AARgh! color and dyeing

the following is a rant. if you don’t like reading rants, please look at the pretty green yarn below and move on.


today i was listening to one of the more recent knit picks podcasts and was appalled. first of all, asking someone how they dye and what they do while they’re dyeing is not a bad thing. however, i never, throughout the whole conversation, felt that either of the people on the podcast had any idea what they are talking about and not just that, i felt that they could be putting people’s lives at risk (i’m being dramatic, but…). if i were running a podcast and wanted to give accurate information to people i may have found someone who was a professional dyer with some training or someone who was well-read on the topic.

first of all, their comments on color theory. they recommended you learn this from mixing paints. although this may be a good place to begin… i think that there are serious differences in between dyeing than painting. you know, the whole adding white thing as opposed to making your solution a different strength. very different in my mind and in my experience.

next… um… don’t use your dyestuffs for food or your foodstuffs for dyeing. ever. in truth, as they mentioned, the powder form is the most dangerous, but most of our dyes have not been tested all that well. i’m not overly paranoid, but wear gloves, have separate dye stuff, wear a simple dusk mask when dealing with the powder form, and have separate clothing for dyeing that you wash right after. easy peasy. go to a thrift store and buy pots/pans/measures etc so that you won’t be tempted to use your foodstuff for dyeing. do as much as you can within reason to be safe. i am a kitchen dyer like most of you, but i also have a brain like most of you.

they also mention having dried up dye in pyrex dishes!! folks, that is back to powder form which is the most toxic form of dye. wash everything. clean up after yourself.

when you get dye on your hands it’s ‘nothing worse than pen ink’ – i don’t think that this comment was in any way researched. cave painters thought they were good to go dipping their hands in paint and putting it on the walls, then all the artists died early deaths.

mix your dyes. one color of dye won’t give you variegated… it’s true. the definition of variegated “Having streaks, marks, or patches of a different color or colors; varicolored.”

“certain dye bonds to the fiber in certain areas in different concentrations.” they seemed to think this was caused by the dye… could be, but really? i’m not so sure about this. my humble opinion is that when the water starts heating and the color starts moving around, the heat/movement of water are what causes the dye to bond to the fiber in different concentrations in different areas. granted, it could be a mixture of the nature of the dye and the water/heat.

the podcast also recommended muting with black/brown and claimed that it doesn’t matter which black/brown you use. actually, to mute a color you add a bit of the color across from it on the color wheel. to darken a color you use a black/brown and i must say that which black/brown you use does make a difference. they also recommended a color for this because they liked it best!!! i’m not sure that’s a good reason for it to be the best color for mixing dyes and the darkening of colors.

are immersion dyeing and kettle dyeing the same? they think so, but i’m also unsure about this. i think in kettle dyeing you put the fiber in, then add the dye on the top, heat. immersion is making a dye bath, then putting your yarn in and heating. i may be wrong about this because there are so many different variations in the dye world… but what i do as kettle dyeing is nothing like what they were doing. anyone clarify?

thanks for letting me rant :)

12 thoughts on “AARgh! color and dyeing

  1. I with you on all of this. I think the paint thing is totally wrong. I’ve done painting before but mixing a blob of red with a smidge of yellow, is in no way similar to mixing dyes. You can see clearly with paint what color you will get. Its sort of a guess with the dye until you’ve done that combo already.

    Safety first is a really good rule of thumb. Why would you want to eat out of the things you’ve dyed in anyway??

    I think you are right on the black/brown issue. I hadn’t noticed that its presence in my dye mix really muted anything, it simply made the color darker (like adding black/brown paint).

    I kettle dye and that (for me) involves putting room temperature yarn and room temperature water in a pot. Heating the pot to simmering (or just a bit before) and then adding dye in various amounts, depending on what I am looking for the dye to do. Another way to “mute” colors (in a sense) is when and how you use vinegar with acid dyes. The dye tends to float around more (and therefore adhere to more spots in more concentration) when there is no vinegar in the water (yarn water and dye water) as opposed to when there is vinegar and it adheres very quickly (much more concentrated color where the dye is actually applied to the skein.) Leaving out the vinegar in either water spot also can effect how the dye adheres.

