a donation to the guild. It's perfect and I promise to share details about it (Click here for details.)


  1. That rack looks like something I would build from PVC pipe and connectors! To go with my niddy noddy and embroidery frame made that way!