Playing with kettle-dyed locks

My spinning time has been quite varied recently: following the success of the Twilight Humbug roving (Gayle! Humbug roving is roving containing stripes of the natural sheep’s colours, like a mint humbug. You can see some great examples here; the BFL and Shetland are both a lot of fun to play with…), I moved on to kettle-dyed locks.

Kettle-dyeing fleece is very different to hand painting top, or roving, or yarn for that matter.  You are working with a much less processed stage of the wool, so it is much less homogeneous.  Different areas of the fleece have different qualities, including length, fineness, greasiness, crimp… the list goes on!  In addition, the tips of the fleece may take dye differently to the butt ends of the locks, so you can get some very interesting effects:

What you can’t get, so much, is predictability – or repeatability.  For a scientifically creative soul like myself, this is both thrilling and intensely frustrating.

Spinning dyed locks is also very different to working with prepared top or roving.  Of course, you could card or comb the locks, just like anything else, but with such thrillingly multicoloured fibre, why would you want to?

In addition, I’m a fundamentally lazy soul.  I’d much rather spend my time behind the spinning wheel than weilding a pair of hand cards.  So I’ve been flicking, and spinning directly from the lock.  Pictures follow – though not of the wonderful rainbow above: my test locks are Kerry Hill, dyed to a more uniform purple – though you can still see the different colour at the tips and butts:

And here’s my secret weapon – a flick carder from Ashford:

The head of a flick carder is about half the size of a regular hand-card, and the handle is much longer.  Also, they don’t come in pairs!  Flick carders are used singly, to open up the ends of locks in preparation for further processing (which can, of course, mean going straight to spinning).  So, how well does it work, would you say?

Frankly, I’m amazed.  Here’s a lock of the fleece before flicking:

The tip of the lock is resting on my index finger; that bit tends to be dryer, crispier and slightly brittle.  The butt end of the lock, hanging over my index finger, tends to be slightly greasier.

And here’s how flicking opens up the end:

Sproing!  Both ends flicked:

And really, can you imagine a more perfect prep?  Look how open and even it is!  And again: one lock unflicked; one lock flicked:

And then? Fold it over your finger…

…and spin from the fold!

(Or you can spin from the end, for a more worsted style yarn, but this particular fleece is just *begging* for longdraw).


Yesterday was set-up day for Textiles in Focus.  I couldn’t resist sharing a photo of this box with Wensleydale roving on top:

The day was not enhanced by my car emitting a loud twanging noise from the suspension, as it spontaneously gave itself a council-estate ‘sports lowering’.  Yep – one of the coil springs broke…


It’s that time again.  If you have been planning to buy anything from my Etsy shop, you may want to do it soon, as I will be closing it for a week or two, starting Sunday night.  (After which, it will be back, bigger and better than ever before, assuming I can get some photographs taken.)

Next Friday, Textiles In Focus kicks off for three days of woolly fun and fibre-based mayhem.  Just like last year, I’m selling my own hand-dyed yarns and fibres – and I’m also teaching for the first time.

As if that wasn’t enough, there will also be a spin-and-knit-in area next to my stall, in a space that was desolate and unused last year; I’m sort of ‘curating’ it.

Of course, nothing is really ready; I have a whole bunch of new yarns for this year, and I haven’t done the label design yet.  The pile of yarns waiting to be rewound, post-dyeing,  is bigger than my dog.  The course is ready to be taught, except for the fact that I haven’t finished the handout, and I need to assemble the student materials packs.  And a few more sample pieces would not go amiss, bien sur.  Batts!!  I really, really need to card batts.

Printing.  There is so much printing to be done.  (Note to self: don’t leave it till the last minute.  Your printer will break down, or run out of ink, and it will be very stressful.)

This afternoon, I had a mini-breakdown, thinking there was no way that I could get it all done in time.  After a couple of hours of wandering around feeling morose and angst-ridden, I realised something pretty awesome: I have taken on quite a few insanely large projects in my time, from 18th century dresses onwards.  And though most of those have not ended up perfect, and although the occasional all-nighter may have occurred on the way, each and every one of those has ended up working out ok.