    All this of course is only based on my experiences and could be caused by the fact that I use water out of my faucets and not theirs.

  2. Well said, cosymakes. It’s unfortunate that there was so much misinformation on that podcast. Not to mention, lack of safety and security measures. Mixing dyes like paint? oh, boy.

  3. AAARGH indeed! We seem to have similar dyeing knowledge and experience and I can’t believe the stuff they’re touting on their podcast! Particularly the colour theory and instructions for muting colours. Using only black or brown dye to mute your colours will give you a very narrow and dull range of effects!

    As far as I know, the factors that contribute to uneven dyeing include:
    -hot/cool currents in the dyebath
    -uneven dilution of acid
    -uneven penetration of liquid/mordant during the presoak
    -uneven dilution of dye

    I agree with your definitions of kettle vs immersion dyeing. In kettle dyeing you add the dye to the fibre, in immersion dyeing you add the fibre to the dye. Within those two main methods there are many techniques.

  4. Thanks for posting this. I was pretty shocked while listening too. I’ve only ever dyed with food or natural dyes and I still keep it to dye-only pots and utensils. I can’t even imagine dying yarn in my cooking pots!

  5. thank you so much for the CORRECT information cosy. as you know, i am a very new spinner and have yet to embark on the dyeing aspect but i have been looking forward to it. i thought some of the information was very incorrect and i am sure that is because of the things that i have read; a lot of the info i have received from reading your blog, as well as others. dying yarn in your cooking pots. that you use to cook food. that you eat! – that is way scary! thanks again!

  6. there is a great book/primer for folks looking to inform themselves about dyeing which talks a fair amount about the chemistry of dyeing without making your head hurt.
    Synthetic Dyes for Natural Fibers by Linda Knutson
    and tho’ i didn’t hear the podcast…using your cook pots for dyeing!? gah!

  7. I stumbled on this looking for a tutorial on kettle dyeing. I totally agree with your comments about the safety issue not being stressed on the podcast. Omitting this key fact makes me discount the rest of the ‘cast.

  8. Hey, I was looking for a kettle dying tutorial also and came across this post. It’s on the second page of google results. =)

    It’s kind of appauling when people try and give advice like they’re an authority on it when they don’t know what they’re talking about (especially with mixing cooking stuffs with dying stuffs, I don’t dye (yet) and even I know that…).

  9. I agree with you as well. While some people think that dyeing is so very easy, and safe, one day it will catch up with them, and then they will blame everyone else because no one warned them! I know the way people are.

    I think that “kettle dyeing” is anything that is dyed in a kettle. Seems straight-forward to me. Painted yarns are different things — and those are NOT dyed in a kettle. So when someone brags how they kettle-dyed some yarn which is all spotty and uneven… I think they just did a sloppy job! Different views on the same thing, I suppose. That is MY rant! :-)

  10. My concern is not dye in a food pot as much as food in a dye pot. Are you kidding me? Food. in with my yarn? The thought of it gags me.

    While dying a couple times will not harm you, without a mask. I’ve been a cosmetic chemist for several years now and consistent s,all power exposure has the potential to harm, you. It’s not super high, but better safe than a lung issue. You will look like an alien, but wear a charcoal mask and eye protection. Dyes are rated by the FDA. Some are okay for eyes, some lips. not eyes and some are not supposed to be work directly on skin. It can lead to issues. Most of them are related to particle size, rather than a dye being honestly harmful once on your clothing. I know people have issues with dye against their skin, but properly mixed, dyes onto wool and rinsed dyes are pretty safe. You really have to know what you are doing before you start working with naturals.A lot of those require mordants that can harm the water.

    I’ve seen cosmetics made by indies that are using dyes not rated for eye use (I did not use dyes), and the damage that can follow online. However, when using dyes properly, exhausting them, etc, it is quite safe. There are those that will not agree with me and that’s fine, but I don’t use colorants I don’t know well, I love teas, coffee, annatto, etc on my wool.

    Besides, without proper equipment you risk looking like a smurf, or worse, an Oompah Loompa. Not how I want to greet the universe every morning.

  11. Pingback: Dyeing For Fiber Classes: A Review | Knitting the Stash!

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