You’ve just come back from the fiber show with the most glorious new fiber pet, it is bright shiny and new! You love it, pet it, and make something glorious out of it, but then you give it a bath and it starts bleeding all those lovely colors all over the place! What do you do?
Frequently I’ve found in a number of different groups, issues involving bleeding in yarns and fibers, both indie and commercially dyed. The first reaction of many is to blame the dyer, and while yes, things can go slightly awry on occasion in the dye kitchen, more frequently than not it has nothing to do with the person who created it.
Let me explain for you what actually happens when dyeing protein (animal) fibers with acid dyes, which are the most common type used on protein fibers for their wide range of colors and ease of use. Each fiber has a number, the exact number vary depending on type and quality of the fiber, of dye sites, think of them like little open hands. As acid dye is applied to the fiber these little hands will grab the dye no matter if acid or heat are applied, but the process of applying acid and heat essentially closes the hands allowing the fiber to have a good grip on the dye molecule. Yet some dye can be sticking through the fingers or sitting somewhere that no hands are grabbing it and can get washed off in the first rinse, the water runs clear and the dyer is happy. She has brought something of beauty into the world and wants you to make something even more beautiful with it.
Now here is the kicker, almost anything can cause these little hands to relax their grip on that dye molecule, temperature, time, friction, humidity, sunlight, quality of fiber (both in general and whether the animal the fiber came from was sick at any point in its fiber producing cycle), different blends of protein fibers will hold dyes differently, and just the size/weight of the dye molecule itself.
I think I speak for all dyers here when I say, we never want your work be ruined by bleeding, it is as much a disappointment to us as it is to you. But there are steps you take to ensure your fiber pet stays bright and vibrant for years to come.
1. Ensure your fiber is stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
2. When washing your new pet for the first time, use luke warm water and mild soap/wool wash, keep an eye on it to see if there is any bleeding (do not walk away, loose dye can settle on other parts of the fiber and muddle the colors), if you encounter more than you think with wash out with an additional rinse or two or you just really want the colors to stay as bright as possible, pull it out of the water and place in a cool bath of water with 2 tbsps of white vinegar then either microwave for a few minutes (in the water, nylon blends may experience melting if steamed without liquid surrounding it) or steam on a steam tray covered above boiling water for at least 30 minutes. Wait till the yarn is cool to the touch and again rinse in cool water with mild soap. This will help those little hands grab the dye again and keep your colors vibrant for much longer.
With proper care your yarn pet can last for generations just as pretty as when you first brought it home. I hope this has been helpful and you can go out and make something glorious today without fear! Life is too short to live without color.
Now speaking of pretty, I dyed this a few weeks ago and couldn’t let it go into my inventory. I am also prepping for Tour de Fleece right now so she went on the wheel Sunday and was off and plied by Wednesday. During bath time, this beauty did bleed a little of the one blue, not enough to re-steam, but I did give it a couple of rinses. The finished yarn is mostly a worsted weight and measured in at 195yds. There are a few thicker spots and I’m completely enamored of the one in the photo on the right side, the way the colors move along that little 3 inches of yarn is the kind of beautiful magic that I love when spinning hand dyed fibers.