Dyeing > Space Dyeing with Acid Dyes

Preparing the Fibre, Yarn or Fabric

This method is suitable for silk, wool, including alpaca. It is not suitable for vegetable derived fibre, cotton, cottolin, linen, hemp etc. To prepare all yarn, wind it into a skein or warp and tie it quite loosely as the dye will not penetrate the yarn where it is tied tightly. Tie the ends together carefully so that you can find them again. I take one free end, make two self loops round the yarn bundle with that end and then tie the two free ends together. Use a spinner's tie at least twice on the rest of the skein. For these ties, use a totally different colour so that when it is dyed, it will look quite different and be easily recognisable.

I have wound a warp from handspun Hampshire fleece (Figure 1). There are no choke ties because that would leave a white line across the yarn when dyes. The ties for the cross have been ties loosely for the same reason. The warp has then been tightly chained (Figure 2).

We shall be using acid dyes and the fibre, yarn or fabric needs to be prepared. This means cleaning and wetting it according to the fibre content.

For silk or wool, mix
500 ml warm water
2-3 drops Synthrapol (if none, use Fairy Liquid)
25 ml vinegar (use white if possible but malt does no harm)

Soak your fibre (yarn or fabric) in this mixture for at least 15 minutes. Make sure it is thoroughly wet and check under the ties

Applying the Dye

Take a plant tray and cut a piece of cling film which is 6 inches longer than your skein and the full width of the cling film roll. Lay this down on your tray. Squeeze as much water as possible from your skein and lay the. skein on the cling film. Pull the skein in a long oval so that the centre sections are separated by 1 or 2 inches.

Now to dye! Decide what colours you want to use and decant some stock solution into smaller containers (see section below on Stock Solutions). You can mix up two colours to get a third or add a little black to darken. Lighten by adding water.

A paint brush or a foam brush is best for small quantities. Paint on the dye so that the yarn/fabric soaks up the dye. Be sure you get dye on the underside. Put on sections of colour, remembering that where you overlap the colours, you will get a third colour. This can be very attractive. Try not to over-wet the skein or get liquid running around in the bottom of your cling film layer. Mop up excess dye which runs out of the skein with household paper. And try to keep the colours separate. You can use a syringe directly for very thick skeins or fabrics.

When you are happy with the colours, take a piece of household tissue and mop up all excess dye liquid from the cling film and under the skein.

Now to wrap up your dyed skein. You must wrap up the cling film so that no two sections of your skein/fabric are in touch or the dyes will contaminate each other. If you have a single line such as a warp, just wrap the cling film round the skein/fabric, fold over the ends, fold the package in two. If you have the skein in an oval, fold over each side of the cling film so that each half of the oval is covered separately, fold over the ends and fold in half.

Fixing the Colours

Fix these by steaming in an electric steamer for 45 minutes. An electric steamer will take up to 200 gms of yarn in one go. When finished, use tongs to take out all the parcels and dump them in warm water. Unwrap each package and rinse in warm water until the water runs clear. Shake well and hang up to dry. Do not use a steamer or microwave for dyeing and then for food. I keep two steamers for dyeing only.

You can do these in a microwave oven but you would have to experiment with times for setting the dyes.

This was woven into a scarf which was threaded in twill so that sections could be woven in 3 and 1 and alternate sections in 1 and 3 twill thus giving alternate weft faced and warp faced sections (Figure 7).

Stock Solution

The dyes available for purchase are in powder form and must be turned into stock solution before they can be used.

To make a 1% stock solution, mix 10 gms of powder acid dye with half a cup of water taken from 1 litre of warm water. Stir until the powder has dissolved and all the lumps are gone (takes a few minutes). Then add the rest of the 1 litre of water. Put into a Kilner jar (glass is best) and labelled it saying whose make of dye, the colour, the percentage stock solution. and the date. Stock solution for acid dyes will keep for several years in a cool, dark place. When you get it out to use, check that it has not settled. If it has, give a good shake or stir it with a wooden spoon.

Most makes are okay but be aware that some colours are defined differently by different manufacturers. For example, scarlet ranges from chestnut brown to bright orange. Also using turquoise can be very discouraging. It is very fugitive and may take on one lot beautifully and not at all on the next.