Old Wives' Tales about Dyeing


I just returned from Green Mountain.  Although I had a wonderful experience meeting and visiting with fellow rug hookers, I heard quite a bit of advice about dyeing wool that was inaccurate if not harmful.  This dyeing advice has a long oral history among rug hookers going back to the 1950s when hookers wanted to reproduce the color they saw in expensive rugs sold in stores.  Many of the techniques they developed came from their own experience, with little to no knowledge about how chemical dyes actually work or the health precautions that must be followed to keep us and our families safe. 

So I am sharing this information with the hope that it will be shared widely among rug hookers and that the old wives' tales about dyeing will be put to rest.  Most of us have heard these tales and have been responsible for transmitting them ourselves when we didn't know better.  But no more!

Old Wives' Tale 1.  It is safe to dye in our kitchens. 

Truth: These dyes are poison if ingested.  It is dangerous for us to assume that when we are dyeing in our kitchens that dye powders are not floating around our counters and stove tops and settling on our bananas, that we might not spill dye solution on a dish by accident, that we might confuse a wooden spoon we are using in the dye pot with the spaghetti spoon we use to make dinner.  We shouldn't assume that the fumes coming from the cooking dye pots is something we want to continually expose ourselves and our families too.

Solution: Dye in your garage or on your porch using separate spoons, containers, jars, electric appliances, etc. that are stored in the garage and clearly marked for your dyes.  Never ever use these items to cook with or eat off of.  If you use them to dye with, they should never see food.  You don't need a kitchen in your garage.  All you need is a hot plate or better yet the biggest turkey roaster you can find and plug into the wall.

Old Wives' Tale 2. If dyes are safe enough to dye wool in our kitchens, we don't have to worry about taking precautions like wearing masks and gloves. 

Truth: Acid dyes are chemical dyes which work through a chemical reaction that involves dyes, acid, and heat.  Exposing these chemicals to our lungs is dangerous. 

Solution: Follow all safety instructions on the dye labels, including wearing a mask, apron, and gloves.   Closed toed shoes are a good idea too, since accidents with glass jars and boiling hot dye solution and water is known to occur.

Old Wives' Tale 3. It is necessary to pre-wash and then pre-soak your wool overnight before dyeing it.

Truth: Pre-washing your wool will only shrink it more.  Pre-soaking your wool does nothing but make a total mess on your floor.  Neither of these things has anything whatsoever to do with the chemical dye process. 

Solution: In order to ensure even coloring and dye penetration, put two tinny squirts of synthrapol detergent into your jars or pot.  Synthrapol (available at art stores or on Amazon) is a high concentrated fabric detergent that is used in the dye process as the wetting agent and pre-wash agent.  It helps the dye penetrate the wool fibers and also helps even out the colors during the dye process. It also removes any starch or stiffening that might be on new wool.  I never dye without it.

Old Wives' Tale 4. It is best to boil your water, dyes, and wool. 

Truth: Not only is this a very good way to get burned, but boiling wool will ensure that you end up with thick wool that is felted.  If you want dyed felt, then this is a good process.  Otherwise, read on.

Solution: All dyes have a different heat for their individual reactions.  Those with lower heat requirements take up into the wool sooner than those with higher heat requirements.  I find working in a water bath in a turkey roaster to be most convenient because I can control the temperature (there is a dial on the side of the roaster).  Once you have your dye, water, and wool in the jar or enamel insert, cover and turn the roaster on 400 degrees F.  Let it go for 45 minutes before adding the acid.

Old Wives' Tale 5. Vinegar will give you brighter colors.

Truth: There is nothing special about vinegar. It has no special qualities to impart to your color. It is used as the acid necessary to bring about the chemical reaction in the dye process.  Without acid, no dyeing will occur.  But vinegar is bulky to store, heavy to lug around, and splashes when poured into the hot dyes. 

Solution: Use citric acid (derived from citric fruit).  It is a white powder and a teaspoon goes a long way.  It is available on Amazon.  To use, take the wool out from the jar, add the citric acid and put the wool back in.  Make sure to stir it around since this is the moment that most of the dye will penetrate the wool (almost instantly).  Cover the pot again and let it simmer on 400 degrees F for another 45 minutes.  Stir twice during this time.

Old Wives' Tale 6. Take hot wool and rinse it immediately.

