Testing a dyeing technique

I went to an exhibition last year at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park of Sean Scully’s work and was blown away by the intensity of the colour he uses and the impact of his bold stripes.  (I have a thing for stripes as I can also lose myself in Bridget Riley’s paintings .)


Anyway, I thought that I would like to try to work with the idea of bands of colour in my woven work. However, I wanted to create the overlapping of colour that Scully produces, where colours are layered and move from one into another. Because the weave process tends to produce distinct bands of colour or calculated Ombre effects, I decided that I needed to work with dying the weft before it is woven to create the blurring that I want to produce.

Dying yarn to produce stripes is something that is used for knitted items and was described in detail in an article by Debbie Tomkies in The Journal for Weavers,  Spinners and Dyers 268, Winter 2018. In ‘Dyeing with Knitted Blanks’, she describes how undyed yarn is machine knitted into tubes and is then dyed, unravelled and knitted up. This technique of dyeing means that the sequence of colour remains the same when it is translated into a knitted or woven item.

As my ambition is to produce sequential stripes that blur into one another, this seemed like a good starting point for dyeing weft yarn that can subsequently be woven without imposing a pattern. So, I produced 3 knitted blanks, all of the same number of rows and in the same yarn (Axminster 90% