Crab Apple Dyeing: Part 3.


I was tired of the remaining dye bath sitting about. I nearly threw it out without further use, but then I thought of something to do with it. I still had the white merino rib jersey left over from the Paua Inspired Cardi . I didn’t want to use it white, so I skimmed and reheated the dye bath, washed and vinegar rinsed the jersey, combined the two for an hour or two and got this nice yellowish creamy colour. The ungenerous might call it beige. Anyway, I like it. I’m hoping there is enough to cut a long sleeved Henley top. I could even use the crab apple dyed silk from Crab Apple Dyeing: Part 2 for trim perhaps. This exhausted the dyebath (almost no colour left in the water) so I could pour it away and clean everything up without feeling I’d lost an opportunity.


Crab Apple Dyeing: Part 2


I had made a dyebath, but what to dye? I decided to do a test first. So I put a couple of tablespoons of the dyebath in a strong glass, added small scraps of a variety of fabrics and boiled it several times in the microwave. This pic is before heating:


Here are the results after rinsing and drying. Original fabric and dyed scraps. From left to right there is cotton, linen, silk, wool fabric, wool yarn.


I was not surprised to see that the protein fibres took the colour best. I still didn’t know what I wanted to dye in quantity. Sleeping on the decision meant I lay awake turning possibilities over in my head. Argh.

The dull gold colour didn’t seem that exciting, but not horrid either. I came up with two plans. One, that I would dye a portion of the 100g white skein Bendigo Woolen Mills sock yarn I bought on a whim several years ago. I’ve split that skein into four, with the idea that I might have a go at some other natural dyeing and make socks from whatever colours result. The other plan was to take some of the silk I bought cheaply from a warehouse closing sale and do a variety of shibori folded resist patterns. On the left is silk crepe, enough for a dress. Two different folds that should deliver a stripe and a spot/check. Plus a plain piece for trim. Then the sock yarn. To the right is a selection of folds in a plain weave silk habutai, enough for a shirt, or something.


In the dyepot. I brought it to the boil, then added the fabric bundles. I let that all sit with a certain amount of poking and reheating for a couple of hours. Silk doesn’t really like being boiled, so I backed off from the “boil for an hour” instruction.


Then I pulled all the cloth and thread out, rinsed it in warm water and hung it out. This is the fine plain weave silk. The patterns are there, but pale.


Here is the silk crepe. This took the dye a bit better. All this fabric is still sopping wet, except the thin white piece above which I took out early because of cardboard failure.


Darkest of all was the sock wool yarn.


So some success. I’ll be interested in the look of the dry cloth and how fast the colour turns out to be. There is still colour in the dyepot, so I might put something else through tomorrow.

I will say that cardboard compression pieces are less than ideal for the shibori. They go soggy, fall apart and don’t do their job. I will look out for better stuff for use in future dyeing experiments.

Crab Apple Dyeing: Part 1.

An exercise in backwards project design. In stead of starting with the desire for an end product, I found myself with a raw material that I hadn’t planned for, and decided to work out a way to utilise it.

It all starts with my planting a crabapple tree in a too small space. I was pruning it each year to try to limit the size. I eventually did some research and concluded that I was just causing it to send up long unproductive growth. Basically it turns out that one can’t heavily prune a crabapple and still get fruit. Bother. So I decided to work towards pulling the tree out and replacing it with something more civilised.


I had hacked off all the small branches and was enquiring as to which of my wood working friends wanted any of the sizable pieces. Another friend spoke up, saying that one can use the bark and twigs for dyeing. Oh, well then. I figured I had to try that.

I found this site which had something of a recipe. Happily, it didn’t seem to need any special mordant. I collected as much coloured bark and small twigs as I reasonably could, then filled the bucket that I was using with as many of the leaves as would fit. That little collection then sat on my back verandah for a couple of months. Then I looked at it and decided I simply must proceed, so the poor plastic bucket could be retired inside away from the nasty UV light.

