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Hand Painting Yarn with Dye Candy

LBHandknits

Last weekend I took part in a fabulous yarn dyeing workshop, organised by Row by Roe, with the popular local indie dyer Dye Candy

I discovered Dye Candy a few months ago, when I came across her yarns at Edel MacBride's shop. While her vibrant aesthetic is quite different from my own, I found it interesting. So when I heard about the workshop, I immediately signed up. 

To offer some background: I have dyed yarn a few times before on my own using commercial fabric dyes. I have also trained as a painter/printmaker in a former life, so colour theory, mixing and application are not new to me. But this would be my first formal instruction in yarn dyeing, and my first time using acid dyes - so it was pretty exciting!

I arrived at the yarn shop to find the whole place covered in cling film - not unlike a well-planned murder scene! - and a small group of women standing around sniffing and stroking yarns (so, nothing out of the ordinary, really).

The instructor was energetically sorting through heaps of supplies, and plugging in what looked suspiciously like a microwave oven. Would we be microwaving the yarns?? Why yes! she replied, jauntily donning her apron.

Approachable, charming, and (literally) colourful, Dye Candy is Lindsay Hutchison of Randalstown. After some years in Philadelphia and Canada, she returned to Northern Ireland, had kids, and became a yarn dyer. And I do not list that sequence of events haphazardly: Lindsay's foray into dyeing began 10 years ago, as a direct result of having children. A practitioner of baby wearing, she began to make - then dye - her own baby wearing wraps, first for personal use and later for others. A deeper interest in fabric dyeing followed. It morphed into yarn dyeing as Lindsay took up crochet, then knitting, three and a half years ago.

The rest, as they say, is history, and today Dye Candy is an award-nominated fibre artist well known on the indie dyers scene for her soft bases and super-vibrant colourways. . 

dye6.jpg

The method Lindsay taught us in this intro workshop, is known as hand painting yarns with acid dyes.

The 'hand-painting' bit refers to the fact that the yarns are not submerged in dye, but instead dye is applied by hand (in this case, with a syringe and not literally a paintbrush). 

The 'acid' part refers not to the dyes themselves, but to the fixative. In order for colour to set permanently, the yarn must be treated with citric acid (a very mild, natural acid that is essentially concentrated lemon juice). 

Now, I'll not provide you with step-by-step instructions - you'll have to take the workshop yourself if you want to learn! But the general idea is, to apply the water-soluble dye to the yarn. You can use a variety of techniques, depending on what effect you want to achieve - i.e. wide stripes, thin stripes, speckles, etc. You then heat the yarn for a specific temperature range and time, for the colour to set.

The heating can be done in pots on the stove, in the oven, outside (in very hot climates), or in the microwave. The latter is easiest in a beginner workshop setting, especially when the space is not a dedicated yarn-dyeing environment. Following that, the yarn is rinsed and hung out to dry. 

There were 6 of us taking the workshop, and we all had different tastes in colourways and colour distribution effects.

With my skein, I tried to achieve a non-striping, non-pooling, non-speckled blend of mauves and greens. 

Even though the look I had in mind was not 'Dye Candy'-esque, Lindsay was helpful in suggesting how I might achieve the effect I was going for. 

Much like myself, she is an intuitive maker, who goes by feel rather than calculations, so we were able to communicate well and I enjoyed her teaching style. She was also able to give precise answers to any technical questions I had. By the end of the workshop I had a notebook page filled with information, and I left feeling that I could dye up a batch of yarn on my own without further supervision - which was what I had been hoping to get out of the class. 

Once my hank dried and I managed to skein it up, it looked something like this ...a state of affairs that did not last long, as I have already started knitting with it!

Did the 'blended' look I was hoping for work out in the knitted-up fabric? Sort of, though not exactly. But I love the way it looks, as-is. And I think I know what to do next time, to get the exact result I want - which is, after all, what learning is all about. 

Speaking of 'next time' ...I will definitely dye yarn again. For personal use; I have no interest in becoming a yarn dyer. What I do have an interest in, is controlling the look of my finished knits. For example, sometimes I envision a very specific colour scheme for a design, and so I'd like to be able to create those colours on my own. This workshop was a good first step toward that skill, and I thank Lindsay of Dye Candy and Lisa of Row by Roe for making it happen!