Posts Tagged ‘hand dyed’

I’ve noticed with recent sewing projects that I’ve been drawn towards light value colors, or the neutral colors. I’ve also noticed my stash of neutral fabrics decreasing as each project is completed. Last weekend, when I got the urge to dye fabric and suddenly found myself with a free Saturday, my thoughts went immediately to dyeing more neutrals.

IMG_5761I think hand dyeing neutral fabrics is one of the unique reasons to dye fabric in the first place; the incredible range of colors and values you can get with mixing your own dye is limitless. What is the best way to dye a neutral color you say? Mixing three primaries, red, yellow and blue. Of course the amount you mix of each changes your neutral color, to range from a red brown to a golden brown to a blue gray to a green gray . . .

IMG_5084Some time ago, I think back in February, I spent another Saturday dyeing fabric. I was eager to try the Outdoor Flat Dyeing method, featured in the June/July 2012 issue of Quilting Arts, of Robin Ferrier. I had also recently purchased on a whim the Fall Pantone colors from Dharma.

photoI’ve never previously purchased mixed colors from Dharma. I’ve always mixed my own colors from the three primary colors. But the Falltones mix seemed fun and varied, so I thought I’d give it a go.

IMG_5092Unfortunately, as happens in the spring in the Eastern Sierra, the Saturday I set out to try this new outside dyeing method was extremely windy. It was the most stressful, frantic, and messy dyeing experience I’ve ever had. The wind blew the plastic and dye over everything.

IMG_5083Once started though, I couldn’t stop, as the fabric was pre-soaked in soda ash and the dye colors mixed. I forged ahead and persevered. The wind not withstanding, I was not very happy with my results. I was shocked by the deepness of color. Perhaps already then my penchant for bright colors was lessening as I continued to be drawn towards more muted colors. I now have over 10 yards of dyed Falltone colors. Perhaps the fabric will make good backs for quilts or linings for bags. (Note: lessons learned are to not choose a windy day, make sure you have a large table to work on, and personally, I’d reduce the amount of dye powder suggested per cup of water.)


Now back to this last weekend. As I pondered the neutral fabric I wanted to mix, I thought, why not use the powder from the Falltones! Learning from my past experience, I used a very diluted amount of dye powder to get the lighter colors I was hoping for. Completely at random, I chose three dye powders from the Falltone set and mixed them together. While not truly a neutral color, the result was a lovely range of muted tones. For each, I dyed three different values, decreasing in brightness, for more varied color. When I finished the rinsing and drying and ironed the swatches out flat, I was more than pleased with the result.

IMG_5753Exactly what I was hoping for when I started out in the morning. Unique. Solid. Mouth-watering. I was unstoppable. I wanted to do more! So I cut up another few yards, and kept going. With this next batch, I chose two colors I hadn’t used yet from the Falltones, Brushed Steel (silver) and Caffeine Buzz (brown), and reduced them to lighter shades. As well, I mixed another random neutral using equal amounts of Jungle Red, Brilliant Yellow, and Blueberry.

IMG_5756The result? A more somber set of neutrals, still equally mouth-watering and brilliant in their simplicity.

IMG_5758I keep track of all my dye experiments with notes like this, in case I ever want to go back and duplicate a color in larger quantities, or to use as inspiration for what worked or how to do something different. In these particular notes, I included the original Falltone colors that made each run of neutral color.

IMG_5759Here are all 27 colors mixed together. Don’t the duller neutrals just make the brighter neutrals pop?! Never underestimate the power of adding a neutral to your palette.

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Being in between knitting projects, I started getting the hankering to dye more yarn. I combed my dye books for possibilities. Early spring and where I live gave me few options to choose from. One that caught my eye was willow. In the book Wild Color, by Jenny Dean, she shows willow as dyeing a light beige color with no mordant. I was instantly intrigued as willow grows abundantly along the Owens River which flows a few miles from my house.

IMG_5521Last Saturday, boyfriend, dog and I hopped in the truck and headed down to the Owens River with dinner to go to collect some willow.

IMG_5464The willow was just beginning to leaf out, and the collecting went easy. The recipe called for a one to one ratio, and I had 500 grams of yarn needing to be dyed. 500 grams of willow filled a small tote bag.

IMG_5525What struck me as interesting is that willows offer a good source of tannin, like oak trees. Tannins are used in many recipes to mordant cotton in addition to an alum mordant, before dyeing. This was a quick and easy dye project because I was able to skip the mordant step, and just boil the yarn in the dye bath.

IMG_5493To make the dye bath, I followed the instructions in the book: I poured boiling water over my leafy stems and let them steep overnight to begin the dye color extraction. The next day, I simmered the willow leafy stem dye bath for half an hour. I strained the plant fiber from the dye bath, and brought the yarn and dye to a boil and then simmered for an hour. I then let this sit overnight to allow even more dye to penetrate the yarn. Rinsing on the third day, the yarn emerged a soft beige color.

IMG_5551Still, my color came out lighter than the book’s example. One possibility is that I collected the willow in early spring, and the book recommends late spring to early fall. I look forward to trying again in the summer to see if I can get a darker brown.

IMG_5554The bark can also be used for a slightly different range of colors, but it seems like a more intensive process of stripping the bark and letting soak for a few days before starting the dye process.

IMG_5557The pattern I chose is one my friend Lesley knit, of a lacy long sleeve pullover, with a hood! It will be perfect for cool spring evenings or warm summer days at work.

IMG_5560With my first skein wound into a ball, I’m ready to swatch!


Thanks to Aaron for taking photos of my harvesting, and to Winston who is always up for an outing.

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On Sunday, Lesley, Brianna and I experimented for the first time with dyeing yarn and fabric with indigo. Lesley had ordered a kit from Dharma, and we started by dissolving and mixing the indigo powder and reducing agent in a big pot of warm water.

After stirring, we let the pot sit for an hour, while the chemical reaction worked its magic. When the water turned a yellowish-green, it was ready to dye. The instructions said to remove the “flower”, a bubble of blue stuff that formed on the top of the water. Lesley gamely jumped in to give it a try. It was very, very stinky.

Then it was time to dye the material! After soaking each hank or piece of fabric in water to wet thoroughly, we held in the pot for three minutes or so, gently agitating to make sure the dye penetrated the whole piece, without making bubbles or splashes.

When the fabric was removed, it was a bright yellow color, which rapidly started to turn blue as it was exposed to the oxygen in the air. Wild!

We lay out the pieces for twenty minutes, watching with excitement as the colors continued to deepen and darken as time passed.

I  then rinsed, washed, and dried the fabric. I made different colors by starting with white fabric or yellow fabric, and varying the amount of time the fabric was exposed to the dye, sometimes dunking the pieces for two times.

Such a different way to dye fabric, stretching my understanding of chemistry a bit, what with reacting agents and oxidation and the like. Crazy to take a moment and imagine that this is how our blue jeans are dyed!

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When I suddenly found myself with a few unexpected free hours midweek, my first thought was, need to dye blue fabric! I took a lovely and sunny warm afternoon to pull out my dyes, and ended up with seven yards of twenty-four new colors.

When Aaron saw the finished colors today, he commented that they looked like sea foam.

Which pleased me immensely, as these colors will become triangles and part of my Ocean Waves quilt. Adding sea foam to the ocean waves. I like that.

I dyed six blues, from purple-blue to green-blue, and each color in three values. Then, mixing all my leftover red, yellow, and blue dye, I made my mystery browns.

I do love a mystery brown or too. Such depth of color.

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