Ok, you’ll have to forgive me for the title. I just couldn’t help myself. It seemed too appropriate.

My Mom and I have been experimenting with yarn dyeing together in a sporadic way for years. We started with Kool-Aid dyeing when I was in high school. More recently we’ve played around with Jaquard Acid Dyes. Inspired by my friends over in Enablers Anonymous on Ravelry who recently had a dyeing day I couldn’t make it to, we planned our first Mother-Daughter Dyeing Day in quite awhile. Last Tuesday we experimented with new dyes and a new technique (as well as a few old ones). We ended up dyeing yarn from 1pm to 11pm, which truth be told ended up being a very long day.

This was our first time using MX Reactive Dyes. There were some upsides and some downsides. The perceived benefit was the ability to get more range of color. With acid dyes we’d always had a hard time getting anything but super bright colors, even with lots of mixing. This is fun for awhile, but gets a boring after a bit. My understanding was that with MX Dyes we’d be able to get subtle shades up through very rich, deep shades. This turned out to be true, but we didn’t end up having much control over when they were light and when they were dark. This may just be because we’re new to the process, but it lead to some rather unexpected results. Although, the element of surprise can sometimes be good since it forces me to let go of my fiber control freak tendencies from time to time.

One definite downside apart from the surprise colors, was the time consuming nature of dyeing with MX reactive dyes. The process takes much longer than dyeing with acid dyes. This is why we didn’t rinse out the last skein until 11pm. But we dyed a ton of yarn and got some beautiful results (even if they weren’t always what we planned on).

The new technique we tried was Gradient Dyeing. I’m in love with the gradient dyed projects I’ve seen on ravelry, although I haven’t found many. Inspired by some truly gorgeous results I decided to give it a go. After doing some research on possible techniques for achieving the result of gradient dyed yarn, I decided to order some sock flats. Everything I read about gradient dyeing with yarn in other put ups (skeins, balls etc.) seemed super messy and more time consuming than it really needed to be.

I decided that the best plan of action was going a dip dyeing route. Our technique went like this: mix dye on the strong side; prepare dye bath with less water than usual; rig sock flat on old knitting needle with bottom section hanging into dye bath and cook for 15 minutes; add 1.5 or 2 quarts of hot water to dye bath (depending on strength of dye mixture); cook for 15 minutes; repeat last 2 steps until pot is full (usually 4 or 5 segments) letting down slack from rigged up sock flat as you go in order to create similarly sized segments; when pot is full, undo sock flat from knitting needle rig & submerge completely in dye bath.

The level of effectiveness of this technique varied a great deal. The problems are mostly having to do with consistency. One flat is very dark on one half and very light on the other with little noteworthy change in shade other than the stark shift half way through. Another is very dark most of the way through, but shifts more gradually (interestingly this dye was mixed no stronger than the flat that ended up half and half). The most successful flat still has one very noticeable shift about half way through, but does have noticeable shifts from light to dark within each of those halves.

The other major problem turned out to be with the sock flats themselves. Although the dye looks completely solid on the outside, it did not penetrate to the heart of the stitches in the flat leaving white spots that appeared when two of the flats were unwound. This actually gives the yarn a somewhat heathered look when knit up, which I’ve decided to embrace, but wasn’t quite what I had in mind. If I decide to take another stab at gradient dyeing (and I plan to) I will try another technique next time and might try gradient dyeing with the yarn put up in a different way.

We also did plenty of traditional kettle dyeing (and my Mom did a little handpainting). There were also some surprising results in that department, but everything turned out gorgeous. The issue with the kettle dyeing was how much color rinsed out. We had encountered this some with acid dyes, but not to such an extreme degree. My navy blue turned out cornflower after rinsing. My red rinsed out to a color that is much closer to a deep pink (despite my attempts to avoid that by mixing the dye to what the dye company’s directions recommended for “dark” colors). In general the most systematic problem was the blue rinsing out, regardless of the mix. I know this is not uncommon as the blue dye molecule is larger than the fiber molecule (at least for wool, I had trouble finding info on this for silk), but in some cases, it rinsed out to such an extreme degree that little or none remained. Like my aforementioned attempt at navy, or my two tries at purple that both turned the same shade of a beet-like color after rinsing. Both attempts at purple silk were mixed from different dye combinations- one was 90% Ultra Violet and 10% Cloud Grey and the other was 50% Eggplant and 50% Cloud Grey- and looked very different in the dye pot. And yet they both turned out almost identical after rinsing. I plan to overdye one set later so I don’t end up with 2000 yards of beet colored lace weight silk. But in truth I’m happy to keep one set, since the color is actually gorgeous.

In spite of all the surprises and the unexpected results, I am really pleased with what I walked away with. I think every skein is lovely, even with some imperfections. I have thoughts on how to work with the unique qualities of each one, to highlight their beauty, although some of these ideas are different than what I had planned on my way into dyeing day.

So I’m sure after all this you’re probably waiting to see the results. And I’m quite looking forward to showing them to you, but this post has become quite long & I’m still trying to get better pictures of one or two skeins, so you’ll just have to wait another day or two to see how things turned out. I promise I’ll try not to draw out the suspense too long.

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