Naturally Dyed Yarn: A Mad Scientist Adventure

You know how you get so excited when a close friend is getting married, and you can't wait to crochet that special something for her, and you find the perfect pattern in the perfect snow-white silk yarn, get everything ready to start—only to learn in passing conversation that she's going for ivory instead of white? I know I'm not alone.
The good news is that this is actually really exciting news, not bad news at all, because it means you get to try the subtle art of naturally dyeing your fancy yarn! It is a little bit scary to play mad scientist with really nice yarn, but this is a great place to start, as the color change doesn't have to be too drastic or specific. I just need something between white and yellow.
I know just enough about natural dyeing to know that I probably had everything I needed for the job already in my kitchen, but I needed a little know-how, and for that, I needed Amy Clarke Moore, Spin Off editor and fountain of knowledge. She suggested I try chamomile tea, and process it the same way she did when she dyed some yarn with red cabbage. That is to say, put it all in a jar of water and leave it in the sun for a few days (see the Fall 2010 issue of Spin Off if this piques your interest). This sounded like something I could manage!
corchet lace yarn . So, last night, I decided to get started. The important first step in this process—and every other yarny process—is to do a test run. I wound off a few yards of my yarn, brewed a cup of tea (well, two cups of tea, one for me and one for the yarn), submerged my wee skein in the tea cup, and left it there for 7 hours. I probably should have waited longer, but I peeked at it from time to time, and it looked like I was getting the results I wanted. I let it dry before inspecting the final product.
natural dye Here is the test skein against the original yarn to show the subtle contrast. I'd still like it a shade more ivory, but I think that will easily be achieved with increased time spent in the tea.

Google tells me that the color will fade over a long period of time in sunlight, but this crocheted shawl (I'll announce the pattern in a new crochet-along soon!) will be more of a memento than an everyday piece, so I consider this acceptable.

how to dye with tea

That means it's time to do this for real.

Supplies: Two large jars, one for each skein, filled with equal amounts of hot water (I did 4 teacups per jar); six tea bags, three for each jar (I would have done 4 per jar, but someone drank all my tea); my two skeins of yarn (note that they are tied with white cotton thread every few inches to prevent tangling); the sun; and patience.

I submerged each skein in its jar and squeezed out all the air bubbles to make sure the yarn was saturated, then added the tea bags (with their tags removed). I'm hoping the staples on the tea bags won't rust and stain my yarn…

tea dye Here is my concoction, sitting on my patio table, becoming ivory-colored. I'll check on it after work today and give it a swirl, but I expect the weaker solution (three bags to four cups, instead of the 1:1 ratio I used for my test) will take longer to get the color I want. I expect the color won't be strictly uniform, but I think a tonal effect of various shades of off-white will give it a charming antique look.

Wish me luck!
I'll post my results when I have them!

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