Next step then was to boil up all that saved vegetation in water. I didn’t have oregano flowers, but I included some oregano sprigs just in case it helped. The recipe site also talks about doing the preparation in a copper pot. I have copper pots but they are all lined with either tin or stainless steel. So I sat the outside of a small one in the boil in case that was important.


I loved making “witches brews” out of random things in the garden when I was a small child. This process touched that nerve, in a good and grin making way.

Here is what the liquor looked like straight after I put hot water over the veg mass. I reckon we will get a yellow dye, not a red one as the recipe says.


This is after an hour simmering:


Then leave it sit for a week, strain off the liquid which becomes the dyebath.


There is certainly some pigment there. There is also a bit of mould, which I figured meant I had to get right on to trying the actual dyeing.

To be continued…………..

Custom yarn from scrap

I decided to let my next sock recipient nominate her preferred colours. “Reds and Blues” she said. The sock wool stash had no red, but there was a variagated pink/orange. I had dark navy and some pale blues, but no nice bright blues.


Woo hoo, an excuse to do some dyeing! the pinks are now red, which my camera is refusing to capture properly. The blues are now deeper, brighter and much more fun. I plan to use the navy for the toes, and maybe cuffs? I’ll use the newly dyed yarn in broad stripes with spiral joins I think. I reckon I’ll enjoy knitting these.



Isn’t it nice when a plan works? My thoughts on how to best resurrect that well worn coat were enacted pretty much exactly. First I removed the lining. It was cut away from the sleeve slits and cuffs. Only the front and neck facings were unpicked. My take on unpicking these days is very much to minimise it. If one can get away with cutting the unwanted parts away, then do. Life is too short and my arm’s work capacity is limited.

Then the wool outer was washed, gently.  Then I dyed some of the fine but strong and hard wearing beige wool suiting in stash to a nice green. It didn’t go quite as dark as the forest green would have liked but the hue is really good.


Then I cut a deep facing for all the edges (except the hem)from the newly dyed cloth and applied it by machine except for the hem finishing. This will be fine for it’s intended use and the whole refurbishment still took me about a day of labour spread across three. Oh and I top stitched down all the seams because they are no longer protected by a lining. Plus I added straight grain reinforcing for some seams, such as the shoulders. It won’t last for forever but should do another couple of years.

From this:


To this rather more respectable version:


The owner is pleased. As he should be.


Cold Shoulder Cardigan

I’ve worn this cardigan for several winters. It’s wonderfully soft and warm, but I’ve been finding the colour really boring.


It was bought as a man’s cardigan from a factory outlet in NZ. After a few wears, I cut a bunch of fullness out of the shoulders to reshape it for me. This is the excised portion, shoulder seam at the top, sleeve seam at right.


Now I’ve added some colour for fun using my food dyeing tricks. In the process, I discovered just how much water can be drawn through wool overnight. Capillary action I’m told. I’m so glad I put the red end in a bowl!


Here it is dyed and dried. I’m pretty pleased, though I think it’s felted a little in the dyed sections. Still fits though, thankfully.


For extra fun, I overdyed some grey yarn to match with the intention of making a hat to go with it.


Paua Inspired Cardi

I have lots of cardigans but I’ve been wanting a light weight loosely fitting one. Most of my existing ones fit on the firm side. So I took some white pure wool rib knit fabric that I had bought very cheaply, and cut an embiggened and flared version of my Tshirt pattern. I did a few rounds of pin fitting and chopping bits off before I was happy with the shape and ran it up on the overlocker. It was still too large, but then I remembered that the rib was likely to tighten when washed. So stopping at that point felt wise.

I put it to soak in some warm vinegared water for a bit, and yes, it did tighten up. Then I had fun with a dye pot, trying for an elegant gradient effect of some sort using green/blue/red dyes. I wish I’d taken a shot of the before version laid out on the table, but I’d been too keen to get to the dyeing. Here is the result from the dyeing but before finishing, next to the leftover starting fabric. I love it!


