Determining the Depth of Your Dye Shade

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When you are hand-dyeing, depth of shade refers to the desired value (lightness or darkness) of the dyed fiber. It is expressed as a percentage indicating the weight of dye powder in relation to the weight of the fiber. Using the metric system and 1% (or 0.1%) dye stocks makes it easy to calculate how much dye is needed to dye fiber to a particular depth of shade.

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Whether you are knitting a pair of socks or a cabled sweater, the ability to choose any yarn and dye it any color greatly expands your design options. For hand-spinners, the range of choices becomes more exciting when you dye your own fibers for crafting yarn. Weavers can work magic by creating bold or subtle color effects at the loom. Hand-painted warps create exciting ikat-like stripes in scarves and runners. Semisolid yarns add depth and texture to clasped-weft designs.

The formula for calculating how much dye stock to use is:

  1. Weight of dye goods (fiber) × depth of shade ÷ strength of dye stock = amount of dye stock

    To dye 1 pound of fiber (454 grams) to a 1% depth of shade using a 1% dye stock:

    454 × 1 = 454

    454 ÷ 1 = 454 ml of 1% dye stock

  2. If you want a deeper color value (let’s say a darker 2% depth of shade), change the numbers:

    454 × 2 = 908 ml of 1% dye stock

    908 ml ÷ 1 = 908 ml of 1% dye stock

  3. For a pastel shade of the same color using a 1% dye stock:

    454 × 0.1 = 45.4

    45.4 ÷ 1 = 45.4 ml of 1% dye stock

    You also use a weaker dye solution, a 0.1% dye stock, to obtain a paler value:

    454 × 0.1 = 45.4

    45.4 ÷ 0.1 = 454 ml of 0.1% dye stock

Wear rubber, latex, or nitrile gloves when mixing dye solutions or when adding substances like salt or acid crystals to a dye bath. When hand-painting yarn, protect your hands from direct contact with liquid dye. If you do get dye stains on your hands or fingernails, you can use a special hand cleanser called ReDuRan (available from dye suppliers) to remove it.

When working with a simmering dye bath, wear insulated thermal gloves designed especially for dyers. Use hot mitts when handling hot cooking tools. Sometimes you soak fibers in a citric acid or alkaline solution before dyeing. These solutions are caustic and will sting if the liquid gets on your skin. Wear long gloves to protect your hands and arms.

WashFast dyes offer a range of pure colors that can be used interchangeably for mixing a wide range of colors. The primaries that come closest to a “true” red, yellow, and blue are Bright Red 351, Sun Yellow 119, and Brilliant Blue 490. Here are some tips for working with WashFast Colors:

  • WashFast Reds range from electric pinks (Magenta and Rhodamine Red) to more orange tones (Bright Red). The WashFast Reds are Magenta 338, Fuchsia 349, Bright Red 351, Red 366, and Rhodamine Red 370.

  • WashFast Yellows vary from having a slight green undertone (Flavine Yellow) to more of a gold undertone (Gold Yellow). The WashFast Yellows are Flavine Yellow 107A, Sun Yellow 119, Yellow 135, and Golden Yellow 199c.

  • WashFast dyes hold many options for blues, ranging from the basic blues — Brilliant Blue 490 or Bright Blue 440 — or any of the hues in this extended blue family: Violet 817, National Blue 425c, Forest Green 725, Turquoise 478, Colonial Blue 401, or Navy 413.

It takes time and practice working with primary colors to capture the exact shades you want. Dye companies offer a wide range of preformulated custom colors that take the guesswork out of mixing colors for an exact shade. This is a huge advantage if you don’t have the time to experiment. Ready-made colors are proprietary blends of other dye colors in powder form.

You can tell if a color is a blend by dampening a paper towel and gently tapping a tiny amount of dye powder from a spoon onto the damp paper. If a dye is made of component colors, you will see multicolored speckles on the paper. If a color is pure, the particles of dye on the filter paper will all be the same color. Be sure to wear a filter mask when doing this.

Adding black to primary hues creates shades that are more subdued. In general, you use black in the same strength stock solution as the color to which you are adding it. Achieving a solid black color requires mixing a very deep depth of shade.


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