As crocheters we use yarn every day, but do we really know what goes into getting the yarn that lovely shade of blue, or turning a sheep’s fleece into wool? I certainly don’t. That all changed when I received two books on dyeing and spinning your own yarn to review. Reading these books showed me just how ignorant and uninformed I’ve been about the most important tool of my trade.
I’ll be reviewing the books in two separate blog posts. This post is my review of Spinning & Dyeing Yarn – The Home Spinner’s Guide To Creating Traditional & Art Yarns by Ashley Martineau (a self-taught yarn spinner based in Boston, USA)
The book is available in hard cover on Amazon for £25.
Ashley Martineau teaches you how to identify fibre, prepare the fibres, various dying techniques for both plant and animal fibres, spinning techniques and how to best photograph your hand spun and hand dyed yarn for selling online. There’s even instructions for how to build your own spinning wheel using PVC pipes.
Spinners use words like hackles, niddy noddy, drum carder, neps and they say stuff like “roving has been carded”, “skirt your fibre before washing”, “hackles are used for blending fibre and dizzying into roving”. It’s like a whole different language. However you soon get the hang of the lingo with Spinning & Dying Yarn’s detailed explanation of what these strange words mean (it even shows you how to build one of them).
As for dying, the book covers immersion dying, gradient dying, hand painting, solar dying (not at all possible to do in the UK Winter seeing as you need 3 – 4 hours direct sunlight, but it’s a nice idea) and tie dyeing.
Everything Ashley Martineua teaches you is very clearly illustrated with excellent photographs and practical tutorials. I decided to give one of the yarn dyeing tutorial a go.
I love working with cotton, and I sell hand dyed cotton yarn in my Etsy shop, so dyeing cotton yarn was an obvious choice for me. I bought a 100g ball of undyed cotton from Texere Yarns, 25g powered dye called Procion MX in Lime Chartreuse from Woolwing on eBay , 100g soda ash from Intralabs on eBay and Dylon salt from Robert Dyas.
I followed the instructions on page 76 for tie dying, but instead of mixing up three different colours I made up two shades of lime chartreuse which I applied with an empty Crabtree & Evelyn bodywash bottle for the all important squirt action.
Step 1 says to soak your plant fibre in a glass bowl of water with spoonful of soda ash. The only measurements are “for a large bowl a spoonful of soda ash will suffice.” At this point I remembered that the instructions that came with my Procion MX dye included a lot of guidelines on quantities. They said to use 2 – 3 litters of water for every 100 g of yarn and then they list the exact amount in grams of Dye powder, salt and soda ash. I felt safer referring to these guidelines instead of relying on “large bowl” and “spoonful”.
Step 2 is to soak the fibre in the soda ash mixture for about 10 minutes and then squeeze out the excess, after preparing the surface with cling film. Easy enough.
Mixing soda ash into water
Cotton going in
Squeezing the water out
Step 3 was to “mix the dye bottles following the manufacturer’s instructions.” Here it got a bit confusing because my Procion MX dye (which is, according to Google and other home dyeing websites is probably the most commonly used brand of dye for plant fibres) instructions tell you to dissolve the soda ash in water and add this soda ash mix to your salt and water dye mix, but the book told me to do the soda ash and water step in step 1. The worrying part is that the Procion MX dye instructions specifically say that once you mix the soda ash water with the dye water, it is the start of the chemical reaction! I just hoped that my cotton yarn would still have enough soda ash mix in it to cause the chemical reaction.
Getting ready to mix dye powder into warm water
Adding dye liquid to water and salt mixture
To get two different shades of green, I first made up 2 liters of dye liquid according to the “mid shades” quantities given on the Procion MX instructions. I filled my squirt bottle with this and squirted the liquid randomly on the yarn. Then I added more dye power to my bottle, shook vigorously and squirted the darker colour onto the yarn. A bit of the dye powder fell onto the yarn, but I left it there just to see what would happen.
Squirting dye onto cotton
Adding dye powder to make second colour darker
Dye powder spillage
Step 4 is to “wrap the cotton in cling film”. I was a bit unsure here. Do I just bundle up my wet cotton and in a ball and wrap the cling film around it (like you would dough), or do a bring in the cling film onto the wet yarn in a rolling action so that cling film sections are in-between pieces of wet yarn? I assumed that they wanted me to wrap it in cling film in order to keep the yarn from drying out (something I only figured out because the Proxion MX dye instructions talk about immersing the cotton in dye water for 30 minutes so I presumed it had to stay wet for the dye to take hold.) As instructed I put the wrapped cotton in a plastic bag and left it over night.
Wrapped in cling film
Sunday morning I went rushing to the kitchen to unwrap my cling film ball of tie dye. Luckily the green hadn’t turned red, or vanished, but it was very light. I still think it looks goods, especially the bits where I spilled the dye powder. As instructed in step 5 I rinsed it under cold water until the water ran clear and let it dry.
Revealing tie dye technique yarn after resting over night
Here it is! My single colour tie dye cotton yarn hand dyed by me on a Saturday evening.
Tie dye hand dyed cotton yarn
Darker bits of green where I spilled the dye powder
I will be using my yarn for a crochet project that I will blog about in a week or two. I can’t wait to see how it looks crocheted!
I’m happy with my dyed yarn, but I can’t help but think that’s due mostly to the detailed instructions of the dye powder. Combining the tie dye technique from the book with the dye powder instructions worked well for me. (I have to add here that the instructions in the book for dyeing animal fibre do give more specific measurements, but I didn’t test those techniques.)
For me this book’s strength is in showing you the artistic, creative side to spinning and dying, even more so for spinning. It teaches you what you need to know to get the basics right, but with the hope that you will take those skills and play around, be creative and make unique pieces of yarn art. At the end of each section of the book there is a gallery and artist profile. These were my favourite bits of the book.
It’s a truly inspirational book that makes you look at yarn not as a medium to crochet or knit something beautiful, but as something beautiful in its own right.