Dyeing to Try This

My three and a half days at the Strung Along Retreat in beautiful Washington state seems like eons ago even though it was only last month. I’d best share some memories before they fade completely.

Imagine a gorgeous resort inn on an ocean bay, surrounded by hills and parkland and furnished with lovely rooms, each with a giant jacuzzi tub. Pretty nice, huh? Now imagine 45 Fearless Knitters from around the US and Canada, sharing delicious meals, plentiful beverages, encouragement, creative pursuits, and three days of learning and laughter. Glorious!

Dear friend Cathie took a short (if long delayed) flight from Vancouver, and we carpooled across the sound and around the Olympic peninsula.

We were all divided into three groups for the daytime activities, coming together for meals and evening festivities.

Each day was devoted to a single craft: cooking, dyeing, and knitting. Since my dyeing experience is limited to tie dye t-shirts at a Y day camp in central Maine, I was most excited about these sessions.

If you can make a cup of tea, you can dye wool.

Judith MacKenzie, Dyeing Wizard

Our instructor, Judith MacKenzie, is a renowned fiber artist who’s taught and studied for decades around the globe. Her manner is matter-of-fact and completely approachable. Upon my return, I described her to a friend as a Dyeing Wizard.

Before we got our hands wet, Judith explained how dye works — the actual chemistry and physics of dye molecules bonding with fiber. Hues, tones, and shades were explained. I think I’ve got notes somewhere.

Judith created her own line of dye powders, which work on any protein fiber. They’re considered among the best in the whole dyeing world — not just knitters, also among clothing and other textile artists.

You trespass against your own color palette at your own risk 

Judith MacKenzie

Everyone had a grand time dyeing different types of fiber in different combinations of dyes. The pots are former electric canning pots, which heat the liquids to a very low simmer — a high temperature being needed to get the molecules moving so they can push into the wool fibers.

Look at how different yarns change when put in the same dye bath.

One after-dinner activity was dyeing with indigo — which is kind of like magic. Look carefully at the bins that hold the indigo bath. The liquid is a green, not the blue that you expect. That’s because the indigo interacts with oxygen — the color appears after it comes in contact with the air. See the fabric that’s floated to the top of the bin — it’s starting to turn blue.

Most of us dyed a basic silk scarf. Here are a few drying on a tarp-covered rug. The black striped one was colored with Sharpie marker before dyeing. How clever!

Several adventuresome souls were game for Judith to give them an indigo streak in their hair. After all, hair is a protein and thus, dyeable.

Did you notice Pam’s exquisite stranded sweater? In addition to being a kind, humorous, and generous woman, she is a very talented knitter. I mean, seriously.

I brought home two skeins of yarn, each dyed in a Mason jar. The blue-green is as I’d imagined. The orangey-green skein is less differentiated and more “blended” than I’d anticipated.

I’m still pleased with them. The question now is what to make? All suggestions welcome!

4 thoughts on “Dyeing to Try This

  1. Mary Ann-so happy to read this description of your dyeing and comments on the process. The photos are great and I sure it must be magical to see the same yarn take on colors that can have such variety. My question is: if you wanted to dye wool for a project and require 5 or 6 skeins, would it be hard to get each skein “alike” or v close to the same. It’s a real art! Your final balls of yarn are YUMMY


    1. Thanks, Mel. I think that if you measured your dye carefully across the 5 or 6 skeins, you’d get a pretty consistent color. However, there will be slight variations even within a single skein. The other option would be to dye all the skins in a single bath or pot – if you had enough room. I say all this as a novice, of course, so take it with a grain of salt!


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