The buttons look like they were made for it. Instead they were a serendipitous stash gift from a friend.


The label shot. I did a subtle prick stitch by hand around the neckline to keep the seam from rolling. The same trick was used at the bottoms of the arm and side seams to neaten the hem edge. Oh, the hems are done with just a zigsag stitch on a regular sewing machine, but with silk thread so it would take the dye along with the wool.


Here it is on, pre dye (see, it’s too big at this stage):


and finished:


The sleeves are too long but if I shorten them now, I’ll lose the full effect of the dye job. Other than that I’m really pleased with it.


Under-Skirt Leggings

Not an exciting project but I have been meaning to make some short leggings to wear under dresses for summer comfort. I had a piece of knit fabric in what I think is viscose/elastane in a slightly mucky white (from someone else’s stash again), but I didn’t want white. I decided to use a packet of Rit dye from stash on both this and a length of white pure cotton fine knit (actually bought by me!). The cotton went a pleasant neutral colour* but the viscose just went a slightly deeper shade of dinge. Oh well, I need test the pattern with something, and these aren’t really meant to be seen.

IMG_9688 IMG_9696

I drew a pattern from two pairs of my winter wool leggings. The fold you can just see at the knee end is the cut edge for the ones made today.


Then cut and made it up in the dingy viscose. First pair I stuffed up by sewing the wrong bits of leg together. On the overlocker of course so I cut the seams off and resewed with minimum seam. That pair is a bit tighter than it should be but still wearable I think. I managed to make a second pair to pattern. Really, the pattern is for fabric with a bit more lengthwise stretch, but these will do for now. I didn’t hem them. I like the very smooth finish of the cut edge. If they go manky in the wash, I’ll just shorten them to above knee with a proper hem.


I’ll share a picture of them on, but only with a skirt over top.


*I mean to make tshirts from this and my favourite summer tshirts are either black or shades of urk- cream, ecru, mole.

Fabric + Food Dye

The artificial food dyes one can buy in supermarkets etc, will easily and cheaply dye protein fibres. So this is a technique for wool, silk etc. Not cotton, linen* or synthetics. I’ve been playing with this since mid last year. I’ve been having great fun with it and quite a bit of utility too. I keep saying I’ll write up the basic technique, and I’ve just done another couple of pieces today, so here goes….

I had seen lots of references to dyeing wool fibre and yarn with food dyes, but I wanted to have a go on woven fabrics. This website has lots of information and recipes. I felt I had to read a lot of it to get any sort of summary though.

Materials needed:
food dye
protein fibre fabric (or yarn, or fleece, or finished garment)
gloves, because your skin is made of protein too

How much of each depends on what you are dyeing and how deep you want the colour and whether even colour coverage is desired.

Water: Use enough volume to allow your item to move freely in the water. Using too little volume will result in tie dye type effects (alternatively, you can do this deliberately)

Acid: I use vinegar. The cheap cleaning vinegar. I’ve never measured it, just slosh some in. It’s one of the things you can add a bit more of if the dye isn’t taking too well.

Food dye: I use Queens mostly because it’s stocked by my local supermarkets. I’ve also used the little drop bottles from McCormick. They work the same but the McCormick seems more concentrated. Again, use as much as you think you need. For 1.5m of wool suiting I used a whole bottle of Queens. Well half a bottle of red, followed by half a bottle of pink because it wasn’t dark enough and I’d run out of red. For smaller items, measure in drops (more useful for the McCormick stronger dyes), teaspoons or sloshes. The outcomes are always a bit random but with practice one gets better at predicting what will happen.


Heat: The website linked above says one needs to get the solution to 82degrees celcius for the dyeing to work. I’ve found the dyes are not all equal in this. Green and red are taken up more quickly and will start to be taken up at lower temperatures. Blue and yellow need the heat and more time to work. That variable speed of dyeing can be problematic if you are not planning for it but can give some interesting effects and can be used deliberately for ombre dyeing etc.

