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Agents, Acids, and Mordants: The Quick Guide.

Updated: Jan 1

Welcome back! This week we return to a favorite topic: Hand dyeing yarn! Now that my

January blog on Hand Dyeing Yarn has sold you on trying your hand at this hobby, I'm here to give you a quick rundown on dyeing agents and mortars to create new colorways.

I know we've touched on this subject before...but hey it's been a couple years. I've learned a lot, found better solutions, and I wanted to provide a quick guide to some products, patterns, and techniques!

Before we start, don't forget fiber reactive dyes are made for plant based yarn and acid dyes are for animal based yarns.

If you want me to go full science on you, the proteins (or lack thereof) of plant and animal based yarn may require a bonding agent to allow the dye to adhere to the fiber.

In the case of plants, there are cellulose fibers that easily absorb spectrums of light (aka the colors that make up the world...that's right even in death, plants are still absorbing and reflecting light).

With animals, the fibers contain proteins which need to first be broken down to allow the fiber to become vulnerable for dyeing (if you're a brunette and you've tried to go blonde, this is the same process of stripping away melanin and keratin to allow color to be applied). Except in this case, our bleach is really our acid based agents.

Plant Base Tips and Tricks:

  • Water matters--more is great to submerge your fiber but, don't forget the deeper the level of water, the weaker your mixture.

  • Temperature matters--increased heat can help the absorption and intensity (think of how much easier it is to wash greasy dishes in hot water over cold).

  • Salt can help increase the bonding ability of fiber reactive dyes. Better bonds means bolder colors that won't wash away!

I've dabbled with various types of table salt to increase dye bonds with my reactive dyes, but I absolutely love using Soda Ash Dye Fixer as my activating agent (aka "soda ash", "sodium carbonate", or "washing soda").

This one from Jacquard comes in a five pound bag that will last for quite a few dyes! If you're even a little bit excited, I'd recommend getting this size to last you a few trials.

As with dyeing, this is a chemical, please use caution and remember safety through gloves!

Animal Base Tips and Tricks:

  • Acidity matters--there are countless acids to choose from I love using citric acid to help bond and intensify colors. I usually recommend a 1:1 ratio of 1 tablespoon of citric acid to 1 pound of yarn.

If you've ever eaten a sour candy, you know the one's coated in that white tart powder (think sour patch kids, peach rings, sour mouth is puckering at the mere thought), then you've experienced citric acid!

This one from Milliard is great because it comes in a two pound bag (that's 64 tablespoons...or 64 pounds of yarn) that is sure to last you more than a few experimental batches.

Not to mention if you use citric acid for any cooking, this one is already food safe!

Just remember you can never use your dyeing utensils for eating again.

So you want to talk about dyeing methods and patterns?

I'm going to go ahead and tell you the methods are endless and the patterns are limitless. The methods I have most commonly played with have been kettle dye and hand painting!

Honestly, Fiber Artsy does a great job of narrowing down techniques to these six:

  • Solid Color

  • Tonal (Semi Solid)

  • Ombre (Gradated)

  • Multi-Color (Variegated)

  • Speckled (Sprinkle Dye)

  • Self Striping

Personally, my favorite way to dye yarn is to kettle dye. I like tonals the best (they're SO much more beautiful than flat/one-dimensional commercially dyed yarn) but I'm always trying for that perfect speckled look as well!

On the other hand, I have also tried hand painting yarn (not with a paintbrush of course).

For my hand painting days, I use little pipettes to slowly and deliberately place the dye where I wanted it. Although it's very time intensive, the color yield provides gorgeous variegated colorways. The only downside is this technique is quite difficult to if you're looking for a custom skein bulk dye...this would not be my recommendation.

For those of you here for my natural dyeing tips and tricks, check out my blog archives to see how I've achieved beautiful colorways from items found within your home to create: deep indigos, bold reds, or golden yellows.

Seriously though, save that leftover coffee for future dye projects.

Check back in for our last installment of the Hobbies to Dye for series for details on a few types of dyeing techniques to produce different colorways!

Until then, enjoy your time playing with fibers and colors!

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