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Wool Dyeing – Equipment Needed For Advanced Methods
This is the second in a series of articles on dyeing wool, using the three primaries, metric measurements, liquid dyestock, and percentage-based formulas. In the first installment, I described an overview of the methods used to dye wool and the reasoning behind them. In this installment, I will go into more detail about the tools I prefer to use.
These methods can be adapted to dye any type of wool fiber, from wool to spun yarn, because they are based on wool weight rather than dimensions. In fact, you can mix and match other fibers and materials to dye, as well, using the same tools and methods I’ll describe. In fact, it is possible to customize all the information below and in future articles, with possible adjustments needed to accommodate the dye product you are using and the fiber you are dyeing. So if you dye silk, cotton or other fibers, read on!
The following are ideas and suggestions for using supplies – at least, tools that have worked well for me. At the end of the article I will provide links and other information on where to find these supplies.
I always use white wool, or light natural wool whenever possible. This minimizes the purchase of raw materials and also standardizes an important variable when analyzing basic colors. For example, when looking at two identical wool colors with the idea of creating an intermediate color, if two different base colors are used for the two pieces, it will be very difficult to create color formulas for the colors used to overdye them. So, very different. But it’s much easier to find that ‘in-between’ color when looking at two wool colors created using the same three primaries on white or natural wool. By standardizing the base color and using only the primary colors, the two formulas are related. Then an in-between color will be produced using a mathematical formula somewhere between two other similar mathematical formulas. If I make a mistake in matching the formula, I often catch it when it compares the resulting color to the colors in any of its mathematical aspects, if it doesn’t follow the logical progression of color, which colors do. This systematic approach has created predictability for very satisfying and comfortable dyeing. If I want a special effect using a different base color, I can always dye the white wool over this base, and then finish the special effect. I find this occasional need for a two-step process rather than storing multiple colors of wool.
I use ProChem washfast acid dyes, buying the three primaries they offer. With these dyes, it is possible to produce a full range of colors at many values, from near white to dark black – just about any color I want. Although plain grays and blacks can be produced with primaries, I’ve found that those formulas don’t work for special effects, such as gradation dip colors. The formula tends to separate into its components as the color develops, giving unpredictable results. Not that it wouldn’t be usable or desirable in some situations, it just might not be what I’m after. So the default black from ProChem is more predictable, and therefore suitable, for distressed and archaic, and highly mottled effects. Basic browns and tans are more difficult to produce with consistency, so the casual dyer may want to stock browns, blacks, and/or some gray with primaries.
I do two types of dyeing, each with its own process and cooking utensils:
To find new colors, test dyes on small pieces of wool
Dyeing large pieces of wool for my own use or for sale.
I test the dyes on 4 gram pieces of wool (one small 5″X 5″ in 13-oz), one piece in six beakers filled halfway with water, microwaved in a dry casserole (just to hold them–any stable non-metallic dish will do). is I use scientific beakers in the 300 ml size, because they are made to withstand repeated heating and cooling without breaking. They’re thinner, so I find them easier to handle, and I can fit more into a pot or casserole. (Mason jars will work just fine for the casual dyer.) I’ve tested literally thousands of pieces of wool, and I’ve found the microwave to be the most convenient and certainly the most cost-effective approach. I’ve also tried placing beakers or jars in a water bath on the stove and oven, but I find the process more time-consuming and logistically more difficult, so I’ve stuck with the microwave. You may find you prefer another method, so use whichever method works best for you as long as the water in each pot boils. If you use your microwave, please be careful when heating water in small pots. If it gets into the fine dirt, sometimes it will unexpectedly ‘explode’ or ‘pop’, possibly burning you. Wear protective gloves on your hands and wrists while the water is boiling. In all my hundreds of batches, this has happened twice, and I got a bad burn once of those.
For larger pieces of wool, I use the standard stainless steel pans that most dyes use. If you’re using an electric stove, you’ll need to put something extra between the burner and the oven, unless you’re using a nice, heavy pot. Since the thin metal pot is stuck directly to the burner, any wool on the bottom of the pot can catch the dye, causing black spots. So you have two options. A spacer can be placed between the pot and the burner, or a vegetable steamer can be placed at the bottom of the pot to prevent this. I myself prefer a vegetable steamer, because then I can protect the wool, while leaving the pot directly on the burner so that the water heats up quickly. (I’m always in a hurry.)
I use a 3,000 gram digital scale with a bin to hold the wool that weighs to the nearest gram. It’s compact, easy to use, not too expensive, and works.
For smaller pieces I use 1-ml, 3-ml, 5-ml, and 10-ml syringes. For larger pieces I switch to 20-ml syringes, or 250 ml plastic beakers. For measuring larger quantities, I use plastic pitchers from ProChem graded to 1,000 ml, and I have tested and found that the gradations in these larger containers track quite accurately with the ml gradations of the smaller syringes and beakers, so when measuring different volumes . Of the dye, I feel confident that if I measure part of the formula into a pitcher and some into a very small syringe, the proportions of the formulas will still be correct. I have tried other sizes on syringes and pitchers, but have found them to be less reliable in terms of the accuracy of their markings, although this may only be a problem with the particular products I have come across. This may not matter all that much for casual coloring, but if you’re into precise coloring, it definitely makes a difference, as my pile of rejected colors will attest. And be aware that the markings on many syringes wear off after repeated use, so try to touch the numbers and gradation lines as you work.
