August 22, 2009

Dyeing Day

Since the weather had cooled off a bit yesterday, and the forecast was for showers and thunderstorms, it seemed like a good day to get out the dye pots and dye wool for a new rug hooking project. The working title is Tilted Ovals. I start with thumbnail sketches (I have hundreds of them) of compositional ideas. If there's one I like, I do a small––this one is 3.5 x 7 inches––watercolor sketch. This gives me guidelines for color, but just guidelines because as I explained in the Tiles post, dyeing is a unpredictable process. I did a full sized drawing so I would know how much wool I needed for each color; a rule of thumb is 4 times the area of wool for each shape; a 5 x 10 inch shape will need 20 x 10 inches of wool for hooking.

Then I look through my swatch book of Cushing Dye samples to find colors that will work for this piece. These are acid dyes which are set using some white vinegar in the dye pot.

I often mix colors in the jars, but for this project I mixed up strong dilutions of 4 different colors, adding different colors in different amounts to the dyepots to mix color. It's a bit of a seat-of-the-pants operation. That reddish looking liquid in the center is actually the nugget gold color.

So I dyed all 6 pieces of wool, rinsed and spun them in the dryer, and then found that the color was too way off on several pieces for me to use. The reds were too sharp (too much cherry probably) or too bright. So I had to dull them with some green, since green is the color complement of red. I pulled out some bronze green dye and mixed it up, then added it to the boiling water with vinegar. I redyed 4 pieces, and that did the trick.

The dry colors of the wool aren't at all copies of the watercolor sketch, but dye and watercolor are different mediums and different kinds of color. I think these hues will work together in an interesting way. The background yellow-green color is more intense than I planned, but I think this contrast will add some snap to the image. I had plopped the yellow wool into a pot with red cloth and it got some spotting of red color; this was not planned, matter of fact it was a mistake, but I thought that it might work well. When you look at these photographs (the bottom photo is a close-up) of the dyed wool, you can see the lovely subtle variations in value and in hue that come from hand dyeing.


  1. So that's how you work it. Thanks. I think this has a lot in common with ceramic glazes... Now you cut the wool into strips?

  2. Yes, now the wool is cut into thin strips for hooking. I plan to show some of the process when I get going with this new project.

  3. Great post, Sultan, I applaud. beautiful photos to accompany the descriptions of the process. I especially love the photo of the dyes in canning jars. The background between the jars jumps forward to my beautiful is that negative space and its color.