Day 5: Immersion Dyeing

Orange luxury pack

In August of this year my friend Lynne Vogel was teaching a color/spin/dye workshop at Harrisville Designs in New Hampshire. If you’re a knitter, you should have heard of Harrisville. They do the yummy yarns in the Vivian Hoxbro kits and they do a bunch of other amazing yarns for knitting and weaving (tweeds – mmmm!!).

Harrisville has a giant classroom space as well as room for dyeing. So a couple of years ago Lynne started teaching there and let me tell you, the students are a little rabid. She’s had some of the same people coming for more than 5 years to her workshops. I’m sure it has something to do with her style of teaching and what she teaches, but that’s pretty amazing no matter who you are.

Yellow BFL & Merino pack

This year the class only had about 10 people. We had a chance to split the group into 2 groups and in addition to the color pour technique that I first learned from Lynne, we got to try immersion dyeing. I like to think of it as stone soup dyeing. Essentially, you throw a color in a cold pot and heat it up. You can add the fiber while the pot is cold or wait till it’s warmed up a little and then throw it in. Different colors will strike at different temperatures and superwash soaks up dye like nobody’s business. So you get some amazing results with this combination.

We started with superwash (no chance of felting if we got lazy about watching the pot). Once the dye stock gets to almost boiling, you take it off and let it sit, covered, for about 20 minutes. This gives the dye time to exhaust and also cool off a little. When I’m at home, I let them sit until they cool off enough so I can stick my hands in. I have some of those giant heat proof gloves, but in my haste, I’ve messed up a lot of fiber by being too quick to get my hands in there and the fiber out. If you can wait, do, the fiber will thank you.

Usually, the dye exhausts into the fibers. Sometimes you get left overs. This is where it’s fun. At first, I was trying to completely exhaust so I could start again with a new color. After a while, I figured it was more fun to just throw a little more dye in and see what came about. Then I started experimenting with other fibers.

Red luxury pack

When I came home, the Hub helped me set up a little propane dye kitchen and I went a little wild. It occurred to me that I could do sample packs of fibers. A lot of times new spinners are hesitant to buy something they’ve never spun before (they don’t want to “ruin” it). I put together packets of luxury fibers so that people could try little bits to see if they liked it enough to buy more. It’s been a lot of fun. You never know what’s going to come out.

The luxury packs have 1 ounce each of merino superwash, merino (50)/bamboo (50), merino (70)/seacell (30), and merino (50)/tencel (50). The BFL/Merino pack has 1 ounce each of bluefaced leicester (BFL), BFL superwash, merino, and merino superwash. There’s also a 50 yard skein of wool, the light colors are merino from Australia and the dark colors are Michigan grown and processed wool.

Four ounces of something is enough to play. I’ve spun all the fibers as singles and then plied different singles together. My plan is to take one of the packs and spin and ply every combination to see what I come out with. Then I have to work on some sort of pattern so people know what to do with the yarns they’ve spun. Again, 4 oz is enough to make a cute pair of fingerless mitts, cuffs for a special sweater, or even a simple shawlette. My problem is deciding which pack to experiment with – I love all of them.

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