Testing, testing…

The project in which I am currently engaged is that of dyeing and spinning fleece, roving and yarns and developing a coherent yarn and fibre product line. By “coherent” I mean products that are related to each other, seem like a unified group of products due to either materials, colour or even just labelling and are replicable (by me) to satisfy market demand.

I’ve been toying with this idea for some time, having learned to spin and being no novice at textile dye work. My past forays into dyeing animal fibres have been rather free-form, however, as I was mainly dyeing for my own pleasure and what pleases me is often “dump that here and mix this here and see what happens.” I expect I was either a deranged alchemist or a mad scientist in an earlier life.

In any event, “Serendipity Dyeing”, while fun and often highly successful, is often not easily replicable. Most people who are engaged in the “whack on some dye and cross your fingers” approach do not keep records of the concentration or mixes of dyes used, the amount of acid added or the length of time the whole mess is allowed to steam and at what temperature.

I’ve been using Acid Dyes (I’m pretty sure they’re Jacquard Dyes, repackaged) from G&S Dye in Toronto. I’ve used their Procion MX dyes for cotton and was very satisfied with the results and figured that their acid dyes were likely to be as good. I was right.

My first plan of action was to dye up some colour swatches. Colour sheet on web pages are notoriously inaccurate due to the discrepancy between monitors. What my screen shows as purple may look more blue to you and vice versa. If I’m going to dye a whole mess of fibres, I’d like a ballpark idea of what they’ll look like when done.

All test dye samples were done with the following parameters:

  • 2 yds 100% wool (2g weight), pre-soaked in acetic acid/water solution
  • Dye solution: 1 cup hot water, 1 mL 95% acetic acid, 1g dye powder
  • Heat set at 400F for 30 mins.)

So I did colour swatches of all the colours I ordered:


Of the dyes I ordered, certain ones were marketed as being more useful for mixing colours. Some dyes, when mixed, do not act as one would expect. They absorb funnily and often simply do not yield the colours you’d expect in combination with other dyes. G&S has a set of very nice primary colours that are designed specifically to remedy this deviant dye behaviour, so I set to work playing with them.

I did a colour wheel of blends of the three primaries:


Then I mixed primaries with their hue opposite on the colour wheel, recording the proportions as I went.


Frankly, you could mix and dye variants on all colours for days and days and never run out of possibilities. I could have spent even more time exploring the subtle variations of light green and light orange and may do so one of these days. Yellow is easily overpowered by others, so less red or blue (as in a drop or two in a cup of yellow) would be enough to alter the hue.

The process:

Cut yarn into 1yd pieces. Soak in vinegar (acetic acid by any other name) – water solution

Label jars clearly with numbers, using a Sharpie. (Note: no dye utensils or containers should ever be used for food again.)


Mix primary dye solutions. (Note: Dye, don’t die. Wear a dust mask. Cancer ain’t fun.)

Put dye into bottles. Note on paper what when into which number of bottle. I used a large syringe so that I could measure how many mL of each dye went into each bottle. Use what works for you. Swirl bottles around a little to mix dye. Drop in 2 yds of yarn.


Put in oven at 400F for around half an hour. Take out. Let cool to room temp. Rinse. Drip dry.



Make up colour swatches to be used in future endeavours. I made up two identical cards; one for my binder of records and another to have around the studio. Sooner or later the latter will have something spilled on it and I’ll be glad of the binder copy!

Addendum: Add swatches to your collection as you dye other pieces. Keep records of what you do. As your experience grows, so will your accumulated colour cards.


One Comment Add yours

  1. crys says:

    Oh that colour. It must make your heart sing!

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