Still More Adventures in Dyeing: Saturation Point

Over the weekend, I played with chemistry in my kitchen. One face mask, an ever dwindling ball of undyed yarn, a dozen rubber gloves, some disposable microwave containers, and 7 bottles of Jacquard dyes.

Using the cake-leveler/niddy noddy I discussed before, I wound out a pile of ~20 ft skeins, tied them loosely with some white cotton, and left them to soak while I mixed up dyes.

Each color was mixed up with some water and some vinegar. A skein of yarn was placed in a shallow microwave dish with about an inch of water. Using a tsp dropper, I squirted the dye mix into the yarn water until I felt I had the right amount of color. I placed a lid on loosely and popped the whole thing into the microwave for a couple of minutes. Some went for several trips through, some dyes exhausted during the resting periods, some never did. Some colors didn’t come out as I had hoped, so I started getting creative. After the yarn cooled a bit, I set it in a plastic collander and rinsed it with my sink sprayer. Finally it got to hang on a hanger to dry:

Now I’ll show you my final skeins in batches and discuss what I learned with each one. First up, my blues:

Maybe you can read my tags to see what the colors are, but I’ll give you a tour. The bottom ball is the first one I dyed. I was using Navy Blue dye and I was a little overambitious with my very scientific dye mixture. I did 1 part dye powder, 2 parts vinegar, 4 parts water (where 1 part is 1/2 tsp). All went into a little storage bottle and I shook well. Then I used the dropper to put a tsp of dye on the yarn. After 2 minutes in the microwave, I had the color you see there. Nearly black. And there was tons of dye left in the dish. I removed the yarn and rinsed it, added water to the dish, and poured the remaining dye into the dye bottle. Clearly, this was far too much dye powder. I’ll call your attention to the strand to the left of the balls, this is the cotton yarn that held the super-saturated skein together. The blue dye crawled up it.

A second time through for Navy, I put a lot of water in the dish with the yarn and added a tiny amount of the dye mixture to the water. The water turned black right away. Again, the dye didn’t exhaust completely, but I got a Navy with a color you can see. Almost indigo (there was a lot of purple in the dyebath). This is the 2nd ball from the bottom.

For my next dye color, I was a lot less scientific, but had a lot more control over my color. I added a very small amount of dye powder and more water and vinegar. In the middle is Brililant Blue. Above it is Sapphire Blue. They’re very close, but distinct under the Ott-Lite. However, they aren’t useful to stripe together. Above them is Purple.

Here’s my second set of colors:

At the bottom is Pink. Above it is Fuschia, or what I think should be called Electric Pink. I’m not all that pleased with the Fuschia. It’s a lovely color, but I was expecting something with a little more red/purple to it. And as I wasn’t pleased with the Purple, I decided to mix them to see what I’d get. That’s 2nd from the top. I wanted a brighter purple, so I started with Fuschia and added Purple unti it felt right. At the top is the Purple from the last shot, so you can compare.

The other interesting thing I noted was that the pink shades never exhausted completely. I tried several trips through the microwave. I let them sit out a long time afterward. Still a lot of dye in the water. Guess this must be a property of the reds.

Next up, the last of the original colors.

My last acid dye was Sky Blue. I was hoping for something light, and what I got my first time around was the 2nd from the top. All in all, not that different from the other two bright blues I had. I was hoping for stripes in shades of blues and out of frustration that none of these would work together, I pulled out my Wilton dyes. 2nd from the bottom is their Sky Blue. A much brighter shade, but still not something I see working with the other blues I had. So I tried the Jacquard Sky Blue again, but didn’t use as much dye in the dish. Through the microwave, I learned an important lesson — the dye darkens as it heats, so I need to start small and add more later if I’m not getting the colors I want. The 2nd try with Jacquard Sky Blue is at the top. It was still damp when it was time for photos, so it’s not balled up.

Then, feeling like I needed another color in the mix, I grabbed Wilton’s Juniper Green and gave it a shot. That’s what you see at the bottom.

Looking over the colors I had laying out to dry, I knew I wanted a navy as the base color in my stripes, but I wasn’t happy with the navy I had. Too dark, not the character I was going for. The lighter shades that crawled up the cotton thread didn’t thrill me either. So I decided to use a little navy dye to darken one of my other blues. I choose the Sapphire Blue because it was a little more somber than the others. I added a tiny bit of the Navy dye mix and got the color in the middle of this shot:

That’s what I’m going for as I move forward.

Yesterday, I showed you my preforated paper stripe planner. Here it is again:

Here I’m using Navy/Sapphire with Pink and Juniper Green stripes. It works a lot better than I expected it to, so although I hadn’t intended to use the Wilton dye for my final skein, I think I might. I still have to settle on a stripe pattern, but now that I have the base yarn, I also have to swatch to find out the right gauge for my calculations. Decisions, decisions!


  1. Kim:

    Gosh, what beautiful colors! And it is great to see the refinement of the dying process.

  2. Chris:

    You so should be teaching classes.

  3. jen:

    I found your blog because I bought Wilton dyes yesterday & wanted to find instructions before jumping in willy-nilly. I know this is an old post, but my experience with reds/pinks is that they require a LOT more acid to become saturated than other colors. Powdered citric acid works best, but a friend has had luck with a few packets of emergen-C added to the mix, and another friend uses extra vinegar.

    A lot of the commentary I’m finding about Wilton dyes (I have yet to find a good tutorial, just keep finding people talking about it. May have to make a tutorial myself at this point) say that the colors separate, esp. the blues, causing uneven shading. Have you found that to be true? And how is the best way you’ve found to avoid it?

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