Glad to have you again! Let’s get started with the PART II. If you missed the PART I we recommend you check it out here.
Dye Stock Recipe: 5 grams of dye, 1 tsp citric acid dissolved in 500 ml hot water for rainbow painting stock. 8 grams pro-chem wfa black, 1T citric acid dissolved in 2 gallons of water in a large pot or 8” deep tray.
Take your superwash and non-superwash yarn and tie 4 resists on each skein evenly spaced. You can use recloseable zip ties, cotton yarn or silicone bands, but remember to tie as tightly as possible to create a clean resist.
Bring the black dye bath up to boiling and quickly submerge the skeins dry. Then reduce temperature to 210 degrees (just under boiling). If you wet the yarn out ahead of time, the dye will migrate under the ties and you’ll have solid black yarn.
Keep at 210 for 30 minutes and let cool to room temperature. Then remove the resists and overdye each one a different color.
Put back in the heat for 30 minutes to an hour and let cool to room temperature.
Superwash on left, non-superwash on right
Superwash on the bottom, non-superwash on top
The black base on the superwash is noticeably blacker and darker, and the neon is more vibrant than the non-superwash. Also, the resists on non-superwash are not nearly as crisp and they’re grey at the margin and muddy.
The quality of the black is softer and more variegated on the non-superwash.
Conclusion: If you want the blackest black and the brightest neon, superwash is best suited to this technique. If you like the soft, subtle variegation in the quality and tone of the black and larger “resists” that fade from grey at the margins to the neon and then back to grey, then non-superwash will give you that result.
A brief overview of how superwash is created, what its uses are, and the characteristics/differences in wear between treated and untreated wool.
Wool felts because it has microscopic scales on the surface of each fibre. When the fibres are subjected to a mixture of moisture, heat, and agitation, the scales lock together like Velcro.
Modern science has allowed us the warmth and softness of wool without the need for hand washing and line drying of days past. Enter superwash yarn!
There are 2 ways to create superwash (machine-washable) yarn. You can expose the wool to chlorinated gas or use a polymer to glue down the scales and prevent them from locking together. A side benefit of this process is that the treated wool drinks in the dye color and reflects it vividly compared to untreated wool.
Benefits of untreated wool: Untreated wool is naturally hydrophobic and repels water, especially if some lanolin is left in the yarn after milling. This makes it naturally water resistant, great for the fisherman of yore who fell into the ocean and their sweaters still retained 60% of their warmth soaking wet! Untreated wool also has better “memory” and will retain its shape better over the years.
Drawbacks of untreated wool: Untreated wool needs “help” to be thoroughly whetted out for dyeing, usually with the help of a chemical surfactant like synthrapol (a textile detergent) that allows the water to penetrate more quickly and evenly. Plus hours of waiting, so many hours.
If untreated wool is not thoroughly whetted out, you’ll have white patches throughout where the dye couldn’t penetrate. You also need to hand wash, in cold, and lay flat to dry in the sun, which is fairly inconvenient in today’s age of washer- and dryer-friendly clothes. I remember the horror I felt the first time a hand-knit sweater ended up in the washing machine – it was literally the size of a potholder afterwards!
The fuzziness of the scales on the wool also lends the hand-dyed yarn a “halo” that disrupts the color refraction and makes it look more dull. Speckles are more like marbling and the colors tend to overmix before they’ve set, leading to a more autumnal look.
Benefits of treated wool: You can throw it in the washer and dryer and get that delicious wooly goodness without the hassle of hand washing. Some people who are sensitive to the “prickle factor” of wool do not feel it with superwash, since the scales that itch are removed or glued flat.
If you’re a fan of super vivid neons and rich colors, superwash will drink in the dye and reflect the color strongly, and you have more control over the finished project, as you can exert more control over color flow and migration. Also, if you’re a fan of a drapey knit, for say a shawl or oversize sweater, then you’ll love the bend and flexibility of a superwash garment.
Drawbacks of treated wool: You need to knit a swatch and wash it before you make a superwash garment. It can grow as much as 30% when blocked, which might be disastrous for a fitted sweater, or my friend’s shorts that went from snug to the size of a small tent with the addition of blocking pins and water.
You can counteract this by going down in needle size and sizing down in the pattern so that it will “grow to fit.” Superwash also will take on water very quickly, so if you’re caught in a downpour without an umbrella, you will be soaked through in no time since the scales and lanolin are not there to create a barrier.
Thank you for going down this glorious rabbit hole with me!
Until next time,