Truth: You can do this, but you run the risk of getting burned and felting the wool even more.

Solution: It makes more sense to turn the heat off, and leave the wool covered in the dye solution overnight.  In the morning, when the wool has thoroughly cooled down to room temperature, remove it from the dye solution, run it through a rinse cycle with low spin, and then dry it in the dryer on delicate with a Bounce sheet.



Bigger frame, and a question about transition dyeing

When I was at the Stash Sisters guild meeting a couple of weeks ago, one of the other women there noticed me struggling with my small frame now that my Palette Constellation rug has become so big and heavy.  So she kindly offered to lend me the frame that she uses for big rugs. 

I am so grateful to Marguerite Evans who has lent me her frame and Sondra Ives who dropped it by my home this afternoon. 

I have set it up and already started to hook the final 1/4 of the rug.  I have four more rows to complete and I will be finished with this rug. 

I need to dye three more colors before I can go on much farther with hooking this rug.  I hope to get to do some of the dyeing tomorrow afternoon after I pick up Alexander from school.  Since it takes me about four hours to complete the hands-on part of my dyeing process (then I let the material sit overnight in the dye bath), I have to be home for a good chunk of time to do it.  I should be able to get two of the colors done for the Constellation rug, and another one of the twelve new colors of my second Starter Palette that I am preparing for my Sauder class project.

QUESTION: Can anyone point me in the right direction for instructions on transition value dyeing?  I don't want instructions for dip-dyeing transition, but for creating gradated values that move from one color to a completely different color (like from yellow to purple).  I have been experimenting with this, but not with any real success yet. 


Turning down the next row

So my Palette Constellation is a BIG rug, although Alexander has grown taller than it is high.  At least it is the biggest rug I have ever tried to hook.  It is going to end up about 9 feet long and 4 feet wide. 

I am measuring my progress by the rows I finish and I am now working down the 8th row.  That means that I am almost 3/4ths finished. What holds up the show is when I come upon a color that I don't have dyed in my stash anymore.  So I dyed a couple of colors last night and will work on a few more in between other commitments this week. 

On the dyeing front, I have started to dye up a second palette which I am going to be using as my Starter Palette for my dye classes.  The recipes will integrate into my primary palette, so that means I am creating a subsidiary palette that will give me another full range of colors to complement the 67 I already have.  These are the basic Starter recipes that I included in the Revised Edition of my book, The Wool Palette.  I have quite a bit of yardage of the Starter Palette to prepare for my Sauder dye class this August, so I am starting on it already with a yard of 201, my Starter Red.  I liked how it turned out; just took it out of the pot so will post pictures another day.

Just for the record. It is fascinating hooking the Palette Constellation rug because I am getting to double check all my colors.  When I see something off in the progression of color, I am going back and redyeing to see if something was off the first time around.  What I am finding is that when the dry dyes go into solution, that blue dyes are unstable.  If they sit in solution much longer than a week (and then they need to be refrigerated) they turn gray.  When you go to use the old solution, the blue dye has turned into something else.  So this means that any recipe that uses a blue dye of any sort is vulnerable.  I have not found this to be the case with any other color which all seem to last quite a long time (not refrigerated) in stable solution. 

Glorious Color Caddy

FRONTBACKI know my posts have been infrequent last month.  I got really busy at work, and then got sick.  My rug hooking slowed down, but didn't cease.  The one thing I accomplished last month was designing and hooking a sample of a caddy for the Palette Dyeing class that I will be teaching this coming August at Sauder.  I thought it would be fun while the dye pots are simmering in the class, to be learning about color theory and hooking a caddy as a handy reference to that theory. 

I think it turned out cute.  It is made from one piece of linen, even including the handles, with minimal sewing.  In fact, the sewing can even be done by hand if a machine is not available.  The overall size is 20"by 14"by 6".  So it holds lots of stuff, even my cutter and supplies.  In the picture I stuffed it with skeins of yarn.

The link to my workshop is on the Sauder Village website, and it just went live today.  Registration for the Sauder retreat and all the workshops and classes begins on Wednesday, November 9 at 10 am EST.

Dyeing in the heat

I'm running out of wool.  So what have I been doing.  Been out back in the 90 degree heat dyeing wool.  I'm trying to get ready for the Kirby Midsummer Hook In on June 25th where I will be vending.  So I have some work to do!

