Friday, 28 September 2012

What a Difference a Dye Makes or Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green

Many years ago a very nice, very experienced dyer on the CanSpin List took pity on me, a new dyer with vague if any colour sense.  Annette explained how to choose dyes for mixing and referred me to a book titled Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green by Micheal Wilcox.  It was written for painters but the concepts apply to dye work as well.  My MIL, who likes very specific Christmas and birthday lists, was happy to get me a copy and I learned a lot from it.  In brief, it explains that primary colours are only pure in theory.  In the real world blues aren't really pure, they either lean toward green or purple.  The same goes for yellow, leaning to orange or green, and red, leaning to purple and orange.  Most basic colour theory texts do talk about 2 sets of primaries: "Painter's" or "warm" primaries are red, blue and warm yellow; "Printer's" or "cool" primaries are cyan, magenta and cool yellow and go on to note that the painter's primaries make clearer oranges and the printer's primaries make clearer greens and neither makes a clear purple.

Wilcox suggests working with all 6 primaries as a base set and understanding what happens when they mix.  To make the clearest, brightest secondary colours you need to mix the primaries that lean towards them.  Painter blue and printer magenta make the clearest, brightest purples, mixing painter blue and painter red, or magenta and cyan make duller purples.  In the same way, cyan and printer yellow make clearer greens and red and warm yellow make clearer oranges.  Once you understand how the primaries interact it's much easier to get the mixed colour you are looking for.

Thus, I work with 6 basic dye stock colours from Ciba:  cyan, magenta, tartrazine, eriosin red, erionyl yellow and royal blue.  I can get a really wide range of secondary and tertiary colours using just these 6 dyes.  It's really amazing what a difference changing one dye colour can make.  As an example, I tried to duplicate China Rose - honestly, I do take notes, but sometimes I either don't believe them or I write them down wrong... (or both which was the case here).

 Clockwise from the top:  The original China Rose, made when I was trying to recreate "Antique", retry 1 made with Erionyl Red, Royal Blue and Tartrazine, retry 2 made with Erionyl Red, Royal Blue and Eriosin Yellow and the final (correct I think) retry made with Magenta, Royal Blue and Eriosin Yellow.  The final retry is a little darker than the original but that's probably measurement error.

The takeaway (besides "never trust E's notes") is the incredible difference between the 3 batches.  Changing one primary at a time makes a big difference.

Here is another example.  This time, I didn't have notes on which primaries I used, I just made an assumption based on Wilcox's theory.  I was trying to make this:

When I made it I was using dyes from ProChem - I had painter's blue, turquoise, warm yellow and cool yellow to choose from to make the green.  Now I'm trying to match those colours using the Ciba dyes.  I assumed that I had used turquoise and cool yellow.  So I used cyan and tartrazine (because at that point I was still trying to figure out which yellow was which) and got this:

Hmm.  Not quite what I expected.  Brighter and, well, greener.  Back to the dye table I used royal blue and tartrazine, as the royal blue should quiet the green a bit:

The picture is a rather blue shifted (battles with cameras and photo editing are another post entirely), but you can still see that it's a lot closer to the original.  In person it's much closer to the original. 

As a final example, I present yesterday's dye room adventure:

As I said, I haven't quite figured out which Ciba yellow is which.  On top of that, the Ciba dyes are not "leveled" like the ProChem ones.  That means that when you mix equal quantities of 2 1% stock solutions of the levelled ProChem dyes you get a secondary colour that is exactly halfway between the two primaries.  If you make 1% solutions of the Ciba dyes and mix them 50/50 the resulting colour won't likely be halfway between them because they are not equal strength.  In particular, tartrazine is very strong and eriosin yellow is very weak.  When I got the Ciba dyes the supplier suggested mixing strengths that do seem to work most of the time.  Most of the time...  It doesn't help that e. yellow and e. red are the hardest dyes to get into solution and e. yellow really, really likes to separate.

I was aiming for this:

I started with e. yellow and e. red. which I think are the painter's primaries and should make the best oranges.  I got this:

Uncooked it looked awfully red.  The e. yellow just got eaten by the e. red.  Recall that dyes are not WYSIWYG, so that didn't mean it wouldn't turn out, however, the steamer holds two batches, so right away I tried e. red and tartrazine:

Ah, that's it.  It's darker probably because I used the medium DOS range and I think the original is the light DOS range.

Lessons learned:

1.  E. Yellow is a pain to work with, it's weak and it doesn't stay mixed long enough to measure it accurately, but now I'm pretty sure it's a cool yellow.  Theoretically the clearest greens should come from mixing it with cyan. 

2.  I do not always want the clearest, brightest secondary.  I much prefer the blue green colourway made with the "wrong" primaries (tartrazine and royal blue).

2.  Tartrazine is really strong and makes really nice oranges.  It's on the warm side of yellow but only slightly and it has an acid cast which is why I thought it was the cool one at first.  It's been making decent greens but I might get closer to my original colours if I used e. yellow instead.

3.  Switching dye suppliers requires a certain amount of adjustment to one's recipes.  Really, I count myself lucky I've been able to match things up as well as I have.