Tips to help get an even colour: -use plenty of water so your item can move in the dyepot and not be crushed up. Squashed fabric will resist the dye.
-pre wash your item. Dirt can either take the dye better than clean fabric, or prevent the dye from taking. Fabric finishings can change dye uptake too.
-have your item well wetted with vinegared water before putting it in the dyepot (put a little vinegar in the rinse of the prewash, or use the dyepot before the dye goes in. If the latter, take it out again before you put the dye in). The vinegar works as a mordant, makes the dye stick better to the fibres.
-try to ensure your item doesn’t have fuzzy bits, they will take the dye faster than tightly spun/woven/knitted sections
-mix the dye and vinegar in the cool to warmish water, then add your item, stir gently, then heat while gently stirring.
-then I let the item cool at least so it is comfy to handle, rinse in water of a similar temp to the item**, squeeze or spin, then hang to dry.

Small items I do in a stainless steel cooking pot on the stove top.

Larger items I do in a big plastic trug. Hottest tap water to start, then pour of part of the solution and heat on the stove if you feel the need, then return the heated liquid to the trug. Don’t pour really hot liquid into an empty plastic vessel though, make sure you have some cooler liquid in the trug. The trug technique works better for green and red than yellow or blue, the latter tend to need more heat. That pair of retro wooden laundry tongs below is marvellous. It belonged to my grandfather and I use it all the time. Amongst other things it helps me avoid sticking cooking spoons into dye pots.


It’s better not to put dye down the drain, so if my item doesn’t exhaust the dye fully***, I put a length of silk (I have ridiculous amounts of white silk I’ve bought cheaply) or a ball of knitting wool in the pot to take up the last of the dye. Or if you don’t have any spare bits and pieces to take up residual dye, be more careful not to use too much. Start with only a little and add more if you need. Take your item out of the dye pot before you add more dye though. Remember the colour will be paler when dry.

There are lots more variations one can try, or experiment with. Many are documented in the link above. Feel free to play with it. I’ve still got a few ideas for strange things to try.

Here are some examples of pieces of beige wool I have overdyed, starting with the newly dry pink from the dyebath above:


And some of the silk I have used to fully exhaust the dye. These were both white to start.


Of course one can over dye coloured items too. This is blue dye over a purple silk twill base.


*an exception found with a friend is that Queen red dye will turn linen a nice coral pink. None of the other colours take on linen. I haven’t done experiments with cotton, but I doubt that would be much different.

** to avoid thermally shocking the fibre. I usually don’t want to shrink the wool. Silk doesn’t shrink like wool, but also prefers to be treated delicately. Both like to have just a little vinegar in the final rinse.

***for example if I’m impatient, or can’t get enough heat, or don’t want the first item any darker. It’s pretty amazing to watch the dye be scavenged away to leave clear water.


Labour intensive but satisfying

Yesterday I combined the luxury of time with a recent quality stash gift to set up a new project. A few weeks ago I was the delighted recipient of a big bag of sock wool leftovers. Two of them looked like Schoppel Wolle Zauberball. Now I love knitting their crazy zauberball wool, so I am keen to have a go at knitting this. Between them there was about enough for a pair of socks but the colours didn’t quite go. The darker ball was even more purple than this, my camera doesn’t deal well with blue tones.


This post is picture heavy and long so I’m experimenting with a cut. Hopefully clicking “more” below will deliver the rest of the post? Argh no! it’s eaten the rest! Now reconstructed, L plates still on here.

So I skeined off the dark wool

and put it through a yellow dyebath


I left it a bit long, but I think the new colours still work better with the bright yarn. I’ve rewound both colourways into half weight balls to help decide when to stop the first sock. The bright turns out to deliver a rainbow per half! I did have to do a second rewind of one half to get the colours running the same way.

Here is the tiny collection of project materials for one sock


Which rolls up to about the volume of a glasses case. I knit so many socks because they make wonderful portable projects, which I need to keep me happy and sane in trains, planes and waiting situation various.