DIY to Done: Bengala-Dyed Yarn

Bengala Dye

Image courtesy of Loop of the Loom, NYC

Last fall at World Maker Faire, I was introduced to the all-natural eco-friendly mud dye Bengala.

This wonderful color, created from minerals in soil, requires no heat or chemical additives to bind with the fabric. Simply add your fiber to a small amount of the dye, mixed with a large amount of room-temperature water, and away you go! Once the fabric has dried in the sun, the Bengala color is stable and UV protected.

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Bengala-dyed yarn by the Weaver’s Guild of NM

At the time I purchased my starter kit, I asked the Loop of the Loom staff if the process could be used on yarn as well. They assured me it could. So I set out to learn how to spin so I could create my own yarn to dye with my kit.

This past winter I practiced drop-spinning with cheap pre-dyed wool and only this spring took up my first few ounces of alpaca wool to spin a skein of yarn “for real.”

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Photo of me winding freshly-knit alpaca — Courtesy of Paul Oemig

The alpaca is naturally striped taupe, so I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get a brilliant color when I dyed it. I just wanted to the barest pastel-ish hint of another color.

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After the yarn was spun and wound on my niddy noddy, I bound the sections together to keep it from tangling and pre-fixed the dye. This involves mixing cold water with an ammonium salt compound, which helps the fabric to take more dye than it would on its own.

After mixing the pre-fixer with the water, I soaked the fabric in it for several minutes and then dried it thoroughly by hanging it from two hangers in my bathtub.

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The trick then was to wait for the next sunny day—which thankfully, happened to be Memorial Day. I chose the K-12 Ajisai Bengala dye  and measured a generous amount into a bucket of clean water.

From there, the dye process is about plunging, jiggling and (gently) kneading the fiber substance in the water to help it absorb the color evenly. It’s fun to watch this happen, because as the fiber becomes darker the water becomes lighter. You can literally see the color soak up into the fibers.

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I worked my Alpaca fibers until I the water was so clear of dye that I could see the bottom of my pail. Then I dried it out in the sun. This was surprisingly fast!

Just a few hours later, I held the hand-spun, hand-dyed Alpaca in my hands.

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It took a bit of time to unwind all the fabric after it had dried. But by the next morning, I’d wound it into two wonderful balls of yarn just waiting for the right project.

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