So I’m drinking a beer and writing a blog post.  But no photographs: they take too long.  Later, patient readers!  Now, I should go design labels…

Friday is dye day

I’ve spent today up to my elbows in dye – almost literally at times, because I’ve had a spate of leaky gloves.  I now have three blue fingers on my right hand, and a greenish index finger on my left.

And I can’t show you today’s results, because they still look like a mess of soggy wool, indeterminate colour.  But I can show off the stuff I dyed last week.

I’ve been playing with some old favourites:

Bluefaced Leicester roving, in ‘Violetta’

And some new yarn bases:

Merino/tencel laceweight, in ‘Geode’

Revisiting colours from last year’s favourites:

‘Moorland’, on brown Bluefaced Leicester roving

And a few new experiments:

D.K. and a (new!) wool/silk sock yarn in ‘Seaglass’

I’m delighted to announce that I’m  going to be exhibiting again at Textiles in Focus this year.    And, if you check out the programme (PDF), you *might* just notice that a certain Alison is teaching a course. Eeeeee!

45) Overdyeing, part 2

Wow!  On Monday, this humble little blog had 99 hits!  That's over five times my daily average.  So, please, won't you stop to say hi?  I'd love to know who visits here, and what brought you!

So, summer tweed.  This yarn is 70% silk, 30% cotton.  That means mostly protein, some cellulose.  Usually, I use acid dyes to dye protein fibres (silk, nylon, all animal fibres) and Procion MX dyes for cellulose (cotton, linen, all kinds of viscose).  You can use Procion dyes to dye silk, apparently, but I've never done it.  I think the pH is different to dyeing cellulose too, so you still couldn't do it all in one dye bath.

So I took the easy way out.  I chucked in a couple of tubs of Dylon hot-fix dye. I don't think they actually make this stuff any more; I got a job lot of it from eBay years ago, but it's a union dye – that is, it deals with all kinds of fibre in a single mixture – like RIT, for readers in the US.

Using a pot of mid brown and a pot of very dark brown, I was able to tone down the orangeyness of the 'Nectar', and warm up the overall feel of the colour to a coppery chestnut:


I have, however, lost the tweediness of the original yarn – my dye job is too good and level!  Never mind, I feel the texture provides enough interest in any case.  I'm pleased with this colour, and think it will look great with denim and white.

A single pot of dye (if I remember correctly, Tartan Green) was enough to completely transform the Sprig into a uniform, flat mid-green:



I'm much less pleased with this colour.  'Uniform' really is the word; it reminds me of school skirts.  I'm almost regretting overdyeing that lovely clear green, even if I didn't like the turquoise flecks.

I haven't quite decided whether I want to keep this as-is yet, but I think it might be going in for another round with the dye pot.  If so, I might try using acid dyes to dye the silk component selectively.  It should leave the cotton unchanged, and might bring back some of the lovely tweedy feel of the original yarn…

44) Overdyeing, part 1

A couple of weekends ago, I unearthed the stash of Summer Tweed: two full bags, one in Nectar, a fairly nasty cold orange (this photo actually looks much nicer than the yarn itself):


And one in Sprig, a bright, crisp green which I actually love, apart from the turquoise flecks in it:


And lo! I decided they were good for overdyeing.

Step 1: wash the yarn.  All the yarn I dye gets washed first; the main problem in this regard is usually spinning oil, which can prevent the dye binding to the fibre.  Hand knitting yarns are usually less of a problem than machine knitting or weaving yarns (or anything else that comes on a cone), but I still find it worthwhile.

And honestly?  I was shocked by the amount of loose dye in this stuff.  Given that this is supposed to be premium quality yarn, I would not expect excessive dye loss on washing.  But this is what the water looked like when I was done:


Because I washed both lots of yarn in the same pot, it's brown.  Green plus orange can make an awesome brown.  So, both yarns were shedding a significant amount of dye.  When I dye, I rinse and rinse and rinse until the water is, if not completely colourless, then at least very, very pale.  I would be suspicious of any yarn acquired from an indie dyer that shed this much.

