Saturday, February 27, 2010

More photos! Batches 2 and 3

Here's the start of the second batch.

I used a different technique this time. I folded half the dry wool in the bottom of the pot and sprinkled one 7g packet of orange kool-aid on the one half, then one of cherry on the other half. After that, I folded the remaining wool on top of the flavoured wool and sprinkled one more packet of orange on the first half, then one of cherry on the second half.

I slowly and carefully poured water into the pot, then gently pushed the whole mess down so it was under water. I set the slow cooker on Hi and forgot about it for a few hours (I was busy taking apart the blue and brown sweater).

There was still an orange tinge in the water, so I added some vinegar and left it another half hour. No change, so I decided to dump it, rinse it, and be done with it.

I wasn't sure about the colour at first and considered overdyeing it to add some interest, but...

I think I like it :-)

Here are the two first batches together.

So, I started a third batch. 30 drops of neon green food colouring on the right side, 20 drops of blue on the left side.

Gently poke it down so the dye has a change to spread.

Forget about it for a few hours.

It's ready! I had trouble taking the picture because there was too much vapour coming from the surface - it got hotter than my other batches.

Isn't it beautiful? Too bad it doesn't smell as nice as the other ones though... If I were to sell this, I'd consider adding a little bit of essential oils to the dye bath so it smelled good, like the Kool-Aid-dyed batches.

And here it is after it's all nice and dry...

More photos! Batch 1

Here are my basic supplies. This is an old crock-pot, but they make new ones exactly like this. I can't figure out why they're still making them with the little flower on them though!

The Kool-Aid is the unsweetened version. It should work with the sweetened version too, but you'll need to wash it thoroughly after it's dyed to get rid of the sugar. Not recommended unless you really can't find anything else.

I bought regular food colouring, but apparently Wilton's makes a more professional set in an amazing range of colours. I'll have to try finding some eventually.

Step 1: Set the wool to heat slowly in the crockpot. (It floats, just like cereal.) I needed to push it down several times before it finally wanted to stay under, this is why it looks like there's not quite enough water in the crockpot on this picture.

I added some vinegar to help the dye even though it's not really necessary with Kool-Aid.

This is what it looked like after adding the dye. I'll give you the dyes I placed where according to a clock face: At noon, I added two 7g packets of grape Kool-Aid, at 8 I added two packets of cherry Kool-Aid, and at 3 I added 20 drops of blue food colouring and some more vinegar. Everything was first diluted in a little bit of water.

The photo really shows well what I was seeing with my bare eyes. I was afraid for a moment I was going to end up with mud.

But, lo and behold, this is what my camera saw with the flash!

Better, isn't it? There is a lot of loose dye in the bath, and it seemed to remain that way forever. I'd run to the kitchen every 20 minutes and raise the lid, and poke it, and tell myself to be patient...

The thing with acid dyes is that they need to reach a certain heat, and then, suddenly, everything works the way it should. 20 minutes before I had a bath quite similar to the one above, and then, without warning, I came back to this!

It had suddenly reached the magic temperature and the wool had sucked it all in!

See? No dye left in the bath! All gone! This is how you know it's ready. (The technical term: the dye bath is exhausted.)

Drop the whole mess into a colander to cool by itself (remember, no temperature shock!) and drain. You could let it cool overnight in the dye bath also, but I wanted to do a second batch right away.

I carefully lifted it after a while so the still-hot parts at the bottom had a chance to cool, then I rinsed it in lukewarm water, squeezed it lightly to get some more water out, and hung it in the shower to drip.

Look at the before/after difference! Wow!

The theory of dyeing

Now, the fun part. Dyeing the wool!

I managed to find some Kool-Aid, in three colours: orange, cherry and grape. I also bought neon food colouring.

Let's recapitulate. To dye wool or other protein-based fibers, you want an acid dye. Most (if not all) dyes used in the food industry are acid dyes, so jell-o and regular food colouring also work. Acid dyes work on protein-based fibers, that is, hair or even skin, which means you can dye wool, mohair, alpaca, human hair, and all other hair you can think of, but also silk (worm spit), finger nails, skin (leather), and bone. As an added bonus, it also dyes nylon. It's extremely fugitive on plant-based fibers such as linen or cotton, and doesn't work at all on sythetic fibers, wich is why I tie my hanks with leftover bits of acrylic yarn before dyeing.

You need two things for the dye to work. An acid, and heat. The acid in kool-aid is citric acid, and usually you don't need to add any more. With other food dyes, you add white vinegar. You could do the same with lemon juice or stronger acids, but white vinegar is dirt cheap. For heat, you can work on the stove, or, to make things simpler, you can do the same I do and use your slow cooker on the Hi setting. Many people will seal their wool in a zip-lock bag and heat it slowly in the microwave to set the dye (careful not to scorch your wool! it has to remain wet at all times). The usual technique is to heat 2 minutes, let cool a bit, then heat 2 minutes, then... you get the idea.

There is one thing you must be careful with, though: wool felts. Two things will felt it: agitation and sudden temperature changes. Which means that you can heat it thoroughly, as long as you don't suddenly dump cold water on it. It also means that it's important to manipulate it as little as possible, especially when it's hot and wet. With the slow cooker, I start my wool in lukewarm water and let it heat gradually, which is what a slow cooker is meant to do anyway. I add the dye at any point during the heating process. It doesn't matter much if it's not hot enough yet when I add the dye, it only means that the wool won't absorb it all before it reaches the "magic" temperature so the colours will mix a little more in the dye bath. If I were to wait until it was very hot, then the wool would absorb the dye faster before it had a chance to spread and I'd get more variation in the colours. It's not better or worse, it's simply a different effect.

This post is getting long, so I think I'll show you the pics in the next one!

Photos, photos!

Here is the first sweater I took apart. 5,99$ at Salvation Army, made in Ireland, pure virgin wool. It had a couple of (repaired) holes throughout. Frankly, I think the colour is simply ugly. As I said before... it's dryer-lint-coloured, a kind of pale blueish gray with specks of purple, turquoise and orange throughout. Yikes! But, the wool has a wonderful thick scratchy feel and has obviously been treated right, because it hasn't felted at all.

There are very nice instructions all over the Internet explaining how to take apart old sweaters for the wool, so I won't repeat them here. On most sweaters, it's very easy to find the end of the stitches holding the shirt together, take the tail out and zip! undo it all in one go. This one undid like a charm!

Here are the various sweater parts after they've been taken apart. Sleeve, body, and neck. It had a tiny bit of serging at the shoulder seams (most sweaters are made this way) so there as a little bit of loss at the top of the body pieces, and because of the holes I couldn't get a full ball from all the pieces, but I got a great amount of yarn anyway.

See how much I got? How cool is that? I took a picture with my hand so you can see how much there is!

I don't have pictures of the second one I took apart, which was a bit of a disappointment because the wool is not in as good a state as I thought, but I have pictures of the third. This one is a blend, 50% wool, with cotton and nylon. 5,99$ at Salvation Army. I'm not planning on dyeing this one. It's super, super soft, that's why I bought it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I'm in danger!

I found a wonderful yarn store right on the way home from work. A real yarn store, not one of those places selling only acrylic... Those places are very dangerous for me, and this one is really too close to be good...

Actually, I wanted to see how much a ball winder would cost. I totally forgot about it once I was in the store!


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Found somme Kool-Aid -- and Richard stole one of my sweaters!

I found Cherry, Orange and Grape! At Wal-Mart, no less. I'd really like Lime and Blue (whatever flavour is), but what I have now is good enough for a first test. Between that and the food colouring, I should get a good range of colours!

I won't be able to try it today, though.

And, Richard decided to keep the Gap sweater -- until it's too old to wear, in any case. It's nice lamb wool and has no holes. I'll have to get another one for my tests!

Edit: We went to Village des Valeurs to replace the one he decided to keep, and I bought three more. One white-ish to dye, one vivid red, and one green. I'm a happy girl!

I found out the exact colour of the ugly sweater I frogged yesterday... it's drier-lint coloured. Exactly the same weird shade of purplish-grey with speckles of colour. It needs dye :-)

One down, three to go!

I took apart my first sweater! Yippee! I'm impressed by the insane amount of yarn I ended up with. I'm happy :-) Next, I can dye it!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Recycling wool

I've been wanting to try this for the longest time... So, finally, I went to l'Armée du Salut and bought three shirts for about 18 $. Two of them (100% wool) will be for dyeing, the other (a mix) will make nice socks or slippers. Really, a Gap 100% wool shirt for 8,50? They are presently in the wash with Woollite, partly because I don't trust their cleanliness, partly to get rid of the smell.

I really wanted to try dyeing with Kool-Aid, but it's proving nearly impossible to find in Montreal - the traditional, unsweetened kind, at least. I'll see if I can find some in the U.S. in March.

In the meantime, I'll dye with vinegar and food colouring, which does exactly the same thing, without the fruity smell. But Kool-Aid has such nice, vivid colours!

I promise pictures :-)