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Dyeing Silk Roving
After a while, it is nice to start thinking about using your own hand dyed colors in your work. Figuring out how to get started dyeing the silk is not always that easy. Silk is harder to dye than wools (in my opinion). After dyeing hundreds of pounds of silk, I have come up with a process that seems to work pretty well for me. So, I thought that I would share it with you.
Silk roving tends to tangle a lot during dyeing, so I had to go through a lot of trial and error before I found a method that kept it from getting all tangled. What I found was that I got the best results when I broke the roving into pieces that are about 1/2 ounce. Then, tie an overhand knot at each of the ends and in the center of the piece.
Then soak as much as a pound in water with a few drops of syntrapol (which is supposed to help break the surface tension of the silk and let it take in more water). When the silk is totally saturated (basically when it will sit on the bottom of the bucket instead of on top of the water), I remove it from the bucket by the center knot and fold the roving pieces until they are about 6-8 inches long. I try to always handle it by the center knot when it is wet. I then squeeze out most of the water and I am ready to dye.
I use Pro-Chem Washfast Acid dyes, so I mix them from powder with boiling water and salt and let them cool before trying to use them. I usually make about 1 quart of dye using 1 tsp of dry dye powder to dye one pound of silk. I never put acid directly on my silks. I always add the acid (I usually use citric acid, but vinegar can be used as well) into the stock pot and make sure it is mixed well. I usually fill the stock pot about half full of water. For most colors, I then add the full quart of dye to the stock pot and add the hand squeezed silk roving to the pot as quickly as possible. Don't add a few pieces and then another few piece because you may end up with some weird results. Some colors strike (grab hold of the silk) very quickly and others do not. So, if you dye is a mixture of colors, you may find that some the silk you thought you were dyeing blue may actually end up greener or more purple than you thought. So, adding all of the silk to the dye mixture at the same time is important.
If I want very vibrant or deep colors, then, I mix the cooled dye in a washtub with an equal amount of water. I then saturate the silk in the washtub. (I use my hands and rubber gloves for this step.) The basic idea is to move the silk as little as possible while getting it to absorb as much dye as it will. Sometimes, just gently squeezing the silk helps. I usually let it set in the washtub while I get the stock pot ready to set the dye. Then, I gently squeeze out extra dye and then move the silk from the wash tub to the stock pot. Then, pour in any extra dye that is in the wash tub. Next, heat the stock pot until it is just starting to simmer. On medium high heat with my stove and stock pot it takes about 15-20 minutes, but since I have a flat cooking surface, it can take as long as 30 minutes if I use a canning pot that does not have a flat bottom. So, you will have to judge the time for yourself. A good hint is to keep it on medium high until you can put the corner of a paper towel in the pot and have it come out with little, if any dye color. Then, turn off the heat and leave the pot sitting on the burner until it is cool. (If you have to move it off the stove, it will still be OK, but I hate to move such a large pot of very hot water.)
When the pot is cool, I just pour off the silk into the silk (with a stopper that allows water to drain through. I then start looking for the center knots. They will usually pull out easily, but if not, just go for another one. Eventually, they will all come apart. I usually do not have more that one or two pieces that will pull apart. I think this is because this method uses only a minimal amount of moving of the silk and no stirring while it is in the stock pot or bucket. To remove excess dye, I run each knotted piece under running tap water and then fold and gently squeeze.
To dry it, I just hang to pieces over a plastic hanger (on the bottom flat part) and let them dry. Although I may end up with a few pieces that are a bit tangled, the majority of my roving stays together very well. The only thing is that since it has been wet, you might have to "snap" it by pulling sharply on both ends if it does not draft easily for you. Hope this helps you to think about dyeing your own roving. The same process will work for Throwsters waste, cocoons, carrier rods. You just don't need to break them into pieces. I have successfully dyed a few carrier rods and cocoons on the top of a pot of roving as long as they are fully wet and are added as soon as the silk roving is. When the pot is cool, pick out the carrier rods and cocoons before pouring the water from the pot.
If you are dyeing throwsters waste, you can use the same process, except you do not have to break it into pieces or tie knows in it. Throwsters waste is a tangled mess when you get it. That is part of its charm. After it is dyed, you may want to pull it apart into smaller pieces instead of letting the entire pot dry together. It makes it easier to handle after it is dry.
If you have any questions about the method that I use, feel free to contact me at email@example.com. I highly recommend www.prochemicalanddye.com as your dye provider. I particularly like their Starter Kits. You will find a link to them on the lower left hand side bar on their website. Why do I like them? Mostly, because the dyes work really well. Secondly, because they have a toll free line for technical support and even as a home crafter just starting to dye, I was treated like I was much more important. The technician helped me resolve my problem and was friendly and helpful even though I called back three or four times in the same day. Great customer support combined with great products keeps me as a customer every time.