Thursday, November 6, 2008

I'm dying over here!

First, many thanks to Rachel for her AWESOME floss dying tutorial. Because of Rachel, I not only didn't throw out the Rit Dye I had already invested in, but I picked up a few awesome techniques, including steaming the floss. Worked like a charm.

And now I am sure you are all very curious as to how I turned out such lovely flosses. Behold, based on Rachel's methods, I present to you my adventures in floss dying. (You will definitely want to read both mine and Rachel's, as I am sure I will leave stuff out. Important stuff.)

First things first. Invest in some floss dying equipment because most dye companies and websites will tell you that your equipment will no longer be food safe. Which means don't grab a bunch of bowls out of the cabinet for dying, then eat your cereal out of them the next morning. I don't know if a spin through the dishwasher will render them non-lethal, so why take chances? I hit up the kitchen section of my local dollar store and purchased the following:

a plastic mixing bowl with a pour spout (spout not necessary - any mixing bowl will do)
glass custard dishes / ramekins
disposable cookie sheets
ice cube tray
plastic measuring spoons

You will also need a large piece of plastic to protect your work surface. I used a disposable plastic painters drop cloth from the local home store. (as a side note, these are far too slippery to be used as an actual drop cloth when painting). Latex gloves are also helpful - you can usually find them at a beauty supply shop, or near the pharmacy counter at the big box discount store.

I used an old ice cube tray (we have several we no longer need) for mixing colors, and several glass pipettes (eye droppers) with rubber bulbs. You can get the ice cube trays at the dollar store, and I've seen plastic pipettes in the craft stores. You may also want to try a scientific supply house if you have access to one. And of course, you will need floss, dish detergent (I used Dawn), white vinegar, plastic wrap, plain white paper towels, boiling water and various and assorted dyes. (And you can use a regular food-safe pot or tea pot to produce the boiling water as it will not be coming in contact with the dyes.)

A Note on Dyes: Rachel speaks out against using KoolAid, and I agree with her assessment. Use dyes intended for fabrics. Now, you can either use Rit Dye or specially formulated cold water dyes for tie-dying. These are fairly easy to find at craft stores or online, and there are several good resources detailing the techniques for these types of dyes. (Check here as well). There are plenty of websites that tell you NOT to use Rit dye, but I had already invested in several colors and chose to go that route. Overall, I am satisfied with the outcome and would use it again. However, at some point I will probably experiment with cold water dyes as well, just for fun.

My personal recommendation is to purchase the Rit Dyes in their liquid form. Yes, they're more expensive, but they're pre-mixed and FAR less messy / hard to mix than the powdered dyes. If you have the choice between the liquid and the powder dye, go for the liquid, especially when it comes to the darker colors, like black and navy blue. In fact, I would strongly recommend against purchasing the black powder as it is flat out a total pain in the ass to mix properly.

You don't need a LOT of different colors, as you can make almost anything from red, yellow and blue (or cyan, fuschia and yellow). Start with the basics and work your way up from there. Experiment. I purchased Scarlet Red, Rose Pink, Dark Green, Dark Brown and Royal Blue in liquid, and Black, Yellow, Kelly Green, Teal, Pearl Grey, and Navy Blue in powder. I also purchased a box of Rit Color Remover. (More on that in another post). I would never, never, never purchase the dark colors in powder form again. Never. Check out the Rit Dye Website for available colors and ideas. They have some pretty good recipes on their site.

You also don't need to mix up a LOT of dye, especially if you're not dying a lot of floss. Mix up more of the basic colors like red, blue and yellow, but go easier on the other colors, especially black. A little goes a long way, and quite frankly, you're never going to accomplish a deep, dark black on your own. Go for DMC 310 and use the black dye more as a tint than an actual dye color. Also, black is super hard to mix and tends towards little red spots (grains of undisolved dye) that will wreck your work. Did I mention I highly recommend using the premixed liquids?

Are you still with me? Now comes the fun part. First, set up your work area:

I used our kitchen island, which was covered completely by the disposable painter's cloth. You can see how I have the glass dishes set up on the disposable cookie sheet, and the floss laid out according to color.

