Monday, July 18, 2016

Breaking Blue

Every now and then I need a little break from knitting, but at the same time I can't seem to turn off the desire to make something. This time, with Isabel home and cheering me on, I took the plunge with a dyeing/spinning experiment. Usually when spinning is involved, I am quite project oriented, but it being the middle of summer, I felt carefree and happy just to see where the process would take me. The aim was to see if I could "break" Wilton's delphnium blue while dyeing 100g of non-superwash treated BFL (blue-faced Leicester, for non-fibre aficionados). Previous attempts to dye roving ended with felted messes. So I TOOK MEASURES.
1. I braided the roving. Actually, I made the equivalent of a crochet chain out of it. Not too tightly, though, because I wanted the dye to penetrate. I hoped that braiding the roving (really combed top) would minimize the movement of the fibre in the dye bath.
2. I brought a big pot of water to the boil, then added 2 tbsp of white vinegar + about a tsp of the dye, which comes in gel form.

This is a cake icing gel. FYI, Koolaid unsweetened powder is no longer available in Canada, so that's why I chose Wilton's, which is readily available at Michael's. It's non-toxic, so is safe to use in the kitchen.
2. I DID NOT pre-soak the roving. I followed the suggestion of Karen of Chemknits fame in the hope that the dry fibre would soak up the components of delphinium blue at different rates--hence breaking it down.
3. Once the dye was dissolved into the water, I lowered the heat so that the water was just below the boil. I did not want any bubbling action which might encourage felting. Then I added the roving, gently poking it down into the water with a slotted spoon.
4. I covered the pot and left it alone for about 20-30 minutes, only checking from time to time to verify that the water remained just on the verge of boiling.
5. After that time, even though there was still a bit of dye left in the water, I turned off the heat and let the whole thing cool down over a few hours.
6. Once cool, I very, very gently picked up the roving and deposited it in a colander over a bowl. Then I rinsed out the dye pot, filled it with water the same temperature as had just been in it, and added a squirt of Sunlight dish washing detergent. I gently popped the fibre into the rinse water and left it alone for about 10 minutes. No stirring, no squeezing.
7. Again I gently (notice that this word is getting a lot of use) picked up the roving and, WITHOUT SQUEEZING OR WRINGING IT, laid it back into the colander over the bowl to drain. I did not want to do anything at all that might compress the fibre. When the worst of the drainage was over, I picked up the braid by one end and carried it up to the third floor library, where I hung it over a hanger with a bowl underneath to catch the drips. The weather was hot and breezy, and I hoped that the braid would dry quickly. It did. Overnight, in fact. This is what it looked like when it was undone.

Success! The fibre did not felt and remained loose and perfect for spinning. This photo also demonstrates why I prefer to dye before, rather than after spinning. See how the dye is in distinct stripes. Very striking and pretty, but if this were a skein, it would have limited use. I suspect we've all succumbed to a beautiful skein of space-dyed yarn at one time or another, then discovered with dismay how difficult is to turn into an equally beautiful piece of knitting. With roving, the process of dividing it into lengths and attenuating, then plying it, causes the colours to blend in a delicious way. In this case, the purple dispersed into the turquoise to a surprising degree. Here is a closeup of the singles on my bobbin. I was aiming for a fingering weight after plying,

and I seem to have achieved it.

Now, what to do... Suggestions for 100g of fingering weight hand-dyed handspun?


  1. Elizabeth--it's BEAUTIFUL!!!!

  2. I love it!!! How many yards did you get???? It's much too pretty for something 'ordinary'!!

  3. I haven't meticulously counted the yardage, but it's probably approximately the same as the same weight in commercially spun fingering--somewhere in the range of 400m.

  4. What a great project/non-project! Your results are so pretty. Wish I could suggest a knit that would be worthy to show it off for you--

    1. I'm starting to think it needs to be a pretty scarf/cowl. I'm already dreaming up how I'll do it. For me the fun is in the invention. I get bored knitting other people's patterns, even when they're beautiful, alas.