A Real Snow Job!

Catching up on my email proved to be a dangerous activity this week! I was already up to my ears (Expect to hear about that in a later post.) with more to do than anyone has a right to have scheduled in their life, but then I went and opened a group post that mentioned snow dyeing. Being a terribly curious sort, I had to do some research. What I found was page after page of instructions regarding snow dyed fabrics with fiber reactive dyes, but not one single note about snow dyed wool yarns with acid dyes.  After some contemplation – and another long look at the abnormal amount of snow we are enjoying – I decided I wasn’t going to let lack of knowledge or information stop me. I’ve done Kool-aid and Wilton’s dyeing, so how much tougher could it be to use the regular chemical dyes? Never mind this whole thing had to be a lark, as I hadn’t the foggiest notion if it would even work with acid dyes in the first place. 😉 However, they were all that was available at my LYS, so I didn’t have a lot of options if I was going to strike while the iron was hot snow was frozen.

Not being a person who makes up her mind easily, I came home from the shop Monday night with 8 (yes, EIGHT) jars of Jacquard Dyes, and seven skeins of undyed Jojoland Merino Wool, which is (predictably!) laceweight. At just $5 per 440 yard skein, I figured a disaster wasn’t going to cost me much this way. 🙂

For my first experiment, I chose 4 colors related to blue: Sky Blue, Emerald, Teal, and Lilac. This is pretty typical “me” as I’m fond of tonal yarns. The combination made me feel safe. I mean, how bad could it turn out with colors like that?

The other decision I made was that since I was flying by the seat of my pants in a completely experimental mode, I wasn’t going to make this a scientific exploration. I’ve been up to my ears lately in having to make everything “just so,” and I decided this project was going to be dabble and play all the way, just to see what happened. I made a few mental notes, measured nothing, and took pix like a crazy person.

So, if you want to play, too, here’s what I did:

1. I opened two skeins of my yarn and dropped them in a bowl of lukewarm water with a bit of Synthrapol and vinegar to soak for a while. I figured two skeins was not much to lose if it went badly, but enough to knit something pretty if it came out well.

2. After some frantic head-scratching, I came up with a dyeing set up. I found a window screen, which oddly enough, I’m not feeling overly inclined to use this week, and laid it over the open top of my washing machine. Presto! I had a workspace at a reasonable height, in a cool room, which was out of the way, and when I was finished, I could run a rinse cycle in the washer and the mess would be gone! That decided, I grabbed my grouting bowl and went out to fetch a huge scoop of snow. One big mixing bowl full seemed just the right amount, once I’d patted and compressed it into shape, directly above the opening of the washing machine. The two skeins of yarn were squeezed out and arranged on top of the pad of snow.

3. Two more bowls filled to the top provided ample coverage for all the yarn. It was all compressed to the limit that my bouncy dye platform would permit, and I was careful to firmly pat the sides and completely cover the yarn. This whole mound was about 5-6″ deep.

4. I filled a rather large mug I no longer use, about half full of cool water and added a couple splashes of vinegar, plus what was probably 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of the Teal dye powder. After stirring it thoroughly, I spooned it over the snow cake, and within minutes was envying those people who are equipped with squirt bottles for dyeing! (That bit of equipment has been added to my wish list!)

5. I meant to grab the purple next, but picked up Sky Blue by mistake. Oh well…

6. So next, I added the Lilac…

7. and finally, Emerald. The colors were filtering down through the snow while I was mixing the next, so there was pretty much always white space available. I really liked the way the snow looked, and by this point, I figured if nothing else, I was going to get some fun pictures out of the project!

8. Now all I had to do for a while was obsess over colored, melting snow! The first thing I noticed was that I’d created the equivalent of a dyer’s snow cone, you know… the way the flavor all runs to the bottom and leaves you with a cup of plain, shaved ice? I was glad I had a nice thick pad of snow underneath. I’m not certain, but it seems as if it would have all puddled in either the yarn or the lowest level of snow above the yarn, and possible muddled the colors otherwise. The second thing I noticed was just how dirty snow is and how busy the birds must have been in the area I scooped. 😦

9. By an hour and a half into the melting process, I finally got to see a corner of the yarn. It was SO exciting, and the corner looked really pretty! You’d have thought I was watching a baby being born! I was running back and forth between my work and my laundry room about every half hour, which is as long as I could make myself sit still. I did get a lot of exercise last night!

