Diary of a Yarn Dyer – Testing New Dyes

Last week on YouTube, I posted my biweekly vlog where I dye yarn and talk through my thoughts and techniques. The topic for that vlog was about testing a new to me dye and learning about the characteristics of the dye.

Generally, when I’m dyeing up new colorways, I have some sort of idea about what I want to do. I’ll probably do a new colorway start to finish vlog at some point, but the main idea here is that I know the dyes in my arsenal and what I can and cannot do. This doesn’t just happen overnight. Understanding the dyes, how they work with others and which techniques work best for them is something that comes over time. I speed up that process by creating mystery minis, where I try different techniques and color combinations to know when and how I’ll want to use this new dye.

Minis are a great way to test out color combinations

What I look for from a technique standpoint…

You may think that the only difference between different dyes is the color. This is far from true. Some dyes are more powdery, some don’t blend well, some lighten as they set, some darken as they set. It really differs greatly and so I need to understand how the dyes will work on the yarn and in the water.

  1. Will it speckle?
    Speckling is a common technique used by hand dyers to add a bit more dimension to the yarn. It’s a great way to add a pop of color too if you want just a bit of something to the skein
    I find that not all dyes speckle well! Some are just too fine and they leave a dusting versus a speckle. Remember, a skein can be speckled, but one little speck will barely show up when someone uses the yarn. In order to really make a speckled yarn, it needs to leave a bit more on the skein than a dusting. Not all dyes are made for that and it’s good to know before you destroy a skein (I mean, not destroy, but just not end up with what you were going for).
  2. Does it take a while to absorb into the yarn?
    This is important to me because if it doesn’t absorb quickly into the yarn, I know I need a lower water level in order to use the dye. Why? Because otherwise, it will drift around in the water in the dye pan and not necessarily land where I want it to. This is an issue because the entire skein can take on that one tone where I might have wanted it to be an accent color. On the other hand, I might want it to not absorb quickly and this is important too. If I want a tonal color, having something that doesn’t absorb right in is good to know.
  3. What temperature does it need the water to be?
    Some colors really don’t take to the dye without a lot of heat. Others don’t require that. Some change properties with heat and others don’t. I need to keep all of this in mind when I’m dyeing yarn.

Knowing which colors would stay as speckles was important in this colorway
“Not In Kansas Anymore”

What I look for from a color perspective…

  1. What does the color actually look like?
    This is an interesting one. The dye companies do their best to show what a dye will look like, but I’ll be honest. I NEVER see the same result. A lot of that has to do with water to dye ratio, the base you’re using and so on. It doesn’t bother me one bit. I buy a variety of dyes, knowing that I can mix and match to achieve what I really want, but that means that I can’t start dyeing expecting a dye to look a certain way. It also will depend on the mixing of the color as well by the dye manufacturer. It’s like dye lots, but for dyes. Imagine that!
  2. Which colors does it work well with?
    Very important one. You rarely will receive a hand dyed yarn that only uses one color. Check out this video of mine where I dyed up tonals/semi-solids. None of them used one dye. There are no colorways in my collection that use only one dye, no matter how uniform is looks. I mentioned this earlier, but it really does take an understanding of how dyes will interact with each other. I have a dye that I use to create some brighter colorways. Blending it with other colors mutes it down until a really deep tone that I also love. It’s really about the combinations of the dyes that allows for some of my favorite colorways in my shop. You wouldn’t believe what 4th and Goal looks like at early points in the dye process.
This one of a kind color has a blue-green base.
I mixed two colors to come up with the base color

So that’s what I look for and think about when testing a new to me dye. Actually, when I get a new batch of a dye I’ve used before, I test it out as well to make sure it looks similar, although the research is not as vast as a new dye.

I hope you found this interesting! Make sure you leave comments, subscribe to my blog and check out my instagram and YouTube channel. All of the links can be found throughout my site and I’d love to hear from you! Feel free to reach out anytime with questions you may have or content you want to see. Have a great Monday and week. A WIPs post will be up on Wednesday and a new YouTube vlog posts every Tuesday and Friday at 5pm ET.

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