How to dye/how not to dye
Tuesday January 01st 2008, 2:21 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,Life

Doctor R, if you see this, yes, this is the same pattern as your afghan. After I gave you yours, I knitted it again a few months later to keep close the memory of your face as you reached into the bag, stunned, thrilled, speechless, feeling the softness of the baby alpaca and cashmere and finally exclaiming, “Did it take you very long?” And I answered, “About an hour an inch.” Never has the acceptance of a knitted gift from me meant so much to me as what you gave me in those moments.

Jennie’s baby alpaca afghanIt was 72 inches long. He had given me every one of those hours by saving my life a few weeks previously. I was sharing some of my newly-gifted time back with him to convey the depths of my gratitude at his caring: there was never a knitting project more deserved.

Now, for the day-to-day part of this post: at least one of the dye manufacturers says helpfully in their literature that although the dye is more colorfast if you simmer it, you can easily dye in the washing machine; that way, the machine can do the heavy lifting of the water. I’m sure they thought that if they made it sound easy, more people would buy their dyes.

Yeah well. I tried doing it that way once about five years ago. Don’t. Worse, I tried it with their cotton dyes. Had it been an acid dye for wool, those just wash right out of cotton anything, but no such luck. Picture the machine in the spin cycle: now picture every little crevice a droplet of colored water could get flung to, and trying to obliterate every last bit from the inside and outside surfaces of the tub. Which is why I have a set of pink pillowcases with blue blobs on them and a freckled tencel jumper: I was so sure I’d succeeded (including running the thing with water only in it). Later, while I was in the hospital for ten days, my family brought me my own pillow and we used those pillowcases–if they somehow disappeared into the hospital’s laundry or trash, nobody was going to cry.

Afterwards, I went thankfully back to normal life, and, as part of that ordinariness, to using a dedicated dyepot like a good little girl.

That second afghan I made in this pattern was for my daughter, who later decided that she’d rather have it dyed burgundy than the natural light brown baby alpaca I’d knitted it up in. Okay. Hmm. Dr. R’s, I’d dyed in two batches, one to each fiber, to get a heathered effect when I knitted them up together. I didn’t have a pot big enough for this one.

The one bathtub in this house is old and crackled, and I didn’t want to risk dyeing the cracks, so I set a large plastic tub in there, filled it full of water too hot to touch, put the afghan in, took the afghan out, stirred the dye in, and put the afghan carefully back in. If I’d put the afghan into the dyebath dry, most of the dye would have schlurped up into whatever part hit the surface first, regardless of any amount of stirring; it needed to be wet for the dye to distribute properly. And I wanted the afghan hot so it wouldn’t cool the dyebath down when I put it in.

But that still just wasn’t enough heat to set the dye, I found. It wasn’t taking up. So I poured a goodly amount of the dyebath into my biggest dyepot and put it on the stove to simmer. I figured the dye was already well distributed by first using that big tub, where it had room to be stirred; I just needed the extra heat.

By the time the thing was ready to come off the stove, nobody else was around. It was New Year’s Eve, the kids were off. It was way heavier than any dye pot I have ever dealt with. I went to lift it, and it didn’t lift. I had this moment of, hey! If I say lift, lift! I can do anything if I try hard enough!

Thank goodness for the thick cotton sweater I was wearing when the boiling water hit.

I was going by my usual premise that it’s always better to start with a smaller amount of dye when you’re not sure; you can always add more later. But this time, I’m not going to. It’s beautiful; it’s much closer to the color of Dr. R’s than the deep shade I was aiming for.


7 Comments so far
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So, do you want to co-author a book with me – “Adventures of Women Who Dye Trying”… ha ha???

Comment by Amanda 01.01.08 @ 4:51 pm

Oh my! I hope you are ok.
I dropped a scalding cup of tea in my lap a few weeks after moving to Japan. I was wearing jeans, and they kept the heat until I was able to skin them off. I had 2nd degree burns, and had to wear bandages and walk funny for a few weeks. I still wish I knew what herbs the doctor put in the salve, it was so soothing!

Comment by Diana Troldahl 01.01.08 @ 4:59 pm

Amanda, that’s funny! Diana–yowsers. I got off really easy. Loose clothes for a day or two and I’ll be fine.

Comment by AlisonH 01.01.08 @ 5:01 pm

OUCH!! I’m glad to hear you didnt get hurt to bad. Boy am I glad the Only dyeing I’ve done is small batches of KoolAid dyeing in the microwave before it decided to die 🙂

Comment by Danielle from SW Missouri 01.01.08 @ 5:12 pm

Glad to hear your dyepot accident was not terribly bad. So, thankfully, you were wearing loose clothes..wondering if we should all think about that for a moment. It could even change the world! 🙂

Comment by Toni 01.02.08 @ 3:59 am

Eek! I misunderstood and thought this was a tale from the past until I read the comments. Glad you’re OK, Alison!

I am about to overdye a cream-colored merino cable scarf I finished while in Maine over New Year’s. It needs to be blue, and I didn’t have any yarn in the right softness or shade of blue, so I’ll be firing up the kettle shortly. And remembering to be careful, and not fill the 16 quart kettle to the brim, when I don’t need to for a mere 12-oz scarf!

Comment by Paula 01.02.08 @ 12:43 pm

Wow. What a way to start the year. No more of that stuff, okay? Sheesh! Anyway, Glad you are okay and hope that the new year is good to you and yours.

Comment by Tracy J 01.04.08 @ 8:52 pm

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