Tuesday, April 07, 2009

beautiful mess

I can't take credit for the title of this post - it was lifted from a song that was just on the radio. Something tells me that the man wasn't singing about the state of my kitchen last night...but it fits ;-)

I had a 8-hour dye marathon last night, and there are now three shopping totes filled with wet wool awaiting their final rinse, spin and dry. I've conquered more than 2/3 of wool mountain, and I'll be finishing up the rest today. Then I'm going to haul the lot up to my folks and sit with my mum ripping, folding and bundling it all into pretty packages. Since you never really know what you have until you pull it out of the dryer, I thought I'd share some of my process with you in the meantime...

I don't know anyone who dyes the way that I do. It's a crazy evolution almost ten years in the making. I primarily use an electric wok and deep electric fry pan (both gratefully received in mint condition from a old friend, although she'd had them for years). I dye in both pans simultaneously, and in between I place a large insert pan. I mix up about half a dozen cups of colours and randomly start adding dribbles and glugs to the pans. Once a cup is empty, I mix up another colour. When the wool is not picking up the dye as quickly as I'd like, I add a bit more citric acid. As soon as my piece of wool starts looking like something I want, I pluck it out of the wok, squeeze most of the liquid out by pushing it up into the bottom of a tilted measuring cup, and place it in the centre insert.

As I work though one basic colour family, I keep all of the wool bundles in the same pan. This way, I can quickly identify any outliers, pieces that are too bright, too pale, etc. and also see that I'm collecting a range of colours and values. I don't like to have too many pieces looking too similar.

...sometimes I need to start piling a second layer on top of the first ;-)

Once I've completed working on a colour, I put all of the wool into a couple of pots, along with some more citric acid, to "cook off". I don't really time this step - I pretty much let them cook until I'm finished dyeing the next colour (and I need the pots!) By keeping similar colours in the same pot, any bleeding is minor and doesn't have a detrimental effect.

As I'm placing the wool into the cooking pots, I am a little selective about what goes where. Even through the steam, you can see in this next photo that one pot contains more tealy blues and the other is filled with more true blues.

I use mostly Pro Chem and Magic Carpet dyes....and one of the best things I've done to organize them is to glue a small swatch onto the lids of the various colours. It makes it much easier (and faster) to find what you're looking for. I still need to do it with the new colours I bought a couple of years ago (all of the black lids). Things were definitely simpler with fewer colours! These old pop crates are perfect for holding dye jars.

At the end of my dye session, I put my dye catching cloths into the pot to simmer, too. These typically get used several times until I fall in love with the colour of the moment.