I use Synthrapol or Original Don Liquid (very similar, chemical) to reduce surface tension when painting.
I use citric acid or vinegar to lower the dye-bath pH, and if you have access to reasonably priced “sour salt” (it can sometimes be found at dented can stores) that works too, because it’s straight citric acid. As most dyers will tell you, vinegar is too expensive to use in the long run, so if you plan to dye in quantity, use citric acid, which is more convenient and fun to use.
I use stainless steel chopsticks for stirring – they work well when testing colors in small pots, and also work well in large pots, for pieces up to ½ yard. I bought several pairs and kept them in a beaker filled with water while I dyed. It keeps them rinsed when I’m pouring dramatically different colors of paint into several pots at once, especially if I put black in one pot and pale yellow in another. It’s amazing how black dye stuck to a chopstick can turn a pale yellow color. (Don’t ask me how I know.) I also like them because they don’t absorb dye and are compact and easy to store. Not good for raising rice, though.
I also use Glauber’s salt to keep the colors on the wool, as I sell it – just lightly mottled. The salt molecules compete with the dye molecules to bond with the wool molecules, effectively slowing down the binding of the dye to the wool, and thus preventing the dye from ‘moving’ into the blotches. For most colors this isn’t a problem with regular stirring, and for most colors in my collection, I don’t use it. But for light browns, tans, grays, and some very dull blues, greens, and purples, it’s necessary for the same color, especially in light values, to medium levels. I don’t use it on dark levels, as I find that when there is too much dye in the dish it dramatically inhibits the absorption of the yellow dye, often doubling the processing time. If you like random color and/or don’t like a little serendipity in the occasional dip, skip the salt. If you want to use it, I find that plain table salt works just as well.
Below are some resources for finding supplies. I distribute these articles to several article sites, some of which have strict limits on the number of URLs you can use in one article, so I’ll give the names and trust you can easily find them online.
Door mill – Wool (I’ve also used other sources, like Woolrich)
Prochemicals and dyes – Paint, plastic beaker, pitcher, citric acid, Glauber salt, Sinthrapol
SKS science.com – Glass beakers (also available at other science or lab supply sites)
Old Will Not Scale, Online – Scale (look for ‘My weight 3001P’)
cooking.com – Stainless steel chopsticks, vegetable steamer (also available at other kitchen retailers)
syringes If you smile sweetly and don’t ask too often, your local drugstore will often provide you with several slip-tip (without needles) 1-ml syringes for free. (They may also have 3-ml syringes available.) They provide all of these as a courtesy. I request 3-4 at a time. You can also find 10-ml syringes at the drugstore for a few dollars. These sizes are the main basis for color testing small pieces of wool, and I use them for larger pieces as well – even when dyeing 1/2 yard, a 5% (pale) value still requires 10 ml of dye. eBay and eCrater are also good online sources for syringes of all sizes. Look for veterinary syringes for larger sizes (60-ml is common) although I find the 250-ml pitchers from ProChem to be more accurate and easier to use. I’ve looked online for medical supply companies for syringes without much success, price wise, but if you find a good source, please let me know!
If you want a concise and comprehensive list of tools you need to try this method, here it is. Most of this you will be at home, or know where to get without my help.
Sun Yellow Color 119
WF Magenta Dye 338
Brilliant Blue Dye 490
Black dye 672
Brown dye (optional, also available at ProChem)
Citric acid or distilled vinegar
Glauber’s salt or table salt (optional)
Sinthrapol or Dawn dish liquid
Plastic pitchers — 5 – 6 in 250-ml size, 2 – 3 in 1,000-ml size
(All of the above can be found in ProChem.)
1-ml, 3-ml, 10-ml syringes
A utility spoon to scoop the color while weighing (any old teaspoon or measuring spoon will do)
Screw cap milk jugs (or smaller jugs if you prefer) to hold the die stock
Additionally, if you are testing colors you will need:
6 – 12 beakers or mason jars
Casserole or other flat vessel
Microwave (preferably dedicated to dyeing)
6-8 additional small glasses or cups will be useful for mixing formulas
Or to paint larger pieces:
3-4 large stainless steel or enamel pots, about 20-quart size
Vegetable steamer (optional)
I hope this information gets you started. In the fourth installment, I’ll explain how I test colors. This is a fun project that I guarantee will consume you if you are not careful! You should set aside several days for this, depending on how thorough you want to be. I can’t be responsible if it turns into this week. By then, your family will be hoping to cook soup in a crock pot instead of a bowl – stock up on frozen dinners!
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