10. By 7.5 hours into the process, I was running out of time. Most, but not all of the snow was melted, and I made the executive decision to remove the little pile still remaining in the middle.

I wasn’t sure how long it would be safe to let it sit without attention, so wanted to finish the project  instead of leaving it for tonight.

11. Having no fancy equipment and very little time remaining left me with my only alternative being to microwave for the heat setting portion of the process. I fell back on the “wrap it in plastic wrap and nuke” technique from my Kool-aid experience, but resolved to cook it longer, as I had some problems getting colors to set and read suggestions of longer times in other people’s blogs. I did each skein separately for 5 two-minute sessions, alternating between the two, and flipping them over each time they came out.

12. During the very last microwave time, I heard a quiet, but regular burping noise coming from inside and ran to see what was happening. The vision that met my overly tired brain registered as grotesquely distended internal organs, and it took me a moment to react!

Thankfully, I did turn it off in time. Visions of dye, water, plastic and wool exploding in my microwave were terrifying, especially considering how sleepy I was by then!

13. I let it cool, but not as much or as slowly as I would have liked. When I could handle the packets without burning myself, I slid it out of the wrap. I was totally shocked at the change in my yarn colors! If I’d not been the only person around, I would have thought someone was playing a prank and had substituted two other skeins! The purple had completely vanished, the green was extremely scarce, and where did that bright blue come from? I’m presuming now that the heat activation part of the dyeing process affects colors, but I still want to know where my purple and green went!

14. I let the skeins sit and cool for a few more minutes while I cleaned up the mess, then rinsed them gently in same temperature water, with a bit of Synthrapol, noting with pleasure that there was almost no loss of dye in the water. After wuzzing them, I hung them up to dry and went to bed.

15. Dry, the blue was still brilliant, but not quite as overwhelming. One problem I did have, though, is that the yarn had just started felting a bit. Because of the felting and the bold color blotches, I decided to re-skein it all so I could see what I really had. It went pretty smoothly – no problems from the early stage felting. I’m curious about what  -part of the process induced that to happen, but when I consider that it went from room temperature to freezing for several hours, then was heated quickly and for a long time in the microwave, I’m really not surprised.

I have to say that I’m pleased with the finished yarn, and I really wish that digital cameras did a better job with blues and subtle colors, as the photo just isn’t really accurate. The yarn is rich, but much more gentle – less contrasty – than you’d think from this picture. I’m still mourning the loss of the greens and purples, but what I have is not unattractive by any means. One skein is definitely a bit darker, and has more of a green cast than the other, so I’ll have to knit them with care, either choosing something that would look nice subtly striped or in two barely different colors. I know it’s blurry, as I’m still fighting the new camera, and the colors aren’t spot on, but here’s a close up of the yarn on my niddy noddy so you can see how variegated it really is. I think these colors are a little closer to reality, too, though truth probably lies between the two pictures.

Overall, I’d say it was a positive experience – positive enough that I have another snow cake melting over my washer as I’m typing this. 🙂 The total lack of control in this method of dyeing is a very comfortable place for me. It’s easy for me to become completely paralyzed with creative indecision, and since I can’t really predict where the dye is going to tunnel through the snow when I’m applying it, I don’t have any decisions to make! Since dyeing is totally a “play sport” for me, I’m quite content to just let things happen for now.

Besides, I really need something uninhibited and free this month!


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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a fun experiment! Looks great!

  2. WOW!! Makes me want to rush out and try this after the snow we got yesterday!!! Gorgeous yarn!!

  3. Step 12 had me ROFL!!! Thanks for sharing your Great Adventure.

  4. Your snow dye experiment was more successful than mine! These are very pretty!

  5. How very, very pretty! I think I’ll try this tomorrow!

  6. […] post, there are very detailed instructions on my very first snow dyeing post from last year. Click HERE if you want to read it. If you click on the “Dyeing” option in the topic cloud in the […]

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