Fun with food colouring

I joined a really nice spinning group a couple of weeks back, and it has motivated me to spin about 23 hours a day. While I’m fleece obsessed and on a little fleece dyeing kick, I’d thought I’d show the popular easy peasy food colouring method that I use on combed top. (As usual, not exactly a tutorial, just a description of the way I do stuff.) 
The results are vibrant, and there are the major benefits of no really toxic chemicals or fumes, no mask, and being able to use normal kitchen utensils.
Oh, and economy. One bottle of food colouring: $1.06. One packet of dye: $10-$15.
This method also works for dyeing yarns, and there are some great YouTube videos on getting special effects like ombré and gradients. 
Me, I just reeeeeeeeally like rainbows. And then spinning the top fractally. Which apparently is not a word according to spell check, but spinners will understand what I mean. 

I use combed top, but carded roving works too. This is fine merino (19.5 micron) from Nundle Woollen Mills. I like to buy from them: their top is gorgeous, but mainly I like saying the word ‘Nundle’. I don’t use super wash wool, so have to be very careful not to felt it.
I braid it first, as it makes a nice tie-dye sort of effect. If you haven’t done this before, all it is is a crochet chain that you make with your hands. Make a slip knot at one end and chain to the other end.

I use these food colourings, because that’s what the supermarket had. But there are many types. I bought colours like pink and green, but of course just the primaries, red, blue and yellow are all you really need to make virtually any colour using basic colour theory.

I bought some sauce bottles from a discount shop just for ease of use (and so I feel like a super professional dyer). 3 for $2.50. But a jug works too. You also need white vinegar.
I’m not great with taking measurements, being a kind of intuitive (lazy) crafter. But I would say about 1/2 cup of vinegar in a kitchen bowl, the rest filled with water. Then soak the braid in the solution for at least 2 hours. One drop of detergent may be added if the braid is extra water repellent. 

When you’re ready to dye, mix them up. I wear disposable latex gloves for the dyeing part.
I use about 1-2 teaspoons of food colouring to one cup of water and one teaspoon of vinegar. Roughly. This might require a little experimentation, I tend to just wing it. The colour that the fleece goes on application is not exactly indicative of the finished product, which makes the whole thing even more exciting! 🙂 You can dip a little paper towel in the dye mix to check your colours too.

Incidentally, I have kept the mixed dyes and used them days later, and they still work.
Obviously I’m using grey top here, I like how it tones down the vibrancy of the food colouring.
Lay cling wrap along a bench. I use two thicknesses. Drain the braid. I wrap it in a towel and stand on it to soak out excess water. Don’t rinse it or let it dry out completely.
Lay it on the cling wrap, and paint it with dye! I trickle the dye on and press the wool gently with my fingers until that section seems completely saturated in the dye. Check that it has made it through to the back. Repeat until all done. (You have to kind of trust the colours you mixed up, as they don’t look too awesome on the fleece at this stage.)

Fold up the cling wrap over the braid once or twice, fold the ends it, and keep rolling to make a sausage. Roll it up loosely like a Swiss roll and put it in a microwave safe bowl.

The heat setting component can be done on the stove, in a crock pot or even in a hot car apparently, but I use the microwave because I am impatient.
Microwave on high for about two minutes. It should be piping hot, if not, do it for a few more seconds at a time until it is. Let it stand for a few minutes. Microwave on high again for thirty seconds. Let it stand again. Do one or two more 30 second hits/few minutes standing.
That’s all I do. If there is any liquid in the bottom of the bowl, it should be very close to clear. If not, the dye is not exhausted and it will need reheating.
It is hot, so I leave it to sit for a few minutes, then snip off the end of the cling wrap sausage and pour the fleece out.

Yay! Rainbow!
I don’t want to shock it, so I use very hot water to gently rinse (careful not to felt it), blot in a towel and dry.
That’s it. 

Here’s some spun up. (Yup, I totally painted one of my spinning wheels gloss black, for no obvious reason. M calls it the ‘Morticia’ wheel now). 

And here is some chain/Navajo plied and crocheted into a slouchie hat.

B 🙂

An Australiana Sock Experiment

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to find and quickly snaffle another second hand spinning wheel on Gumtree, which is a free online classifieds site in Australia. Spinning and knitting aren’t exactly big things here in tropical Queensland, so it can be difficult to track down a bargain. Wheels are often listed at twice the price they are down south! I had been on the lookout for one for a while. My own little wheel couldn’t cope with the variety of yarns I now want to spin.
But I digress…this post is actually about the local fleece that was thrown in with the wheel, unwashed but packed extremely neatly in a box with the label ‘X breed from Howard’. I do so love a bit of random fleece! Because it isn’t precious, you can experiment.

I had been thinking about making my own handspun socks from scratch for a while now. There are plenty of sites that examine this in detail, so I won’t elaborate too much. I played with this fleece, and discovered it would suit the purpose. But I wanted stripey socks, and this fleece was all white.  
I have chemical dyes but…nah, where’s the challenge in that? 🙂 I decided these would be 100% Aussie socks, local fleece dyed with local plants. I was determined only to use natives from our property. I knew from previous experience they would make a variety of yellows, so I figured…sunshine socks!
With a few tips from this book…

I got down to it. This was SO MUCH FUN! It is chemistry, art and craft combined, plus later there was even maths! Squee! 🙂
Firstly I scoured the fleece in small batches. Then I tried the vegetation that doesn’t require a mordant – lichens, staghorn fern and some eucalypts. The whole house smelt like koala breath (eucalypts) and cheap aftershave (lichens). (NB you should really do this outside. Do as I say, not as I do.) 

The colours were very pretty, and the lichens in particular were amazing.

Lichens grow very slowly and can easily be wiped out of an area if you over-harvest, so I only got very small amounts from around Ravensridge. These three were the main ones I collected.

Then I tried a variety of foliage after mordanting the scoured fleece with alum.

Different types of gum leaves, banksia cones, grevillea leaves, bracken fern fronds, casuarina bark, paperbark, stringybark. This produced lots of shades of yellow, plus tans, oranges and pinks, and a slightly greeny-yellow I got from a native grass. 

I kept my usual meticulous notes regarding weights and volumes.

It all began to look like a sunrise. I then made another mordant using vinegar and old rusty bits of iron from the train. With yellow stringybark leaves and bark, it made the fleece the most luscious purpley grey. 

I decided to save that for another project though, and stick with the ‘shades of yellow’ socks.
I now had fourteen shades. I had figured I would just spin it, ply it and knit it. Um…yeah. But how much of each colour? How thick would the finished yarn be? How long did I want my socks? It will surprise no one to learn I hadn’t thought this through at all. So now came the maths. I weighed out little sections of coloured fleece for each sock, leaving a bit extra for waste from combing. I figured I would make the socks look like a paint chart, and keep a list of which plant produced each colour for posterity.
Then I combed each section carefully using my Majacraft mini combs and arranged them in a colour scheme. 

I used my old handmade wheel to spin (worsted, short forward draft with lots of twist) and chain/Navajo ply. 

It took a few days to do this. In the end I got two skeins, 170 and 172m respectively. Could have been worse.
Finally done and drying on the line.

So for the socks, I used 56 stitches on 3mm double pointed needles. I used the Fish Lips Kiss Heel as usual. But I did do these toe-up to make sure the toes were the lightest colour. I just reversed my usual vanilla sock pattern.

The completed Sunrise Socks. 

I don’t seem able to get one photo that actually shows the true colours though! This one is closest.

I’m very happy with them. Except that the bits I dyed with lichen STILL smell like cheap aftershave! 🙂