Dyeing, Spinning

Dyeing Colour Wheels at Place des Arts

Two colour wheels (triangles) from six different dyes

The joy of working with effectively the same group of students at Place des Arts over three terms is that we can build on what we have done in the term before. Since September, these students have learned to dye fibre using immersion and hand-painting techniques but we never delved too much into colour theory. It was more about just getting the technique down. Now, we can talk more about how to make decisions about colour.

There are a couple generally accepted sets of primary colours (colours that can’t be mixed from other colours). In printing, we use CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). In painting, we use RYB (red, yellow, blue). This is most likely what you used in grade school art class. And finally, for light-based applications (monitors, television, digital, theatre lighting), we have RGB (red, green, blue). I chose dye colours that best approximated CMY (on the right) and RYB (on the left) colour primaries and we dyed two colour wheels with them, comparing and contrasting the colours.

You can see the CMY dyes tended to produce clearer hues while the RYB produced slightly murkier, earthier tones, probably because of the duller undertones of the red and yellow dyes that we used.

Every student assembled a colour wheel (or triangle) using a bit of fibre from each of the colours. We used Superwash BFL for this to show the colours as clearly as possible. Sometimes Merino or other fibres will make colours appear more subdued or paler. Now, they can use this chart as a starting point for future dye projects.

The next part of the experiment was to look at the difference between dyed colour (physical mixing) and carded colour (optical mixing). We took a chunk of fibre that had been dyed a particular formula (e.g. 60% cyan, 40% magenta) and spun that up straight as is. Then we weighed out fibre to create a hand-carded blend that was 60% of the dyed cyan fibre and 40% of the magenta fibre. This was to see if it was possible to replicate the dyed colour with carded colour, and what the differences were. In many cases, even though the carded colour didn’t match exactly (our scales aren’t super accurate), the students preferred the carded colour because of the interest that the different colours added to the mix.

The other observation was that even though a fibre was dyed as a semi-solid in a slightly blotchy way, it would still spin out into nearly solid coloured yarn. So, if you really want to retain a bit of colour variegation in your final handspun, you need you start with much more variegated dyed fibre. All those extremes will be subdued as you spin it.

That’s just a little peek into what we are doing on Tuesday mornings at Place des Arts. It’s a lovely group of spinners… chatty, enthusiastic and talented. Can’t wait to share their epic term projects with you too.


About Felicia Lo

founder + creative director of SweetGeorgia // designer + dreamer // wife + mama // dyer, knitter, spinner, weaver, youtuber + author // been writing this blog about colour and craft since 2004 // see what I am making @lomeetsloom and @sweetgeorgia.

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