Monday, December 08, 2008

Dye job.

For those of you who asked, here's how I dyed the shawl. But first, for those who AREN'T interested in the gory details, here's the finished product, as it blocked last night. As always, I stuck my foot in for scale.

The photo is crooked because after two hours crawling around on my hands and knees to block that SOB, I was in pain and drugged. I am boggled to report that it is 80 inches/2 meters and change across. Hopefully it will suck in a little bit as the fibers relax, post-blocking, because I was shooting for seventy inches on this bitch. Oh, and it contains a mile and a quarter/2 km of yarn. Good thing I wasn't keeping track as I knit it. No wonder this thing took me three months. I told the husbeast, "Next time I knit something this elaborate, I'm doing it on quad zeros so it blocks to the size of a place mat." he said "You're crazy. You know that, right?"

So. Dyeing it.

Saturday afternoon, I got a five gallon/19 liter bucket and filled it with water and about a quart/liter of vinegar, stuffed the shawl in, and left it to soak overnight. It's almost impossible to soak too long, but the water starts getting grody after a couple days.

I included the Goob's bath toys in the photo for your amusement.

Sunday I prepped the dye bath while I left the shawl soaking.

Salt is something I don't generally use when dyeing wool, for various reasons. Salt slows the uptake of dye into the fiber, and by that mechanism, evens out the uptake and reduces the uneven splotching that can happen when you hand dye. Normally I like splotchy, but not on finished products. Don't get me wrong; no matter what you do, a hand dye at this level will come out with uneven color. But salt will reduce that to slight, interesting variations, instead of something that looks like a mistake. Generally you should use kosher or pickling salt (no additives), and about the same weight of salt as you have of fiber. I didn't have enough kosher salt to spare, so I used iodized (regular table salt) instead. It's a little more obnoxious to wash out at the end of the dye process but otherwise fine.

There was no way I was going to dissolve two pounds of salt into the amount of water I could fit in my dye pot, so I just dumped some salt into a sauce pan, perhaps two cups' worth.

I put it on the stove to boil it and dissolve it. Unfortunately there wasn't enough water and I wound up with a super-saturated liquid.

Which is kind of fun from a chem geek point of view, but a pain in the ass in the dye pot. (What happens is, there is too much salt to fit in the spaces between water molecules. When you heat the water, the spaces get bigger and more salt can dissolve and fit into those spaces. Then when you reduce the heat, the space constricts and you can watch the salt crystallize out of the water and fall like snow into the bottom of the pan. Like I said, cool if you're fooling around, but a pain in the ass for dye purposes.) I poured off as much of the liquid as would STAY liquid, into the dye pot and filled the pan with salt with more water. Once that heated, I mixed in the dye.

I used a heaping 1/8 teaspoonful of Wilton's "Sky Blue" dye (which is pure Blue 1 food colorant). I have no idea what that is in metric, so I took a photo of the measuring spoon.

Actually, I used half a spoon of it first, dyed the shawl, decided it was too light, and put the whole thing back in the dye pot with the heaping measuring spoon full of dye. Always remember - you can always re-dye but you can't make it lighter.

The dye was mixed into the boiling water, just to make it easier. By now the husbeast was in the kitchen, leaning over my shoulder, and snapping photos.

And I'm supposed to tell everyone, when he saw the amount of salt going into the dye pot, he said "It's a shawl, not a cured ham." (As for that loaf of bread in the background, remember - food coloring = food safe, so I don't have to care about safety.)

Anyway, that pan of dye and salt ALSO went into the dye pot, and I topped it off with cold water so that it was room temperature.

It's murky like that because of all the salt in it. (And remember, I actually skimped on the salt. Boggling.)

After that, I went and fished the shawl out of the soak, ran through the house with it still dripping, and plopped it into the dye pot. I sort of kneaded it to make sure the dye was squished through the entire thing.

Since I was using my roaster, it was a simple matter at that point to apply heat, and I turned it on to 200 degrees F/93 C. I left it that way for an hour and a half, prodding it with a wooden spoon every fifteen minutes, trying to squish the dye through it to keep the color even. This part is a balancing act, and the tricky part; too much squishing, and you felt it. Too little squishing, and the dye is uneven. Well. MORE uneven. After that I turned it up to 250F/120C and let it go for half an hour, again squishing every fifteen minutes.

Once the color was what I wanted, keeping in mind the color is darker wet than dry, I pulled the shawl out and left it balled up in a metal mixing bowl to cool for about an hour. The dye pot had not exhausted. I did not care. It doesn't matter much, except that you have to be more careful with washing to get out all the unbonded dye. Forgot to get a picture, sorry. Imagine a wadded up, dripping blue shawl in a bowl, here.

After that, I washed it just like you'd wash any woolen, in the kitchen sink with room temperature water and a PH neutral soap (dish washing detergent, because it was there). I did three rinses, about two more than usual, because of the unbonded dye and all the salt. Once the water in the rinse stayed clear, I blocked it. (No trip through the spin cycle of the washing machine this time, because I wanted it to stay wet until it was blocked properly, and I knew this blocking job was going to be a bitch.)

So that's what I did. Routine blocking, except for the fact that it was huge and the blocking wires didn't reach across the entire edge of the octagon. I faked it on four of the sides, and used wires for partial edges.

The husbeast brought in one of his shop fans with a heat option, and blew it on the shawl and it was dry in time to pull it up before bed. (The Goob is known to get up for drinks of water in the middle of the night and no WAY I was having her stumble across that. Or worse, decide to play with it.)

So there you have it. How to dye a project, after it's finished. Simple enough, but not for the faint of heart. Or sane.

I am pleased to report the shawl is almost the same color as a scarf I knit for my mother-in-law two years ago, and she loved the color of that. So I think it was a success.

Now I need to get working on my father-in-law's sweater. Anyone seen the notebook where I wrote down the pattern? 'Cause I can't find it.


Sarah said...

Beautiful Julie, and great process description.

Did ya check with the Goob or even Sekhmet for your notebook??

PS When I first saw the pic I thought you had dyed it in primary colors, d'oh

Mandy said...

Oh. My. Gosh. It's freaking gorgeous! Wow. (Did the husbeast know you were insane when he married you? 'Cause the cat's out of the bag, now.)

Kris Fletcher said...

It's totally beautiful, and mind-boggling that you got it done so fast (coming from a woman who has spent 9 months trying to finish one stupid pair of socks). But I have a Very Dumb question: how do you wear a circular shawl? Do you fold it in half first? If so, then why not just knit a semi-circle?

Cindy said...

Truly lovely, I can't wait to see a picture of this in nature sunlight - hint, hint!

Rose Red said...

Wow - it's amazing.

Emily said...

Oh, it is absolutely amazing. What a huge amount of work! I can hardly wait to see it dried & out away from those colored blocks behind it! I can't believe how fast you did the whole thing. You deserve to strut a bit.

Anonymous said...

WOW. Is this a suprise so the MIL and FIL don't read this?


KnitTech said...

It's great! Love the color.

Amy Lane said...

Wow-- so gorgeous! And I'm with Kris--I can't believe how fast you did it!!!

Alwen said...

Wow. Although I had a split-second of "Eh?" when I first saw the rubber mat colors through it, before my brain caught up to what they were. (Remarkable how she can dye things in sharply divided blocks like that.)

Bells said...

Oh wow. Great work. Love the step by stepness of it all. This is your big achievement for the year, I think. Do you?

Leonie said...

It looks so beautiful. I'm never attempting it!! So dainty looking, I'm in awe.

Louiz said...

Wow, that's amazing.