Indigo dyeing for the kaftan project

September 26, 2011

Indigo dyeing four pounds of wool is a LOT of work.  Good thing I have friends willing to pitch in!

After preparing the wool for dyeing, its time to get busy.  The thing to keep in mind as you work with the wool is that you want to minimize the amount of handling.  A certain amount is inevitable, of course.  Just do your best.

Uncover the dye pot, put on rubber gloves, pick a skein out of the bucket of clean water and carefully squeeze the water out.  Submerge the yarn completely in the dye pot, keeping it loosely in your hand.  Massage the fiber gently under the surface of the dye liquid for several minutes.  Lift the fiber out of the liquid, again gently squeezing the dye back into the pot introducing as little air as possible.   Air is the enemy of indigo dye pot!  I usually wad up the fiber in both hands and press it against the wall of the dye pot to release the liquid.  It will run down the side and slide into the liquid.

After dipping the skein and squeezing out the remaining dye liquid, gently shake it out the fiber, separate the threads.  This is so air can get around all the surfaces of the yarn.  Hang the skein on a drying rack.  Opinions vary on how long to leave the fiber on the drying rack.  Because I was dyeing so much fiber at one time, I could only dip each skein one time in an evening before the dye pot needed to be fed and put to bed.  This meant that I left the wool on the drying rack for nearly 24 hours.  This is not advised usually because the high alkalinity of the indigo dye pot is is rough on fiber.

Before each days dyeing session, I would put the skeins back in buckets of clean water to soak and become saturated.  This usually took about 30 minutes.  Dye would be released from the wool and would color the water blue.  Don’t worry about this.  Indigo is a deposit dye.  It will continue to release dye molecules for the life of the cloth.

The advice I got to ‘feed’ the pot was to use organic molasses in addition to the usual madder and bran.  The sugar in the molasses gives the good bacteria in the indigo dye pot lots to chew on and helps it recover more quickly.

I dipped the wool skeins a total of six times before being satisfied with the fiber.  After the final dip and drying, I washed each skein in soapy water and hung it to dry for a final time before using it.

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