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Monday, July 21, 2008

Experiment in copper penny solar dyeing

So.... not much knitting going on. Not much spinning going on. Not much except work and more work.

The perfect time for solar dyeing! One of those things that can really take advantage of the 100 degree heat in the North Texas area.

I took that 1100 yards of spindle-spun 2-ply x-bred wool yarn that I spent all spring spinning and threw it in a toxic solution for 3 weeks. How brave was that! I'd read about copper penny dyeing and was intrigued by the thought that I could dye something with household ingredients and come out with either green or blue yarn. Pretty cool, eh?

I started it off with making a copper liquor from 1/2 cup ammonia, 4 cups distilled water and 80 copper pennies (you get a really pretty blue water, by the way). Then I doubled it. Then I added more (after about 2 weeks). Then I added the yarn (finally). Then I added copper scrubbies (after about a week of nothing happening).

The final formula:
1 gallon of distilled water
4 1/2 gallons of spring water
1 gallon of household ammonia
160 copper pennies - Pre-1982 (they're mostly copper, unlike the newer ones)
4 copper scrubbies (the kind you buy at the grocery store to clean your pots)
16 ounces of scoured wool yarn
3 weeks in the sun with the yarn in two containers. They had covers to keep out the birds, squirrels, leaves, mosquitoes, neighborhood cats, lizards, etc.

I went out every day and inspected for color and every other day gently turned the whole wad of yarn over in the solution.

It took almost two weeks before I starting seeing any color change. I left it longer than that mainly because 1. I was sick (again) and 2. I was working (too much).

Finally took it out and finished it in a very scientific mixture:

1 sink of tepid tap water
1/2 cup of vinegar
(per half batch - I couldn't fit the whole load in the sink)

Then one more rinse in 1 more sinkful of tepid tap water.

I was a bit concerned when it was wet... some of it felt... sticky (yuck), but by the time it dried it seemed to be fine.
I ended up with a soft mossy green with blue overtones and some interesting streaks of, would you believe it, copper! Since the pennies and scrubbies were in the vat with the yarn and were resting up against it, it looks like the copper color actually transferred to the yarn. It will be interesting to see if that lasts or if it will fade out. If it's copper oxide, I think it will probably stay this color.



I've joined the Natural Dyeing group on Ravelry - they're a very helpful bunch over there and gave me lots of encouragement and ideas. I've also joined the Wrapped in Comfort group on Ravelry, since I loved making my Bigfoot shawl and will probably use another of Allison's patterns for this yarn.

Even if I get extra creative and make up my own pattern for this, I'll probably use Allison's suggestions from the book for designing my own. This shape works so well for me, since it stays on my shoulders even while I'm working.

Overall, I'm pretty satisfied with my experiment in copper penny dyeing. It took a lot longer than I expected, although I think that was mainly because I was trying to dye such a large quantity. It also helped that I had so many other things going on that I didn't really have the time to be impatient and take it out sooner.

The best part was that I didn't totally ruin months of work on all that spindle-spun yarn!

4 Comments:

Anonymous AlisonH said...

Would it matter that there's so little copper in pennies these days? The copper scrubby sounds like a good idea, and the whole thing intrigues me--I'd never heard of copper dyeing. Now I want to try it.

And thank you for the kind words! I'm delighted you like your shawl and the shaping--thank you!

12:25 PM  
Anonymous Carrie K said...

Yay for not ruining months of work! lol.

Blue? Really? That's so -wrong. It should be red or orange!

4:20 PM  
Blogger sillyewe said...

Very cool! I have never heard of copper dyeing, either......fascinating. That isn't you who has been stealing all of that copper wire now, is it? I can't wait to see what happens. So, how do you like support spindle spinning? Did you figure it on your own, or take classes? I am eager to learn.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Traceyleezle said...

Ha, ha, for a minutes I was scratching my head over the copper scrubbies. I got ya know. That is such a great idea. I'll bet, as Alison H. pointed out that it would work better with older pennies.

10:37 PM  

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