4.  Wilcox is right, even primaries that appear very similar, as the two yellows do, can create very different mixed colours.  It pays to have a range.  It's probably worth exploring using more than one of each primary in a mix to get even more possibilities.   Or not, as it is there are already 4 combinations for each secondary colour and 8 combinations for each tertiary colour using just one of each at a time.  Should be enough to keep me occupied for quite some time yet.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Spinning Fractals

While I was at the beach I took pictures of the process of preparing Fractal Rovings for spinning so that they produce repeatable stripes.  In hindsight, Thing Small's towel was perhaps not the best background, however, the pictures do show the process:

 First I undo the ties around one of the roving skeins.  This is the long stripe, so I'm going to split it into 2 so that the stripes are fairly long.  When I make sock weight yarn this split gives me about 2" of each long stripe colour in a sock.

I want to keep the sequence so I start the split and mark both ends by tying strings to them.
 I split the roving as evenly as I can.  It usually has a natural split in the middle so it's pretty easy.  I roll each half into a ball as I go along.

The roving often gets twisted in the process and can jam so every once in a while I stand up and let it untwist.  To do that I let out enough of it to hang without hitting the ground and then bunch up the skein and wrap the end around it with a half hitch so it can hang in the air and freely turn until it's untwisted again. 
 Now I have two balls of roving.  I want to roll them into 1 ball so that I don't mix them up with the other roving skein that will be the other ply.  But if I just wind one around the other I'll end up spinning them both from opposite ends and my stripe pattern will reverse. 
 So I rewind one of the balls so that it's string tag is on the outside.  Then I wind it onto the other ball.  Now I have one ball from one of the roving skeins.

When I make socks split the long stripe roving as above.  I split the short stripe roving into 4.  The process is the same as above, except that I mark 4 ends at the start, split into 2 and then split each half into 2 again.  I roll into 1 ball making sure all the pieces are going the same direction.  Splitting the short stripe into 4 makes each short stripe go about 1 row when I knit socks.  (why yes, I did sample and figure this out ahead of time, so you wouldn't have to).

Next I spin the short stripe on one bobbin and the long stripe on another.  For socks I spin a singles with about 9 twists per inch and 40 wraps per inch.  Then I ply them together - 6 twists per inch for a balanced yarn.  With the roving split as described I get about 2 knitted inches of long stripe with 2 repeats of the short stripe pattern against each long stripe.

I'm not making socks with the above roving and I want longer colour runs so I'm just splitting each piece in half.  If I wanted the longest colour runs I could just predraft the rovings a bit to loosen them up and then spin them as is.  I think I did that with the other skein for this project - if I did I can show you the difference later...  Maybe I'll do a 3rd kind of split for the last skein for this project.  These skeins were destined to be a Colour Affection shawl in 3 values of the Periwinkle colourway.  Other projects may push this one to the back seat for a bit.  Stay tuned.

I can play with how I split the rovings to change my stripe pattern.  For the shortest stripes I could split the long stripe into 4 pieces like I do the short stripe.  I haven't tried it (would sort of defeat the purpose...), but theoretically I could match the short and long stripe lengths by splitting the long stripe in 4 and not splitting the short stripe at all since the long stripes are about 4 times longer than the short ones.  Hmm, I have a couple of "oops" rovings I could play with...

Thursday, 23 August 2012

The Commander

Thing Tall had a rough winter.  The doctor finally realized that his iron was seriously low and responsible for most of his symptoms.  Thankfully, she did so in time for him to land a seriously cool summer co-op placement at Jenda Paddlesports in Osgoode.  One of his favourite subjects was Outdoor Ed. so working with kayaks and canoes was right up his alley.  The owners are lovely and have since given him a job there.  Well, he couldn't work there without a boat of his own, so one day we came home with one.  He got a 14' Commander - sort of a hybrid canoe/kayak, open like a canoe but set up to paddle as a kayak. Thing Tall does not fit well in most kayaks, his legs are too long and so are his feet.  One test paddle session I watched him get stuck getting out of a boat.  He landed sitting in a foot of water.  Funny, but uncomfortable...  Thus the Commander.  We took it to the cottage for the long weekend.

Kid who is usually cautious and careful is pretty relaxed in boats and on the water:

He came into the beach to try to get Rags to join him.  Standard Poodles are supposed to be water retrievers but Rags thinks the water can stay right where it is.  She lasted about 6" and hopped out.

I tried it the next day but it was really windy and choppy and Thing Tall was backseat paddling so I didn't get far.  We'll go out again when it's calmer.

Saturday, 21 July 2012


My Fibre Room is well supervised and well stocked with assistants.  The other day I was trying to take some pictures so I could list more Fractals on Etsy.  I thought the coast was clear, but the Assistants are ever vigilant:

Here is Ash testing for loft.  He has his "fierce face" on, but I don't know if that's because the fibre isn't cushy enough for his liking or that he'd rather there weren't evidence that he's really a softie.
Ginny is assessing the tangling potential of the skeins.  She was about to test shear strength when I convinced her her services were not required.  She sulked off.

