Friday, September 20, 2013

Silk Lace Peacock Shawl: An Experiment in Dyeing

Peacock Shawl

In a feverish quest for iridescence one young hero conquers adverse circumstances, and most importantly her own fear to imitate one of nature's most awe-striking wonders: The peacock. Did she triumph? You be the judge! 

 Note: Dyeing is an art and a science, but I apply it as art. This post is meant to be a creative journal showing my decision making process on how I dyed a shawl in peacock colors rather than a literal dye recipe. I considered splitting this into smaller posts, but it's hard to find them again if you are searching, so this one is just really long. 
It all began 3 years ago...

–See the diary after the jump!

October 2010: Mom and I browse through patterns at a booth at the Kid and Ewe Festival in Boerne, TX and a lace peacock shawl catches our eyes. I remark that it would be lovely dyed as peacock feathers, or in a Noro type yarn. Of course she buys it. Does this mean I am going to figure out how to dye it?! Icy terror. 

December 2010: Mom orders the silk. Yep, I’m going to have to figure out how to dye it. Me and my big mouth!

Peacock Shawl: undyed

June 2011: Mom finishes the peacock shawl after working on it off and on and it is gorgeous. She doesn't take the hint when I ask her if she wouldn't rather it be an albino peocock. Luckily I am out-to-there pregnant and I can’t be around toxic dyes. Phew! That was close. 

September 2012: I feel bad and also relieved, (and also bad that I feel relieved) that I have not been able to try dyeing the peacock shawl. We keep batting ideas around about how to do it, but I am not sure what will work. I am terrified lest I ruin this gorgeous piece. It took a long time to make, I can’t replace it because I am awful at knitting lace. I know it will take at least a solid day of work that the girls won’t give me. Now we are moving half way across the country and I just feel bad. 

September 2, 2013: I probably haven’t dyed yarn since 2002, but I am on a visit to my parents and it’s now or never. I hope it’s like riding a bike...

September 9, 2013 
Morning: Today is the day! I get a late start because I forget I need to do it now or never. 
Before pictures first, then it’s time to take the plunge. 
I contemplate the upcoming challenges while reading the girls The Saggy Baggy Elephant. I like dyeing because there are lots of right ways to do it, but today I haven’t got many options, and my father has the car. I will not be running to the store to pick up supplies. I am weirdly relieved by this fact since the narrow choices eliminate many of the techniques I debated. For instance, I’ve been considering a wax resist, but my mother has no uncolored candles. Sometimes not using a lot of tricks is better anyway.
Peacock Shawl: Before

I track down styling props and find a light spot in the house. There aren’t many, so it’s kind of tricky. My sister, nephew, and their dog are visiting, and there seem to be children and dogs photobombing on the edges of most of my frames. 
Disaster strikes. I am putting the props away when the shawl SNAGS on a loose nail in the chair!!! If not for the fact that even the word “butt” was unacceptable in our household growing up I would probably have some choice four letter words to say out of pure reflex. Luckily for the innocent ears thronging round me there are no naughty words in my subconscious. 
Will my mother kill me for hurting her shawl? 

No. she graciously allows me to live. I fix the snag as best I can, and gather dyeing supplies. My main concern is that the dyes not contaminate each other too much and turn into a muddle. I need a carrier medium thicker than water, and possibly a mask to cover the yellows. 
Here’s what I came up with:

Peacock Shawl cornstarch medium

Cornstarch Dye Medium
Dissolve 6T cornstarch into 1/2 qt water. Heat in saucepan over low medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened. 

Another challenge is that there are many different options for dye colors, but none of the applicators I would use at home. Where I would use eyedroppers and paintbrushes on my own turf, Q-tips are the closest I can get. 

Peacock Shawl dyeing supplies

Noon: It’s midday, which as a craftsperson means nothing to me, but as a mom it means I need to stop everything and make lunches, soon to be followed by putting the girls down for their rest times. 
When I finally come back, my cornstarch paste is clammy, thick, and lumpy. I also fill a spray bottle with 1 cap full of synthrapol to every cup of vinegar. The synthrapol cuts through any oil used on the yarn in the milling process. An old door on a pair of sawhorses serves as my worktable in the open garage. It is important to have great ventilation for dyeing. I cut plastic trash bags open and lay them out to protect the surface, then spread the shawl smooth over that. 

Peacock Shawl: Pro jars

One of the things I don’t have is lots of little matching jars to mix dye in. I scavenge the garage for small containers and come up with a laundry detergent scoop, an old dye container, a little plastic cover, and 2 glass pint jars. Gonna make it work. 

Cornstarch medium + dye

To mix each color I glop some medium into the container, pour a very little bit of dye into it, and mix thoroughly. Sometimes I add a few drops of the vinegar mix to make it smoother. 
I start with the eyes, and I as I work my way over the shawl I am not working methodically, or rather my method is to look random. As you work on a project for a while your technique changes and refines. On most projects I have learned to work in many different spots so that the progression of the technique won’t be obvious. 

Here are the Dharma Trading acid dye colors I used: 
Brilliant Yellow
Sand Dune
Sapphire Blue
Peacock Blue
Misty Purple

Peacock Shawl: wetting it down

The spray bottle doesn’t work for my purposes here, so I transfer my liquid into a squeeze bottle with an applicator tip. Once I finish 8 peacock eyes I know I have my technique down. 

Peacock Shawl: applying color

I squeeze the vinegar solution onto the spot I am working on, rub it in with my finger, apply Brilliant Yellow to the eye area with a Q-tip, and edge the hole in Chartreuse. Later I use Sand Dune which is a brown to the area right around the hole, but I could have used purple for that with equal success. 

Peacock Shawl: The eyes have it

Then I apply Brilliant Yellow at the ends of every “feather”. I allow the lace pattern to define the boundaries of each color.  