Really, the sorting was just for show, as was the notebook you cannot see in this photo. My original intention was to have my scientist husband apply his excellent and exceedingly thorough work habits to this process, and as you might have guessed, it didn't work out that way. I had grand plans of carefully measuring the dye, recording said measurments, and creating recipes from which to successfully generate consistent batches of floss. Yeah, not so much. The word "recipe" should have been a dead giveway, since I can never seem to follow them. This makes DH completely insane. He likes consistency and measurment (which makes him a fabulous baker, but cautious cook) and I like throwing things together willy nilly. After about 10 minutes of my random mixing and refusal to actually measure anything precisely, he gave up and went in the other room to watch football, leaving me to my wild ways.

Back to the process. First, I mixed up the dyes. I recommend / insist / demand that you mix any powdered dyes away from your dying area, as powdered dyes are teeny tiny little particles that can get EVERYWHERE. Some sites recommend using a mask when working with powdered dyes, but I'm just not that paranoid, and I'm working on a very small scale. I cut off a tiny corner of the Rit Powder packet and sprinkled some into a small, clean mustard jar (which is now part of my dying kit). I added hot water, a splash of vinegar, and a drop of dish soap and shook it for all I was worth (with the lid on, of course). And shook it some more. Then shook it again. Then I poured it into a glass dish in the dying area and added the boiling water. No, I didn't really measure any of this, and yes, I am well aware this is making some of you very nervous.

I repeated the mixing and shaking process with the rest of the powdered dyes, carefully folding over each packet, clipping with a paper clip and sealing in a ziploc snack bag for storage. As for the liquid dyes, I shook the bottle vigorously, then added the dye to a glass bowl with hot water, a splash of vinegar and a drop or two of dish soap. Supposedly the dishsoap opens up the fibers and makes them more receptive to the dye. I don't know if that's true, but it worked for me.

I prepped the floss by removing the labels and throwing caution into the wind. If I'm not going to measure correctly, why bother keeping track of what color floss I was dying? Most of it was one of the following colors: Blanc, B5200, 3865 and Ecru. I also went through my skein stash and pulled out some extra tans, greys, and pastels, just for experiement's sake. I highly recommend this as I got a fantastic autumn-y color by dipping tan floss into red dye.

As you can see here, I suspended the floss on a chopstick and dipped it in a vat of warm, slightly soapy water. Several websites recommended using Sythrapol for cleansing the floss ahead of time to remove dirt and oils that may impede the dye from penetrating. You can get Sythrapol in the craft store with the dying stuff, but it's expensive, and several well respected sites said dish detergent was just as good. And cheaper. And it works. So there you have it.

For the first batch of floss, I used a wire tie to hold skeins together, but ditched that idea for the second batch, chosing to just be a little more careful. The floss stayed together slightly better with the wire ties, but the ties ended up being tedious to remove. I'm all about making things less tedious. The floss rested on the chopstick, in the water, until I was ready to use it, at which point I squeezed it out and laid them out on a paper towel, like so.

I then went to town dripping dye on the strands using the pipettes. Sometimes I mixed up colors in the ice cube tray, sometimes I use a clean dropper to add a little water from the floss vat to the colors in the mixing tray to dilute them. Really, I just had fun with it and experimented. Sadly, I do not have a picture of a batch of dyed, pre-steamed floss, as I was working with nifty purple gloves and was afraid to get dye on the camera (or drop it into a bowl of water). Or it could be that I was so caught up in playing around that I forgot to take pictures.

I would suggest keeping batches of like colors together. The first time I dyed, I went a little nuts with expeimenting and ended up running a few colors together unintentionally. The second time, I worked in color families (shades of red, shades of blue, etc.) and it worked out much better, especially when it comes to wrapping them in plastic. Your floss should be thoroughly saturated with color, but not dripping wet. Dripping leads to bleeding onto other flosses (not as noticeable when you're working with one set of colors at a time). If necessary, pat out the excess watery dye with a paper towel. The white paper towel is also handy for testing out dye colors before you drip it on the floss.

Then do your jelly roll o'floss as Rachel describes, rolling the floss up in plastic wrap, one floss skein at a time. Be sure to roll it in the plastic enough times to separate it from the next floss (that pesky color bleeding again). The chopsticks come in handy here to maneuver the floss and get it into place without dirtying your gloves too much. Always be aware of where you are putting your hands and what you are touching, since it's incredibly easy to transfer dye unintentionally.

Now you will steam the floss. This is something else I neglected to take a picture of, but basically, I used an old pot with a lid and a roasting rack set on top. The flosses went on the rack, the lid went over the floss, and rested on the rack as well, and I steamed the bejesus out of those flosses. Rachel recommended 10 minutes, but once again, my experimental nature prevailed and I let them steam in batches for at least 20-30 minutes. Could be slightly more, could be slightly less, who knows? I don't keep track of these things. I flipped them over occasionally until I thought they were good and steamed, then took them off and let them rest in the kitchen sink until they cooled.