Here is one of the pretty neutrals I dyed today: Hubbard Fig 119.  The 8-value packs are on the top and the dapple fat quarter is on the bottom.

Loopgram: Citric Acid replaces Vinegar

I got tired of hauling huge jugs of vinegar and pouring (should I say slopping) vinegar into my jars when I was dyeing.  So I bought a 5 lb. jar of citric acid crystals and have been experimenting with amounts.  The acid dye process works when you infuse the dye molecule into the wool fiber.  This is a chemical process that is done with a mild acid like vinegar or citric acid, which creates a special chemical bond between the fiber and the dye color molecules.

Citric Acid is a bitter acid derived from citric fruits and it is used in everything from cosmetics to flavorings for food.

Citric acid is SO EASY to use I recommend switching immediately.  It is more cost effective and has no mess at all. And I found that the dye water cleared much better than it does with vinegar.

1 tsp. Citric Acid per 1/4 yard of wool

If you are trying to dye really dark wool (as in create a really dark value so there is a good amount of dye you are trying to infuse into the wool fibers), double this amount

Been dyeing

So work has been intense lately, with starting the new semester and writing and getting my seminar on death underway.  But while I was home cooking this weekend, I did manage to dye up two batches of wool so I can continue hooking All in the Family

I am on the third column which is the Orange color family.  In this column, I will be hooking the twelve colors on the wheel mixed with my orange dye (Jacky Lantern 103).  The first in the column will be Finnigan Flame 102, followed by Bittersweet Red 162, Jacky Lantern 103, Peter Pumpkin 163, Somerset Sunset 104, etc.  The dyed wools pictured here are Bittersweet Red 162 (top) and Somerset Sunset 104 (bottom).  I can't wait to get this column started after school today.

ATHA Dye Book

I just received the ATHA Dye Book.  It is really neat, and a great concept!

For those of you who haven't seen it or heard about it, this is a project that the ATHA Biennial committee put together this year.  Different teachers supplied original dye recipes that they used in their rugs, a photo of their rugs, an inch sample of the dyed wool, and instructions for dyeing the wool.  These were all put together in a blue binder and are being offered for sale to help support the upcoming Biennial.   They only printed about 400 copies.  The last time I heard, there are about 140 left for sale.  There will not be a second printing.

If you want to purchase one, the book costs $38 pluse $5 shipping and handling in the U.S.  For Canadian shipping costs, you need to contact Gail Dufresne at gailduf@aol.com. 

The check should be made payable to "2011 Biennial, The Woolrights", and mailed to Gail Dufresne, 247 Goat Hill Road, Lambertville, NJ 08530.

All in the Family: Progress Report 1

I have been going to town on All in the Family.  I have about 10th of it completed at this point.  I have been dyeing a few colors that I need to work down the first two family rows (red-left column; red-orange-right column).  I am hooking this in a 9 which is the widest I have ever hooked before.

I thought that hooking linear rows was going to bore me to death because I have always found it tough to hook geometrics, the same pattern over and over.  But this hasn't turned out to be the case.  Hooking this mat has been wonderful so far.  I get excited each time I open a new pack of wool and hook in the new color.  I am now able to see a color progression which I surmised was there because of the way in which I have developed my dye process.  But now I can see it!

I have made two alterations to my design so far.  First, I couldn't figure out how to hook the pattern with curved lines.  I started out with curved lines and it just became a mess very fast.  So I went to straight rows, and I think it achieves what I want in a very powerful way.

Second, I quickly saw that I needed some kind of menu for the rug, something that told the story about what was happening with the color progression.  So I decided to hook a color wheel around the border.  The color in the top border shows the dye used to create all the colors in that column.  The color in the side border shows the color that was used to create all the colors in that row.  In other words, I am hooking a color chart.  If you take the color at the top of the column and mix it with the color in the side of the row, you get the color at that intersection.

Today as I hook it is cold and rainy.  I have a fire in the fireplace.  Wade is grading papers.  Alexander is playing.  And I have three pots of wool dyeing in the garage.  Couldn't be better!

