Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dyed and gone to heaven

Oct. 29
The afghan is done. The sewing up and weaving in of the ends took forever. At the moment, it's soaking in the washing machine with some lavendar Eucalan, along with my ancient Aran pullover. Then it's blocking time!

{six days later...}

Okay, I've been knitting, and I have lots of stuff to share, but I'll save that for another day. I have to share my first dyeing experience.

I was at knitting group the other day, wearing my favorite sweater. It's 10 or 15 years old. I was an okay knitter back then. Not so great on the finishing, but I still love the sweater. I wear it a lot during the fall and winter. Last winter, I wore it while decluttering the basement. Instead of just having dingy cuffs, which the sweater had for a number of years, it ended up with this on the front:

I washed this thing every way I could think of and couldn't get the stains out. I still wore the sweater -- holding my purse in front of me, or crossing my arms, if I wore it in public -- but I had decided I was going to have to relegate my beloved to yard work and wearing around the house. I did wear it to knitting group on Wednesday (too cold and windy not to), and showed the stains to the other knitters. One of them (Connie, I think) had the brilliant idea of dyeing the sweater. That had never occured to me. I drove from knitting group to Creative Fibers and bought two packets of this:

Then I got myself over to Value Village, just down the street, in search of a pot to dye the sweater in. No luck. I briefly searched eBay and decided that was pointless. Most pots were new or close to it, and the shipping wasn't worth it. So I went to Target and got this:

Fifteen bucks, brand new. There are two choices for a dye pot: enameled or stainless steel. I was afraid I wouldn't be able to tell whether or not a used pot was stainless steel, and if you haven't seen the going rate for a new stainless steel stock pot, you'd better sit down before you look. Good old Graniteware is light weight and enameled, so as to avoid acid reaction to the pot surface. Perfection.

I did want to try cleaning the sweater one more time, because I was concerned that the stains would just get darker, along with the sweater, and I wouldn't have a sweater any more wearable in public than I had before.

Shelly suggested Oxy Clean ("but don't soak it for too long") and said it had been discussed online before. So I googled around and couldn't find out why Oxy Clean warns against using their product on wool. Did it leach the color? Irrelevant to a garment made of undyed wool. Did it destroy the integrity of the fiber? One of the ingredients is the same as that found in bleach (not the chlorine, but something else). A dissolving sweater would be a problem.

Bill, on the TKGA forum, suggested I knit up a large swatch of natural wool and see what Oxy Clean would do to it. That seemed reasonable. I headed back to Target and searched the laundry detergent aisle. I read the Oxy Clean label. "Do not use on wool." I couldn't bring myself to put it in my basket. I couldn't bear to sacrifice a swatch knit just for that purpose.

Next to the Oxy Clean were other "laundry boosters." Good old Biz, which I used on my kids' clothes when then were babies. Next to that was Borax. I read the label. You can use that stuff to clean anything, it seems, including your delicate garments. No warnings about not using it on certain fabrics. Hmm. So home it went.

Borax says to soak delicates in a basin with 1/4 cup Borax and 1-2 tablespoons of laundry detergent for 30 minutes. I use liquid Tide Free for my laundry, including my machine washable delicates, so I figured I'd try that. I doubled the amount of Borax, because my kitchen sink is huge. In went the sweater. I squeezed the sweater in the water and set the timer for 30 minutes. Fifteen minutes later, I checked the sweater.

I couldn't believe my eyes. In fact, I flipped the sweater over because I thought I was looking at the back. Here's what Borax and Tide Free did to my sweater:

The cuffs are still a bit dingy, but better

Check out the water (I put the stopper back in when I saw how dirty it was, just so I could document it):

The Beloved Aran is a sweater that I had soaked and squeezed in various cleansing agents three or four times since its tragic staining. Never had I seen dirty water. This water was filthy.

I briefly reconsidered dyeing the sweater, but I already had the dye in the pot, and I wanted to learn how to dye wool, so after a brief rinse in clean water, in it went.

I had put enough water in the pot (I thought) to cover the sweater, but the level was a bit low, so I added more water after the fact, and worried that the dye wouldn't be evenly distributed in the water. I also worried that the pot really wasn't big enough. I would have bought a 20 qt stock pot (5 gallons!) if I'd found one, but 16 qts was all Target had. I gently lifted and stirred in hopes that the dye would be well distributed. A half-hour later I decided the water was as exhausted as it was going to get. After rinsing and a spin in the washer to get most of the water out, here's what it looked like:

Looks a little like faded denim. It's not evenly dyed (damn, you, 16 qt stock pot!), but I don't know that if even in the best of circumstances it could have worked out much better. The dense texture of the Trinity stitch kind of precludes dye saturation. The hem is a bit blotchy, too. And of course, the side seams haven't improved any, have they? Whip stitch? What was I thinking?

Here's a closer look at that blotchy hem

I like it. I've decided that the color variations make it Art.


Connie said...

I think it looks great - you could always choose a darker dye to saturate it more and do it again...

beth said...

That looks great! That shade of blue is very pretty.

Anonymous said...

Love the sweater---I just knitted that same pattern this spring! I knitted it up inCasade 220 and nice teal/dark blue. Glad to see your research worked and you can wear it again Rox----Knitski from TKGA board.

Shelly Kang said...

Looks nice, Rox! I think I missed the second half of the conversation at knitting group about the dyeing, but I'm glad you tried it! I hope you wear it on Wednesday so we can all see it.

Rebecca said...

What a fabulous idea! One more saturation might help if the variations really bug you but I think it looks great!

Guinifer said...

I've used borax for years as an additive to my laundry - the miracle cleaner! The sweater turned out lovely!

Confessions of a Knitting Diva said...

I like the sweater dyed this way! It is very unique just like a hand knit garment should be.

Heather Spiva said...

I went looking for a way to clean a spot on an aran wool sweater of mine ... found your blog post 5 YEARS later, and I'm going to go try it. Thank you! And thanks for documenting this to begin with.