Once the packets are cool, carefully unwrap and start rinsing each skein of floss until the water runs clear. Be careful not to rinse over the other flosses. I rinsed in hot water, then a little cooler, and was surprised that I didn't get a whole lot of run off, except from the reds. The reds were a little harder to rinse, and I used a little more dish soap with them to make sure I was getting all the dye out.

This is what they looked like, steamed, cooled and rinsed. They're still wet, which is why the colors look brighter than they actually turned out, but I still think they came out great. I then draped them over a drying rack, carefully spaced out so there would be no accidental bleeding (I rinsed until clear, but you never know.) And this is what they look like on the drying rack in my dining room. (Don't get too upset - they're all dry, which is why they're touching. Also, I didn't move the drying rack into the carpeted dining room until the flosses were dry. I did not want anything dripping on the carpet. Not that there was a whole lot of dripping because I squeezed them pretty dry, but better safe than spotty carpeted)

There you have it. My adventures in floss dying. If you're thinking about trying it, go for it. I had fun doing it, and will start collecting floss on sale all over again so I can do another batch. Or perhaps invest in a cone of DMC (which is over 2000 yards) and dye even MORE floss. I do caution that this can be VERY messy and has lots of disaster potential, especially if there are children or nosy pets around. I used gloves, or tried to, mostly, and still ended up with some dye in my nail beds. (Lots of scrubbing, some lemon juice and later, some peroxide, helped tremendously)

It will cost you some money to get started for the equiment (less than $10 at the dollar store), the floss and the dyes. I mostly used coupons on the dyes and picked up floss on sale, but definitely check out your grocery store for the dye - mine sells it cheaper than the craft stores. And expect to devote a couple hours to this process, especially if you're dying a lot of floss. You can even make it a party where everyone bring a bottle of dye and the flosses they want to do. Be creative, have fun, and experiment! You're not being graded on this!


Daffycat said...

Excellent tutorial! I'm planning on some fabric dyeing soon so I just might have to do some floss as well!

ROFLOL. I was reading all this and thought, "What the heck is a mustard jar?" I must have re-read that sentence five times before I realized you what you meant. In my defence, I buy mustard in a squeezy bottle not a glass jar!

Sharon said...

Jennifer, thank you for a fantastic tutorial. I don't know if I will try-not too good on patience-but I will defintely be looking forward to seeing more of yours.

Nic said...

Great tutorial, but I think I'll keep buying floss - lack of room and a tendency to be messy combined with permanent colour are not a good combination :o)

Barbara said...

Rit dye here is over 6 euro. Ugh. But hey, your floss dyeing endeavor looks so incredibly professional that it's hard to believe the start up costs are so low. Great job!

BW said...

Love the tutorial! And the pictures helped a lot, too. Definitely makes me want to try my hand at it at some point.

Chiloe said...

Thanks for sharing ;-)

Rachel S said...

Great tutorial!

Kathryn said...

Oh, that was really fun. Even if I never dye anything again (I used to do Batik, so have tried dying), I enjoyed your adventures a great deal.

Cindy said...

Thank you so much for the awesome tutorial! I'm not sure that I would have the patience to give it a try, but it sure looks like fun :) I really like the floss dying party...just wish I had some stitching buddies nearby to give that a try!

Pumpkin said...

Gorgeous colors and a great tutorial but too much work for me. I'll just enjoy watching you experiment ;o)

MsB said...

Fabulous colors! Looks like you had as much fun as Rachel and I did when we took the class! :)

Dianne said...

Looks like fun and if you ever need a helper....: )
Great step-by-step instructions!

staci said...

Your floss looks amazing! Thank you for such a thorough tutorial!!!

Irene said...

Great tutorial ! I'm too messy and not patient enough to try it. Just let me know when your Etsy store opens :)

Patty said...

Thank you for the fantastic tutorial!! I won't be doing this any time soon but I know I will try it some day.

Meari said...

That looks like a lot of fun! Thanks for sharing your experience, Jenn.

I've tagged you. Check out my blog. :)

Rachel said...

After seeing the colors on Anna's blog, Im dying to see what you come up with next!

Heather said...

Holy smokes, there are a lot of steps to dying floss, I had no idea! Very interesting to see how it's done, thanks for sharing!