Hobbes attempted to assist with the photography but he was too quick to get a shot of this time.  Instead, Thing Small provided the following evidence of his helpyness.  She found him guarding the fibre laid out for tagging:

Lastly, here is Puzzle helping with another photo shoot:

He also likes to inspect the water containers on the dye table.  He has to be convinced to be elsewhere when I am dyeing.

(for those who might wonder, Ash and Puzzle are brothers and Ginny and Hobbes are brother and sister.  All were originally rescued by my friends Heidi and Steve.  Ash, Puzzle and their two brothers were rescued from a hollow tree at 3 weeks old when their mother died.  Ginny, Hobbes and their mother Cora were rescued from a barn where the resident Tom Cat ate their two siblings.  Cora now lives with my MIL)

Friday, 20 July 2012

A Day at the Beach

Thing Small and her friends wanted to go to Mooney's Bay on Monday.  Their plan was to have someone drop them off for the day.  All 6 parental units rather disagreed with this plan given that the girls are only 13, so instead I agreed to spend the day supervising them.

It's a tough life, but sometimes mothers have to make sacrifices :-)

That's my Hitchhiker wheel.  I'm spinning Fractal Roving in "Midnight Periwinkle".  On my chair arms are two new colourways I tried last weekend.  "Rubies" - which was a test for some yarn my friend Sonja wants me to dye for her to make a Swirl Jacket (Rubies and Ribbons from Knit Swirl by Sandra McIver) and "Monet" which is pale grey greens with purples and just a little rust.

Sonja and her 5 year old came a bit later.  She liked the colours.  And her son loved being in the water with the girls.

I got a whole bobbin spun, then realized I had only brought one bobbin.  So I got a good bit of knitting in, too.

I also attracted two sets of onlookers curious enough to actually come ask what I was doing.  

It was so nice, and other friends so wanted to join us that we will do it again soon.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Dyes should be WYSIWYG

Those my age and older (I am old enough that I learned to type on a manual typewriter and the first computer I actually used was a Commodore Pet) will remember our delight when word processors became WYSIWYG (pronounced "wussywig"and standing for "what you see is what you get".  Before that time Word Star and other word processors couldn't show you on the screen that you had used bold or underline or italics or changed the font size, you had to trust that the codes you added would do their thing. 

Sometimes acid dyes are not WYSIWYG.  This results in some interesting guesswork when one is trying to replicate a colour.  Case in point "Antique".  Here is one from the original set I made more than a year ago:
I had notes and formulas, but I couldn't remember which one I used for this particular one.  So I tried the one I thought it was.  Didn't look at all like that on the dye table nor did it look the way it turned out:
Really pretty, a keeper even, but "not the mama!"  I'm calling this one "Old Country" because Chriss says it looks like her china pattern "Old Country Roses"

Tried again.  This one looked even stranger on the table.  Imagine blue greens.
 Even prettier!  A definite keeper.  Still "Not the Mama!"  It's called China Rose because I'm sure there was a china teacup in my Nana's collection with just those colours.

One more time, this time I found my old pencil notes.  And I started.  And shook my head looking at it on the dye table.  Look at the colour in the dish.  Does that say "rust or maroon" to you?  You can see from the part that's already got dye on it that the colour changes as it interacts with the fibre.  It's starting to look sort of purple and green:

Believe it or not, after heat setting what looked purple and green came out really close to the original. Which my new camera then stubbornly refused to photograph accurately, despite Himself's best photoshopping efforts.  Will need to wait for Himself to pull out the big guns and rephotograph it before I can put it up on Etsy.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Back to Blogging

A few years ago a friend set me up with a blog.  I used it for a while and then we had a domain name issue and I gave up.  It's time to start again.  The old blog began like this:

My name is Elizabeth and I am a fibre pusher.  Also an unrepentant fibre addict.  I knit, spin, dye, weave and generally make mischief with fibres.  I teach all these things at the Ottawa Valley Weavers and Spinners Guild.  I'm also a wife, mother of 2, an SLP (Speech/Language Pathologist), a choir member, a bread baker and a whole lot of other things you'll no doubt hear about along the way.  

This will be the same.  Lots has happened since the old blog.  I finished my In-Depth study and became an Ontario Handweavers and Spinners Master Spinner.  Himself and I started a new business - The Manotick Village Butcher .  The Things (Tall and Small) have grown, a lot in Thing Tall's case (6'4) a little less in Thing Small's (5'1 but she isn't bitter yet, just hopeful she hasn't quite stopped growing).  I've made new fibre friends and kept old ones.  This summer I am rebooting the Hilltop Fibreworker on etsy and at a few LYS's.  There will be lots of Fractal Roving this summer and lots to say about the challenges of dyes and colourways.  And there are now two more feline supervisors of the Fibre Room - totalling 1 canine and 4 felines supervising all aspects of production - who add to the challenge and the joy.  Welcome to my Fibre and Family rooms, come in and make yourselves comfortable while you watch me muddle through a life with fibre.