Even worse, the orange yarn printed off onto the green:


That's not a temporary smudge, either; the orange/brown patches stayed through another scour.  And that really does shock me; I'd offer money back on any of my yarns that did that.  Worryingly, there are a lot of multicoloured patterns for Summer Tweed.  Can you imagine having hours of your painstaking colourwork ruined if you blocked it and the colours ran into each other?  In this case, it doesn't really matter; I'm planning to dye these yarns a new colour, and a bit of added variation is fine by me. But… wow.

7) What I’ve been up to

I've been unspeakably busy this month.  Work has been intense, which I was expecting, and which was, quite frankly, good.  I like my work with a bit of urgency.

In addition, every evening, every weekend of the year has been overwhelmed with prep for Textiles in Focus.  Winding, scouring, dyeing, washing, rewinding yarn.  And roving.

Bluefaced Leicester roving,  chocolate cherry

Planning stall layouts, and ordering display helpers (eeek!  Expensive!)


Bunnylace (wool and angora), bramble vine

Inventing colourways, and calculating the dye mixes.

Bluefaced Leicester roving,  peachy

Swearing because *something* has run out and now I need to mix up (or worse, buy) some more.

Flow (wool/silk laceweight),  meadow

On the other hand, I think things are starting to come together nicely.

Wensleydale roving, florentine 

(These photos were all taken *quickly* last night, to see how J's photo setup deals with yarny things.  Pretty awesomely, I'd say!  Thanks, babe!)

Bunnylace (wool and angora), dusk

85) C is for…

Coreopsis!  And chrome!


I picked up this skein at the North East Textiles open day in Danby, a couple of weekends ago.  I did significant portions of my growing up in Lealholm, which is next door to Danby, in terms of Yorkshire villages, so it was lovely to go and visit my 'home turf' and be textiley.

I bought this skein at least in part because I'm unlikely ever to use chrome as a mordant myself.  It's nasty, nasty stuff and no fun to dispose of.  And also because it was lovely to see such a vibrant, rich colour from natural dyes.  Note to self: plant Coreopsis tinctoria next year.

I think C might also be for challenge.  I 'did' NaNoBloPoMo a couple of years back, and I'm not that keen on doing it again, but I think I might be up for AlphaBetaBloPoMo.  One post per letter of the alphabet, to finish within one month of starting (so a few days off then).  No need to restrict it to November- pick your own month!  No need to start it on the first of the month, either.  Anyone else joining in?

62) Rewinding

One of my favourite parts of dyeing yarn is the bit where you get to re-wind the skeins.  Not only does it untangle all the strands so that they lie straight and smooth and sleek again, but it also breaks up any obvious patterns left by the dyeing process.

This is three skeins of 'Flow', in colour 'rosewood':


The two on the left have been rewound; the one on the right is still waiting.  The skein that hasn't been rewound still looks pretty awesome, but the final transformation into the finished skein is like magic, and it 'gets' me every time.


60) Labels!!

Yes, you've guessed it (at least, some of you).  I'm going to be selling my own hand-dyed yarn, in the very near future.  I'm incredibly excited to have my sticky little paws on the first batch of labels, right here:


I've been building up to this for a while.  I've been gradually, methodically, learning my dye craft for over a year.  I own a domain name,, though currently it only points to my Etsy store, which is empty.  And all the time, I've been too shy to say anything.  Clearly, hiding behind a bush at the back of my garden, quietly whispering "sssh!  don't tell anyone, but i have some pretty yarn for sale…" isn't really going to work out in the long run.  The last thing I want to do is turn into one of those bloggers who only ever post to say, "Hey!  Shop update!", or "Hey! Sale!", but I really am, genuinely, very excited about this.

And I can't say how blown away I've been by the lovely comments I've been receiving on my sneak previews.  Thank you, everyone!

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