Dyeing for Rugs 101: Starting with Palette Dyeing

I began with the "dump and dye" process because I didn't know any better. I thought dyeing involved putting some dye in a pot with some wool and being surprised about what came out at the end.

Now surprise is fun until you ruin a number of yards of wool at $20 and $30 a yard. Or you run out of a wool you dyed for a background of a rug and need to reproduce its color and can't. Or you try someone's recipe from a book and end up with an entirely different looking wool than what is pictured.

Over the years I realized that I needed a process that would allow me to reproduce my colors with a fair amount of consistency, if not exactness. Also, as my art advanced, I wanted to create my own color palette, one that was unique to my rugs. So I took classes from great dyers like Sibyl Osicka, read a number of old dusty dye manuals, experimented a great deal, and settled on a dyeing process that I call Palette Dyeing.

This is not an advanced dyeing technique, although, unfortunately, it is often taught only in intermediate and advanced rug hooking classes as "gradation dyeing." But it is more than gradation dyeing, and is not just a process for fine-shading hookers. It is a process for ALL rug hookers, no matter your preferred hooking style. It is creating your own signature dyes for your rugs in a process that will allow you to reproduce any of your colors in any value at any time.

Hue is a particular color. Value is the lightness or darkness of a particular hue or color.
Once you learn how to dye in this way, and settle on a number of dye formulas that you like, you will be able to create gorgeous wool in crock pots - mottled, dip-dyed, scrunched, transdyed, overdyed. And you will know what color and value you are going to get.

The goal is to create a particular color or hue in eight values. This is done by creating a liquid mother solution which is carefully measured into quart mason jars. Water and one 6" by 16" piece of white wool are added to each jar and processed. The result is a wool of one color (or hue) but in a range of values as I have picture here. A particular green, red, blue and yellow in eight values each.

When you want to reproduce one of the values of the color or hue, you simply use the same amount of dye per the same amount of wool, and voila, you will have the same gorgeous wool again. If you need four times the wool, you multiple the amount of dye four times and use four pieces of wool 6" by 16" and you will have the same gorgeous wool multiplied.

So in this series Dyeing for Rugs 101, I'm going to take you through this process to help you get started learning to dye and creating your own palette all at the same time!

It is extremely important that you keep track of your dyeing recipes and the results of your dyeing. You will be creating your own dye recipe notebook which will contain a number label for each formula (your initials plus a number: AD1, AD2, etc.), a dye recipe, and snippets of the dyed wool. You will also be creating a large swatch ring, containing 1" by 6" swatches of all your hues and their values.