Overdyeing to Coordinate Yarns
Have you ever found a pile of a wonderful yarn in hideous colors at a great price?
Did you buy it?
Yeah. Me too.
My purchase was at a weaver's garage sale. 100% wool yarn was being sold by the pound, and it was a madhouse. I'd gotten there late, so most of the choice colors were walking around in other people's hands.
What was left was a collection of yellows, tans, and beiges. My least favorite colors.1 There were also a few partial cones of blue.
But the price was good, and I was a new weaver with barely a stash at all, so I grabbed up those muddy yellows and all the blues I could scrounge and bought them.
When I got home, I put them together and had this.
Not a color palette I wanted to work with. Blue and yellow are on opposite sides of the color wheel—not exactly each other's complement—but far enough away that weaving them together would create a vibrant (some might say clashing) textile.
My dream was to combine all these yarns together into a soft and huggable blanket, one that would soothe the eye and encourage sweet dreams. Vibrant was not on the menu.
So I pulled out my dye pot and used a technique that I'd heard Judith MacKenzie McCuin mention. I would overdye all the yarns in the same dye bath. They'd come out different colors, because they were different colors going in, but those new colors would all share the common denominator of the dye-bath's hue and would harmonize.
Of course, you have to think a bit before you pick a color to overdye with. If I had picked purple to overdye the yellows, I could have ended up with a muddy mess. When in doubt, sample: you can trim six inches or so of each color and dye them together to test the color before you commit large quantities of yarn and dye.
Analyzing the colors, I decided that overdyeing the yellows with a pale sea–green would be just the thing. It would mellow them into various shades of green that I could mix with the blues, which I would leave out of the dye bath.
I didn't have enough of any one color for the weft, so I purchased some cones of white in the finer Shetland weight of the Harrisville yarn.
As you can see from the picture above, the different shades of beige and tan took up the dye in slightly different ways.
Armed with a coordinated pallet of blues and greens, I wound a warp choosing from the colors randomly. I tried to balance things so that all the colors would run out at the same time, and avoided building up solid stripes anywhere.
It may seem like a lot of work to turn my garage-sale yarn into the blanket of my dreams, but snuggled in a rocking chair in front of the fire, wrapped in an ocean of greens and blues, I can say that it was all worthwhile.
With a bit of ingenuity, you can use second-hand yarn, a dye pot, and a simple, narrow loom to create something wonderful.
A loom with a weaving width of 20 inches or more. (I used a 26" Schacht Baby Wolf.) You could weave this project on a narrower loom, if you wound a longer warp and sewed together more panels.
Harrisville Highland 100% wool (900 ypp) in Cobalt, Cornflower, Navy, Marigold, Sand, Camel, and Sandalwood, 960 yards total. (These last four colors were overdyed with sea–green, in a single dye bath.)
Wind a warp of 160 ends, six yards long.
Makes a lap blanket (50x60 inches), allowing one yard for loom waste and sampling. You will have three panels to sew together.
Harrisville Shetland 100% wool (1800 ypp) in white, overdyed in the same dye bath used for the warp.
Eight ends per inch.
- 20 inches wide on the loom
- 18-1/4 inches wide off the loom
- 17-1/2 inches wide after wet-finishing (12.6% shrinkage)
Note: The final measurement depends on the amount of fulling. If you full heavily you may get more shrinkage; lightly, you may get less.
Weave at 6-8 picks per inch. The cloth may look a bit cheesycloth-y and loose on the loom, but that space will fill in when the wool in taken off the loom and released from tension, and even more after it's washed.
Weaving loosely lets the fibers slide around during washing so they can full and stabilize the cloth.
Serge the cut ends or sew with a zig-zag stitch to secure.
To full, you can either hand-wash the yardage in your tub, or wash the cloth in a top-loading washer. Use warm-to-hot water with lots of gentle soap (such as Dawn dishwashing detergent or baby shampoo) and agitate to full.
If you are using the washing machine to full your fabric, be sure to check the cloth often. Fulling cannot be undone!
After the fabric has dried completely, you can raise a wonderfully fuzzy nap on the cloth by scrubbing it with a brush with stiff nylon bristles, such as is often used to scrub floors. Be careful not to scrub so hard that you damage the cloth.
Note: If it's not immediately obvious, you might want to go out and buy a new brush for this purpose, instead of using the one you actually, you know, clean floors with.
Seaming the Panels
For information about how to seam the three woven panels together in a reversible and inconspicuous way, see Marlene Randall's excellent description in "A K.I.S.S. for Baby."
Can you spot the seam in the picture below?
I find the bias-tape selection at fabric stores to be rather limited in terms of fabric and color. After spending all this time on matching the colors and weaving the cloth, it would be criminal to slap a ready-made, hunter-green, polyester bias tape onto this blanket.
So I made my own bias trim. It's not hard, and adds a beautifully polished finish to the blanket. I chose a sea-green dupioni silk from my local fabric store that coordinated with the colors of the blanket. Silk for the binding is a luxurious choice, but you don't need much, and really, when you're weaving a future heirloom, isn't a little luxury called for?
Because I didn't want to have to dry clean my blanket, I prewashed the dupioni silk. This changed its character markedly. You lose the lovely crisp feel and sheen, but gain a fascinating tracking. It also became softer.
To make bias trim, you cut strips of fabric 2-1/2 inches wide on a 45-degree angle.
Here are some online resources on how to cut bias strips:
- "How to Cut Bias Strips for Piping or Banding" a tutorial on the ShowHome Patterns website.
- "Continuous Bias Strips" a PDF document published by The University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture
Next, fold the bias strip in half and press with a hot iron, being careful not to overheat the silk. Next, fold the raw edges towards the center crease and press, taking care not to press out the first, center, crease.
Note: If you are planning to sew the bias edging on by machine, fold one of the raw edges in a little farther than the other.
Sewing on the Bias Trim
To learn how to sew on a bias strip binding, go watch the Angry Chicken Bias–Tape Tutorial. (Even if you already know everything there is to know about sewing on bias trim, it's worth a watch. It's that funny. Seriously.)
Syne Mitchell is the editor of WeaveZine. She loves how dyeing her own yarns makes the yarns in her stash even more versatile, and makes it possible for her to weave with colors that aren't commercially available.
(1) I write this realizing there are people out there in the world who dearly love beige, tan, and yellow. Color is a subjective thing; and opinions differ. And hey, if you ever want someone to take those jewel tones off your hands, you know where to find me...