Wool Dying and Sweater Blocking

28 Mar
And just in time for the resurfacing of a little season-appropriate weather I’ve finally finished a long-running sweater project I’ve been picking up and putting down for over a year. 
It started with a box of white virgin wool that a dear friend of mine gave to me. 
Her father is an antiques dealer and she went with him on one of his estate excursions, and picked out this gift that only a knitter would truly covet. The white of the yarn was pure and bright in a way that doesn’t really fit with my palette, so I didn’t use it until the brilliant thought occurred to me that I could dye it. 
I considered writing my own pattern for the sweater, as I have done a few times in the past, but I have learned that making your own pattern can really complicate things. I don’t have anyone to check my math and knit me samples and edit my patterns. And with all that time and labor, no one wants to re-knit a sweater. So unless undeniable inspiration strikes, for the time being I am sticking to published patterns. For this sweater I found my pattern on Knitty, an exhaustible, but good free online pattern library. I knit cardigan “Zora”.
I decided to knit first and dye second, a.k.a. garment dying. I wanted a single, solid color and particularly for yarn balled up like mine it is the easier option. You could dye yarn sold in a skein (when you untwist it, it unfolds to a big circle), especially if you’re interested in making self-striping yarn. 
So anyway, for the past year-plus I have been occasionally visiting my Zora, knitting straight from the pattern in the original white of the yarn. Until last week, I finished.
I pieced her together and began a little online research about dying wool. I’ve used the Procion MX fiber reactive dyes recommended by my professors in my fashion school days before and had some lying around. I’ve used it on cotton, silk, and rayon, but never on wool. And it turns out, wool is more finicky, but certainly dyable. Procion MX dyes can be purchased at any art supply store worth its salt. It comes in about a million shades (if you buy online, the in-store displays I’ve seen usually offer around 30), but it can also be mixed to create your own shades. 
Queen Dinah didn’t care for me taking pictures of anything but her.
Cotton can be dyed in a bucket of lukewarm water (see Dharma Trading for instructions regarding the dying of cellulose fibers like cotton, rayon, bamboo, etc.).
But wool has to be simmered. And if you’ve ever accidentally thrown a wool sweater in the washing machine you may know that carelessness with wool and water = felt. Wool doesn’t like change. It has to be gently eased into temperature change, and it has to stirred with care. Friction = felt. 
The only decent instructions I could find are here. I followed them pretty strictly, so I won’t bother reiterating them. The only I didn’t use was Synthrapol, the special detergent that they recommend. I used what I had in the house and it worked out just fine.


I mixed the Ice Blue and Bright Green pictured above in hopes of achieving a pale mint hue, which was admittedly only marginally successful. As it turns out, there is a reason that people who really care do preliminary color tests. But I’m just one girl with one sweater, and I couldn’t be bothered. I added a bit too much of the green and my sweater turned more spring than mint. Perhaps someday I’ll redye it (it is a bit of a sore thumb within the color palette of my wardrobe), but for now my Zora will remain her cheerful spring green, and I’ll admit it’s growing on me.
The next imperative step is blocking. Blocking should be done with any hand knit sweater whether you dye it or not, but once your sweater is wet you cannot escape it. Blocking is a tool with which you can perfect your finished sweater. Smooth out your lumps, even out your sleeve lengths, whatever it is. But wet wool is delicate and you can also botch it pretty easily. 
1. Hand wash your sweater in lukewarm water, avoiding friction as much as possible. Gently squeeze as much water out of your sweater as you can, but DON’T WRING IT.
2. Put down a towel wherever you have the space and carry your balled-up sweater to it. 
3. Lay your sweater on the towel. Don’t hold it up to admire your beautiful work; wet wool is like a slinky! Ribbing especially is difficult to smush back into its original elasticity after you accidentally stretch it out.
4. Spread your sweater on the towel carefully arranging it to the proper proportions and measurements, patting it into place and bunching up any ribbing you want to remain elastic.
5. If your sweater is still pretty wet roll up your towel with the sweater inside and squeeze out as much excess water as possible. 
6. Unroll, replace the towel with a new, dry one and repeat Step 4.
7. Allow your sweater to dry completely.
8. Wear it and look fabulous!
Love,

Melody

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2 Responses to “Wool Dying and Sweater Blocking”

  1. Stephanie March 29, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    BEAUTIFUL!!! I love the Zora pattern and the color is lovely.:-) mom

  2. Anonymous June 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    Thank you! I have been terrified to try garment dying with wool. Having raised sheep, spun and hand washed wool I know what you can get into with that. I have done yarn dying and enjoyed it, but like the look of a garment-dyed piece best, but was worried to risk all the work of a finished sweater. You are a brave one!!

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