Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Question for the Yarn Industry

Rant warning

I’m officially fed up. Fed up enough to swear off any yarn that’s dyed by anyone else! Which is bad news for my LYS and several on-line vendors. But (did I mention?) I’ve had it!!!

What has aroused my ire to such an extent? Yarns that bleed, and bleed, and bleed, and bleed – until the lovely colors for which you purchased them are pale. You buy a skein (or 10) of a beautiful, bright yarn, planning something scrumptious. You plan and swatch and knit. Yes, there’s a little color in the water when you wash your swatch, but not a lot…or at least you convince yourself there isn’t a lot. Then you wash the finished project. Within seconds the water is darker than the project, and a familiar sinking feeling in your stomach says, “Not again!” Heaven help you if you actually combined yarn colors within this project, by the way – especially if one of those yarns is (oh, no!!!) really light!

There doesn’t seem to be a reliable way to avoid these yarns. I’ve bought a dozen or more skeins in just the past year. Some are from small, independent dyers; some are from high-end yarn manufacturers. Some originated within the United States; other yarns originated in South America, Italy, or France. All are packaged for commercial re-sale; all come from reputable sources, whether the local yarn shops or internet shops. Some are solid colors; some are various dip-dyed or painted skeins. And all have roused my ire.

Dyeing isn’t that difficult – especially if you’re dyeing protein fibers! You measure the weight of fiber, measure an amount of dye powder (or dye-stuff if doing natural dyeing) exactly sufficient to dye that weight of fiber to your required depth of shade; mordant the yarn by soaking in an appropriate solution, and then dye. Set the dye according to the directions for the dyestuff – for protein fibers, that normally involves heat. Hold that heat at the required temperature for as long as the instructions direct. Let cool, and then rinse well. It’s simple, direct and fairly fool-proof, even if results can be surprising at times.

We did a dye-in at my LYS a couple of weeks ago; I was in charge of it. I knew how much yarn we were going to dye by weight, and that we planned to paint the yarns. So I mixed a carefully-measured 3% solution of acid dyes in various colors, soaked the yarns in a 0.05% citric acid and water solution overnight beforehand, and carefully microwaved the dyed skeins, using a digital meat thermometer to be sure the yarns stayed hot enough for long enough to set the dyes. There was a great deal of surprise on the part of the knitters/spinners involved when they could see no color in the rinse water. They shouldn’t have been surprised at all! But their knitting experience over the past couple or more years told them that the colors would bleed.

My question to the commercial and independent dyers of the industry is this: why can’t you be equally careful when dyeing your yarns? Excess dye is expensive for you, bad for the environment, and gives your yarns a bad rep among knitters. Use some basic equipment (scales and other measuring equipment) and do a proper job. It will lower your bottom line, and make your customers happier. You won’t even have to do as much rinsing, again allowing for savings to you!

Knitters want to knit. They don’t want to have to wash and rinse skeins before using them – they want to start knitting. They don’t want to have to become sophisticated about chemistry, deciding between Synthrapol and its equivalent or simple vinegar water to remove the excess dye you’ve left in your yarns – they want to start knitting. They don’t want to skein off and re-heat the skeins in an attempt to re-set the dyes – they want to start knitting. Again, knitters just want to knit! So please stop wasting your money, our money and our time, and allow us to knit with properly-dyed yarns.

Rant is now finished. You can come out of hiding.


krex said...

Thanks for sharing your gripe...I've had similar experience buying fiber for felting that came half felted during the dying or listed as cleaned when it was still filthy . Bleeding...yep . I let my dollar speak for me and mark those folks off my reorder list and am dedicated to the crafters who know (and care) what they are selling .

PJ Kite said...

I normally make a note and try not to purchase from that manufacturer again, too - but it's beginning to put a serious crimp in my yarn buying! Literally every single skein I've purchased this year has had this issue. And that's ridiculous!

Jennifer said...

I am a new knitter, can you please tell me what brands bleed so I can avoid them?

PJ Kite said...

Jennifer, I'm afraid the best guide is experience. Different LYSs and online vendors order from different dyers, both independent and commercial, and the really bad part is that one lot from a vendor will be fine while the next will bleed like crazy!

The only advice I can offer is advice I always give - wash your swatch in the hottest water your hands can stand (as long as the fiber in the yarn will stand that) and see what happens. If you DO get bleeding, you know that you'll need to wash all the yarn in either synthrapol (available at your LYS or an art store that stocks silk-painting supplies) or several rounds of mild laundry detergent and lots and lots of rinsing.

I CAN offer one other general guideline. If the color is very saturated (royal blue, any red, intense green, neon orange) be very suspicious and test well before you knit with the yarn.

Oh, and this is generally only an issue for natural fibers - I've never had 100% synthetic yarn bleed - of course, with the manufacturing process used it probably couldn't if it wanted to do!