At the 2008 NH sheep and wool festival I picked up some gorgeous shetland fiber. Two ounces of each of 4 natural colors:
I loved them, still do really. I have great plans for this fiber. Divide each into one ounce chunks, and over-dye the natural colors with a single color, red, or maybe blue. I figured this would give me 8 colors which would coordinate perfectly, and I could knit a beautiful monotone fair isle vest (or hat, or something) out of them. Like I said, I have big plans.
But instead they’ve sat, in my fiber stash, for a year and a half. Finally on my birthday weekend I decided it was time to give the plan a try. I had some henna in my freezer, leftover from a hair-dying experiment. It turned my dirty-blonde hair a fun shade of reddish orange coppery sort of color, so I figured it should do the same thing to wool. Right?
Well I thawed the henna out, and diluted it down; it was the consistency of mud, that’s what you need to keep it in your hair on your head for 4 hours. I primed the wool by soaking it in white vinegar, and then threw everything in a stainless steel pot on the stove. I let it simmer for 4 hours. You should pretty much always dye in a well ventilated space away from food preparation areas. But I make a few exceptions, kool-aid dying and onion skin dying among them. In this case I figured if it’s safe enough to soak into my scalp for 4 hours I could use my kitchen cook stove. After hanging it in the sun to dry, I ended up with this:
The fiber in the center is clearly dyed, but not the coppery red I was hoping for. Instead it’s a mustardy yellow. And the yellow must be a gray-ish yellow because the dyed off white fiber and dyed gray fiber are almost impossible to tell apart.
So I’m going to call this a Failure. It happens, especially with dying experiments. But I’m not giving up on this fiber. I’m planning to over dye with something else. I may use a basic kool-aid red since the mustard yellow should tone it down out of the fluorescent range. I could try an acid dye, but I worry about reactions between it an the henna. There’s rumors in the hair-dying world that some metallic salts in commercial dyes can react with henna to fry hair, or turn it bright, frog, green. I don’t really want to risk either of those things on my soft, scrunchy shetland.