Peacock Shawl: Dyeing the neck

Purple goes around the neck applied very thick, and then I massage the color outward toward the eyes. As the color becomes diluted it gives an ombre effect. 

Peacock Shawl: Ombre affect
Peacock Shawl: Feather tip closeup

With my fingers I apply Sapphire Blue to the arrow shapes right above the Yellow feather tips. I swipe more Sapphire Blue onto the lines of lace chevrons along the feathers as it appeals to me. Once again, I try not to establish a visual pattern. I want to stay pretty random. 

Peacock Shawl: Filling the gaps

I use Purple on the chevrons this time, and I brush it onto the tips of the feathers as well. The chevrons are starting to fill out, but I need more color. I try Peacock Blue, and then I fill everything that is left with Turquoise Blue. 
I like how it is shaping up. 

Peacock Shawl: Tips on creating iridescence

There is a lot of depth, but I am hoping for more. I add yellow in spots and dashes. The Peacock Blue turns peacock green. When yellow is added to the purple it turns brown, and on the Turquoise it turns a beetle green. That’s better. I am pleased except that the yellow peacock eyes are too garish. While I don’t want it to get completely mixed up, having the yellow completely pure won’t read as being iridescent, and iridescence is what I am going for. I decide not to touch it and see if the green dyes will migrate into the yellow and make it a tad muddier as I hope. I can always retouch it afterward, but I can’t backtrack if I go overboard with the color!

Peacock Shawl: Applying heat

Night: It’s after dinner now, and it’s time to set the dye. I need to heat the whole thing up. First I try holding a steam iron over the top of the shawl, but I get nervous. My mom’s iron is a Rowenta, and I don’t want to accidentally get dye all over the pressing surface. It would come off, but I doubt my attention to detail when it comes to cleaning. Through long experience my mother doubts my cleaning too. Lightbulb moment! Mom suggests using a hair dryer. Brilliant. 

We take turns aiming the hot air at the wet shawl. I want it to be barely damp. This could take a while. 

Morning 2: As soon as I get up I run to the garage to check the shawl. I raise the garage door and light floods over the lace and it’s... perfect! The colors have blended beautifully. It’s subtle, but the yellow isn’t quite so painful now. It’s just muddy enough, and bonus #2, the lace is now blocked, meaning it lays flat. 

Peacock Shawl: Rewetting

Now I need to fully set the dye. Normally I would use clean sheets of newsprint, but we don’t have that. What we do have is the parchment paper you use for cooking, and paper towels. I lay out all the parchment we have underneath the shawl. Next, I use the spray bottle of vinegar and synthrapol and give it all a good spritz. I lay paper towels over the top so that nothing dyed will touch, or it really would be a muddle! I roll it all up into a package and ask my mom for string. She responds with the family joke: “I don’t know if I have any...” We both laugh. That one gets us every time, but our husbands don’t think it’s so funny for some reason! 


Peacock Shawl: Oops.

Mom just remembers she saw a dropped stitch yesterday, and it needs to be fixed right away! We unroll everything and she finds the original silk to fix the mistake. Unfortunately I don’t have any more yellow dye mixed up. Instead I spritz the area and rub it around with my finger. There’s no discernible difference. Now that’s teamwork! 

Peacock Shawl: Bundle to bake

This time I get to tie our bundle of joy up. I line the electric roaster with wet paper towels. They are going to be my bellwethers to tell me when things are getting too hot and dry. The bundle nestles into the wet paper towels, then I set more saturated paper towels over the top. 
Why do we use electric roasters to dye in? the dye baths off-gas, and you don't want to breathe it. We used to do a lot of our dyeing over the stove or in the oven in the house, but have finally settled on this. I love baking dyes rather than submerging them. You have less control, but more serendipitous color gradations. 

Peacock Shawl: Baking

I set the roaster to bake at 325 degrees F. I bake it for 3 hours, wetting it down again every 20-30 minutes. I think the hardest part of the whole process is remembering to check back every half hour! 

Peacock Shawl: Scorching

Occasionally the paper towels scorch, but I remind myself that is what they are there for. I have burnt irreparable holes in beloved needlework while dyeing them before, so I am a little jittery.

Peacock Shawl: The big reveal

Finally the three hours are up, and the moment of truth arrives.
Everything is as I left it, just hotter! Now to see what happens when I rinse it out. My parents keep their hot water heater far hotter than you do, I guarantee. Rinsing in very hot water helps to keep the dye from rinsing out at this juncture. If it hasn’t fully set, exposure to the very hot water will at least not make things worse! 
I rinse. 
And rinse.
And rinse.

Peacock Shawl

I hold my breath, I unfold it... “I’m a genius!” I crow! I do a little jig for joy, but stop in the middle because I keep staring at the shawl. It turned out exactly the way I hoped it would. It is pretty much as close to iridescent as you can get with solid colors. At this point my mother is out, but both my grandmothers, my grandfather and an aunt are over, and they are fairly impressed. The question they keep asking is “Will it wash out?” No way. If you were using Koolade dyes or Rit, or something like that the color wouldn’t hold. That’s the price you pay for it being less toxic! Acid dyes have a lot more longevity, but they are pretty dangerous. Hopefully all the work I have done with them won’t influence my longevity! 

I spread the shawl out on a deck chair in the sun to dry, and it’s a waiting game for my mother to come back home. I can’t wait to show her our work!

Peacock Shawl

When mom sees it, she sparkles. She twinkles. She says “It’s nothing like I thought it would look, and everything I hoped it would be!”

Sweet success.   
To see more pictures from this project, click a photo to reach Flickr. 
Peacock Shawl

Peacock Shawl

1 comment:

Abigail James said...

This is stunning! You and your mom outdid yourselves! Great work!


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