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How to Prepare to Paint Yarn

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Hand-painting is the process of applying dye directly to fiber and then steaming the fiber to set the dye. The term hand-paint encompasses a range of techniques that create a variety of results. In some methods, you paint the dye onto yarn or roving using brushes. In other techniques, you do the "painting" with squeeze bottles or dip the fibers directly into containers of dye.

Set up for yarn painting

Each hand-paint technique uses different tools for applying color to fiber. Most methods require heat to set the dye. This is easily done by wrapping dyed fiber or yarn in plastic, rolling the packets into loose coils and placing them in an enamel canning pot converted to a steam chamber. To set up a steam chamber, place the wire canning rack in the bottom of the pot and cover it with an inverted Pyrex pie plate. Add water to just below the level of the pie plate. Place the coils of fiber on the pie plate and cover the pot with a lid.

Protect your work surface by spreading a plastic covering on your painting table. Keep plenty of sponges and paper towels handy.

Unless otherwise instructed, prepare your dyes the day before your dye session so they will be room temperature when used. Hot dye solutions strike quickly. To make the presoak sufficient for 1 pound (454g) of fiber, add 12 tablespoons citric acid crystals and 4 teaspoons (10ml) Synthrapol to 2 gallons of warm 95°F (35°C) water. Stir to combine.

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An acid presoak can be reused and stored indefinitely if you keep a lid on the bucket. If you ever need to add water, you may also need to add more citric acid crystals to maintain the proper acidity level. Check the acidity of a stored presoak solution using pH test papers. Tear a strip of paper from the roll and swish it in the solution. Then match the color with the guide. The pH of the acid soak should be in the range of 3–4.

Safety when you're painting yarn

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Wear an apron to protect clothing, gloves and safety glasses to protect your skin and eyes, and a mask when handling dye powder and steaming fiber. Good lighting and good ventilation are important. However, when you are mixing dye powders, be sure to keep fans off and windows closed until the powders are safely dissolved in the solution. Always take care when working with hot pots.

Safety Checklist

  • Dust filter mask (when mixing dye powder)

  • Dual cartridge respirator (when steaming)

  • Rubber gloves

  • Safety glasses

  • Apron

  • Vent fan while steaming fibers

  • Oven mitts

  • Good ventilation


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