Dye Me a River
Last week, my mom (a natural dyeing aficionado) and me (a yarnaholic) dyed 38 pounds of cotton yarn. Mom was in charge of process; I was in charge of color. We did not dye the 56 lbs we had originally been shooting for, but we were more pleased with the results than we expected. The best part of the process, besides seeing the results and being together for several days, was pushing past the normal process of cotton dyeing by our love for this particular environment into our own environmentally-friendly process.
There’s nothing for making you want to avoid harming the environment like working in an environment you love. We were at the Lake of the Ozarks, known to other Missourians as “the land of the magic dragon,” but to me as the land of sunburns past, watersports learned, and parents relaxed. We vacationed on the LoO since I was 8 or 9, and my parents have lived 30 feet from the water for the past few years. This is the water in which my nieces swim, my dad fishes, and my soul is calmed.
The single biggest issue we faced when we began dyeing was salt. Our plan called for 131 pounds of salt. That’s not only ridiculous, it’s hard to dispose safely of that much salt. We couldn’t just drain it and let it flow into the property. It would kill all of mom’s plants and put way too much salt in the Lake of the Ozarks. Besides the environmental issues, I don’t want to do anything that would encourage shark infestation in the Lake. It’s silly, but that’s the first place my mind went.
12 hours before we began dyeing, I stumbled upon a method of dyeing that uses zero salt, which is very unusual for plant fiber dyeing. The process, known as Low Water Immersion Dyeing (LWI) or Crackle dyeing, uses very little water and no salt but yields unpredictable and practically unrepeatable results. It also threw all of my dye color recipes out of the window because the dye baths are too highly concentrated and in small quantity. It’s hard to balance for CMYK value percentages when you’re working with one or two teaspoons of total dye. We winged it (wung it, whatever). Along the way, we’ve also thrown in some Kettle Dyeing, some Dip Dyeing, and even some Ice Dyeing. 100% salt free.
We started with 200 skeins, and finished with only 30 undyed. At first, we thought we’d run out of dye, but in the end we ran out of energy.
Our first few attempts were good. A few later attempts yielded disastrous results but were easily redyed with one of the funkier methods. Some of our attempts at semi-solids yielded our wildest variegates, and some of our attempts to variegate came out muted. Can we repeat any of this? Some of it. It’s really a matter of mindset and fun. My hands are still bruised and blistered, our thighs were killing us, and dye is still hiding out in our cuticles, but every result was exciting. Each round of dyeing was more and more adventurous. From the palest peach and teal to the deepest fuchsia, the cotton dyed beautifully.
The best part? All of the salt we purchased (160 lbs) went back to the store. The groundwater is safe, and there’s not a fin in sight.