Last day before the semester starts

I decided to stay home and enjoy my last day before the onslaught of the semester.  I brought home some reading which I am doing to prepare for my opening class tomorrow. And I am doing it while dyeing two batches of wool that I need to continue hooking All in the Family.  I have made some good progress on this rug, but as I work down the first and second columns (the Red Family and the Red-Orange Family), I have run out of some of my colors.  So I am cooking up Pink Iris 134 (right in photo) and Ellendale Orange 126 (left in photo). Each jar contains one strip of wool, one of the eight values of the colors.

I thought the dyes in the jars looked so pretty, almost citric and wintry, that I had to snap a picture.  The colors are making me think of oranges and grapefruit growing on the trees here in Texas.

Dapple dye art?

I have to admit that these dapple dyes I've been creating are so beautiful that I have a terrible time tearing them up and then stripping them for use in rugs. It seems to me that they are pieces of art themselves. The question is, how to show them off as such. Any ideas? Check out these two pieces that came out of my dye pot this morning (Jack Horner Plum 111).

Five more wools

From right to left: Nightshade Berry 160; Tanglewood 148; Fiddlehead 164; Ring 'O Rosie 161; Briar Rose 159. Phew!

I'm coming down the home track with my colors - only 7 more to go. It looks like when I make all the mixtures on the color wheel, I will end up with 68 colors in 8 values each, making 544 color options! There are vibrant colors, subdued colors, primitive colors, country colors, modern colors, all the result of various combinations of my three main dye formulas. I am so excited that this experiment is working out so well. And that it is a simple process no more difficult than mixing paints on a palette.

In the meantime I have discovered that the colors are falling into twelve color families, which will take the guessing out color planning for my rugs! I can't wait to continue hooking my palette rugs - the Kirby Hooking Circle's Celestial Challenge will be my next.

Camera battery is recharging

I've been taking so many pictures of my woolens lately, that my camera battery died this afternoon just as I was going to take a picture of the two latest wools I dyed. So tomorrow I'll post them and the two I worked on creating today. So check back tomorrow if you want to see pictures.

Also, I got tired of hand sewing my labels on. So I bought this niffy label gun that shoots plastic t-pins through the layers. It creates very secure labels, and is quite a bit quicker than hand sewing, except when it doesn't work and shoots big holes in my labels!

Dyeing on Mother's Day?!

Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers out there!

We are enjoying our AC. Good to have it back and better. We are thrilled that we have gone GREEN. Our AC, thanks to President Obama, will get us a $1500 tax credit this year because it is a 16 SEER energy efficient unit that doesn't use freon. So we aren't hurting the ozone anymore, and since our old unit was only a 10 SEER and thirty years old, we are going to be using about 1/2 the power to run heat and air. For those of you in the north (and I used to be one of you), AC in Houston is like heat in Michigan or Ontario. I always thought of AC as a not-so-necessary luxury because I never lived in a hot climate before until moving to Houston. Now I know different. A week without air in May is barely bearable. In July and August, well, heat exhaustion and heat stroke would be a serious threat.

My garage dye kitchen is working well. Four more colors produced this weekend: Spanish Moss 140; Mackinaw Lilac (MY FAVORITE SO FAR) 133; Pink Iris 134; and Rosehip (named by Alexander) 145.

I have also been working on creating Kinship Color Palette Collections, to take the guess work out of color planning for rugs. I'm having SO much fun.

I want to also mention that my sister Tiffany is on this same adventure with me. She is dyeing her entire palette too. It is great to compare notes daily, to see how our different primaries are effecting the color mixing process.

All of this I am working into a book called The Wool Palette which I hope to have available in hard cover and paperback by midsummer.

My new dye kitchen

With all this dyeing, I am tired of having pots of wool simmering on my stove top and my crock pot on my counter top. My kitchen feels like a mess all the time, and trying to get dinner put together around all the canners has become more than inconvenient.

My solution? I don't have a big home, so there is no room for an extra kitchen. Since I live in the center of Houston in a townhouse, there is no place to build a suitable space. So yesterday I took a corner in my garage, bought two electric hot places, and set up my dye shop. It isn't elegant, but it works. I was out there this morning and Wade dropped by to take a picture.

It is hot here in Houston and my new AC is being installed, so it felt good to be in the cool garage with the hot pots. I also love the fact that none of the dyes steam and fumes are in my home anymore. And the best thing? My kitchen is free to be a kitchen again! And the AC is soon going to be turned on.