Adventures in over-dyeing

Variations on a tweed.  Underneath, the fashion garment, happily dyed with chestnut.  Scraps, left to right, Kelly green, original, spruce.

Variations on a tweed. Underneath, the fashion garment, happily dyed with chestnut. Scraps, left to right, Kelly green, original, spruce.

Over-dyeing is a good way to have a new wardrobe without spending a lot of money, but it is fraught with peril and potential for ruin, much like life, and I’ve found it’s best if I have no preconceived notions about the results, also, much like life.  

I discovered that a large part of my wardrobe was all wrong, grey, black and fuchsia should have been rust, brown and salmon.  I started my forays into over-dyeing last summer.   At first I mostly dyed cellulose fibres and some silks using fibre reactive dyes.  There is a lot of guesswork: taking into account the original colour in whatever mix for a hoped for end result.

 I started keeping a dye journal with notes about the mix of colours, how much salt I used, length of time in the dye bath and then the end results.  With fibre reactive dyes the water stays coloured and there is a lot of rinsing out of excess colour.  It would seem like a waste so I sometimes threw things in the dye bath well after the mordant had been added and the original garments removed.

One happy result was a bright, jewel-toned, silk scarf that I originally bought at an artisan store in Victoria.  I used antique gold.  The fuchsia became a muted coral, the royal blue a soft marine blue, turquoise became teal and the purple muted to blend with the others.  That same dye bath turned a piece of bright pink velvet  to orange.  I re-dyed the velvet with more warm black to get a yummy rust that I was looking for to trim a vest I was repairing.

My experiments were all leading up to dyeing my wool garments.  Wool is a protein fibre and is best dyed with acid dyes.  My method is to use a pot of hot water on the stove which can be tricky because too hot and agitated and wool will felt and shrink.

Wool is a fantastic fibre.  It is strong even when wet and maintains its ability to provide warmth even when 50% wet.  It’s resistant to moisture and to dirt and if cared for well can last for years.  I have a heavy tweed jacket I made in 1993.  It was one of a three fabulous pieces of wool I bought at a surprisingly great fabric store I discovered in Cranbrook, BC when I was there visiting the in-laws with the husband.  I made the jacket in a Japanese hapi style with modified kimono sleeves.  The original lining was a dark purply blue, iridescent acetate with two welt and two patch inside pockets besides the two welt pockets on the outside.

The jacket has been re-lined twice since I made it and I had recently replaced the bottom parts of the sleeves and faced the lining edge to delay the next change of lining.  Meanwhile the discovery of the new, improved palette meant that the black, grey, white and thread of blue tweed was not in my preferred colours.  I changed out the black velvet trim for olive green velvet and changed the dark grey  knit I-cord ties to green as well to give myself some time to feel more confident with dyeing.

I put a scrap of the tweed in with some grey wool jersey garments and a TBS of kelly green because I was trepidatious about how the tweed would behave.  Unbeknownst to me, I now think that the jersey was not 100% wool because when I added the acid to discharge the dye it all went into the one scrap of tweed and no change to the grey skirt and shirt.  That’s why the scrap is nearly black.  It has enough dye for a couple of garments.  That didn’t make me feel any more confident.

The discharge with acids dyes if very cool.  Fabric is first pre-soaked with synthrapol, that releases any excess dye and thoroughly wets the garment.  Then into the dye bath for 45 minutes, swishing around and bringing up to a simmer.  Then, I add citric acid mixed in water and continue to stir.  Within minutes all the dye in the water has gone into the fabric and the water is clear.  A gradual cool down so that the wool is not shocked, spin in the washing machine and voila!

There is a fine line of how much dye to use.  Conservatively, less dye and possibly several times of over-dyeing would be most prudent, but I am impatient with that methodical process so I guess what would be best.

Over-dued and re-lined.  Both outer wool fabric and lining were originally grey.  THe velvet trim was hot pink.

Over-dyed and re-lined. Both outer wool fabric and lining were originally grey. THe velvet trim was hot pink.

My first acid dye bath was teal and I dyed two soft light grey wool garments i’d made in 1989, a tunic and a vest.  I like the result; the colour is dark and mottled.  I could have used less for a more even look.  The vest originally had a fuchsia quilted flannel lining that was finally looking shabby so I replaced it with a soft moss green flannel (overdyed, originally grey) and trimmed with the rust cotton velvet.

Finally I felt confident enough to attempt over-dyeing my tweed jacket.  I removed the lining and partially  removed the collar, soaked the fabric in warm water and Synthrapol, then immersed in a dye bath with 1 TBS of chestnut.  The result was way better than I expected.  The white threads became chestnut, the grey a dark brown and even the black threads toned down to be more espresso than real black.  The overall feel is that the jacket is now a brown tweed.  Success! What a surprise.

The jacket, re-assembled with a new lining, re-lined pockets and new trim and ties.

The jacket, re-assembled with a new lining, re-lined pockets and new trim and ties.

I then dyed a black and white Harris tweed vest and some assorted wool scraps with spruce (sort of a greenish blue, unlike teal, which is a blue-ish green) and re-lined that vest as well.

I was on a roll so I thought, why not try to dye some of my knit garments?

I had a heavy pullover made of two ply worsted yarn from Briggs and Little in New Brunswick that I made in the 70’s.  It originally had a turtleneck that I changed to a mock turtle that was not good looking.  It looked like it would accommodate the neck of a gridiron linebacker.  I unraveled the bad neck treatment and decreased the stitches and converted to a crew neck then did a dye-bath with kelly green and some gunmetal to tone down the brightness.

Detail of cabled pullover with a ball of the original colour yarn.

Detail of cabled pullover with a ball of the original colour yarn.

My guessing turned out well.  I didn’t want the lighter, natural strand of yarn to be bright kelly green and the amount of gunmetal ( a purple-ish, blue/grey) was enough to darken but keep the overall colour green.  I  hanked up a couple of small balls and dyed them as well as a matching toque.

Then I dyed a variegated mohair shrug that had a bit of fuchsia that I didn’t want and a dark cranberry sleeveless cardigan.  I used spruce and gunmetal on them, maybe a bit too much gunmetal but I still like the result, especially the cardigan that is a very dark grape and seems to have lengthened a bit.

My leave and vine sleeveless cardigan, dyed with spruce and gunmetal.  THe yarn ball is the original colour, sort of.  The yarn is Malabrigo merino from Uraguay, hand dyed and spun so there is a lot of variation in the dye lots.

My leave and vine sleeveless cardigan, dyed with spruce and gunmetal. The yarn ball is the original colour, sort of. The yarn is Malabrigo merino from Uraguay, hand dyed and spun so there is a lot of variation in the dye lots.

It’s a learning process.  I make notes in my little book and maybe next time I’ll try the gradual dye thing and not go for the finished colour in one go.  I DO like the vest but I think it’s a bit dark.  Still I can wear it now and it was all wrong colour-wise before.  so the adventure continues and the future is uncertain from this perspective but I have a lovely renewed brown tweed jacket that ought to last another 20 years and should not need a new lining for at least five.  I hope.

It's roomy, the pockets are capacious and it is warm.  I can fit it over several layers and it is new and improved with great colour and the best lining I ever put in.

It’s roomy, the pockets are capacious and it is warm. I can fit it over several layers and it is new and improved with great colour and the best lining I ever put in.

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