Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Posted by Peg in South Carolina

Tien has revived my interest in the possibility of weaving with knit blanks which I could dye and then unwind onto pirns for use as weft. In this process,  the weft yarn is first knitted (on a knitting machine) and the resulting knit fabric is then dyed with the desired gradated color changes.  After the knitted blank is dyed, it is unwound onto pirns or bobbins for weaving.  Then one uses these bobbins in the correct order to weave with. 


Sara Lamb was the first person who I was aware, through her blog, of using this technique. She had learned of the process from her good friend Nancy Roberts. At that point Nancy had been machine knitting and dyeing blanks for hand knitters to use and so Sara pursued this.  Go to her 2005 post “More Dyeing Fun” to learn how Sara dyed the blank and then hand-knit it.

Later that year, Nancy got the idea of machine knitting blanks not just for hand knitters but for weavers as well. So Sara agree to weave up one of Nancy’s machine knit and dyed samples.  To see what she did with the blank, go to this post, A Little Help from my Friends. You won’t be disappointed with the eye candy that Sara provides.

The next year, Nancy presented a workshop for Sara’s guild. Sara talks about this workshop in her post, Dye Another Day. This was primarily about dyeing sock blanks for knitting socks. 

While Sara often refers to this technique as “Nancy’s technique,” Nancy explained in an email conversation with me that her source was Rebekah Younger. To see some of Rebekah’s creations, go here.  Rebekah had an article in a 1995 Threads Magazine on the technique, a technique she used for knitting.

An article on this technique can be found in the current Handwoven magazine (Issue 143, pp. 16-17). This is the story of the collaboration between Nancy and weaver Penny Peters. Here I learned that Nancy can make knit fabric even with 60/2 silk. Aha!  My favorite weight of silk. 

As a former machine knitter, and one who knit on a fine gauge machine at that, I had not believed it possible to use 60/2 silk in a knitting machine.  And apparently Nancy wasn’t so sure either.  But she found she could, and Penny’s weaving shows the brilliant results.

Now Tien is playing with the concept.  Go here to read Tien’s description of her process along with wonderful photos.


Reading Tien’s post on this process started me thinking once again about using it in my own work. I had not realized until Tien’s posts that anyone knit these blanks for sale.  That meant, I realized, that even though I no longer had any knitting machines, I had easy access to purchasing knitted blanks.  But I “knew” that of course 60/2 silk was out.  Thanks to the piece in Handwoven I know that Nancy could knit me up 60/2 silk!  Wonderful!

Right now, however, the kind of weaving I am doing does not seem to lend itself to using this technique.  But were I to use it, I would not use it in the same way Tien does. 

Tien is using very long colorways. In fact, looking at Tien’s photos, it looks like each of the colorways takes up enough yarn for one pirn, for a total of seven pirns.  Elsewhere, however, she mentions that she is using 14 pirns.  In any case, if I were to use such long color ways, it would for me make more sense to dye the yarns myself.

Dyeing the yarn in separate skeins would make it easier to make decisions as to when to stop weaving with one color and move to the next.  As Tien makes clear, one has to calculate all this fairly accurately in advance.

Another advantage to doing the dyeing myself, I could choose on the fly when to move to the next bobbin.  This would give me plenty of opportunity to play with (i.e., change my mind about……..) my original plans for working with the weft colors.

When I dye small bits of yarn I use canning jars and an electric frying pan to provide a water bath.  The pan holds 8 jars.  Actually I have two frying pans designated for dyeing and have been known to dye as many as 15 different yarns at a time. To dye 16 (or even more) gradations with two colors would require only that I make the two basic stock solutions and then gradually mix them into the number of dye pots I wanted.  The number would be determined by just how smooth I wanted the gradations to be.

So, with long color changes, I’m not sure about the knitted blanks.  If, however, the colors change relatively quickly, then I think the knitted blanks are a brilliant way to save some time as well a to reduce the number of weft ends that have to be woven into the fabric.


To find out more about this and to see examples of the beautiful things that have been created, go to Nancy Roberts’ website, Machine Knitting to Dye For. There is also a Machine Knitting to Dye For group on Ravelry.

I am indebted to Nancy for her help and advice with this post.

Related Post:  Anger Despite Playing with Dyes

"Gradient Dyeing of Weft Yarns" was written by Margaret Carpenter for Talking about Weaving and was originally posted on December 17, 2008. © 2008 Margaret Carpenter aka Peg in South Carolina


Bonnie said...

Somehow I lost my subscription to your blog. Thanks to Connie Rose, who sent me a link to this recent post, I am now back to being an avid reader.

Peg in South Carolina said...

Hi Bonnie, I'm glad you made your way back! Same thing happened to Leigh awhile back. Very mysterious.

Penny said...

Hi Peg, Interesting comments about the use of the blanks vs dyeing skeins. The advantage of the blanks is the blending of the colors whether the gradations are large or small as the colors migrate across the knitted fabric to create third and fourth and so on...colors. It is hard for the eye to see where one starts and the other stops. Conversly,the other interesting side effect of the dye process on the blanks is the occasional migration of the dye across a knitted row that does not blend, leaving some interesting striations in the woven fabric. Makes for a rich cloth at a distance and surprises on a closer view.


Peg in South Carolina said...

Hi Penny. Yes, I understand what you are saying. I was reacting to Tien's weaving, where the gradations are very very long and cover a very limited number of colors. In this case dyeing of the individual skeins would be at least as easy and offer other advantages at well. With more frequent color changes, and with colors that differ fairly strongly, and with more than two colors, then dyeing blanks would definitely have the edge over dyeing individual skeins.

SpinningLizzy said...

Oh, my! I was recently wondering (but just before the researching an answer stage) how gradient colours were woven. I can't wait to try it. What kind of knitting machine did you use for silk? I wonder if I could run to Michael's and get the $100 knitting machine and have it work...

Peg in South Carolina said...

I no longer have any knitting machines and when I did, I used them only for knitting, not for knitting blanks for gradient dyeing. The $100 machine should work, but you could do only heavier weight yarns (worsted and maybe bulky) and it would be a lot slower than a regular knitting machine. Probably faster than hand knitting however!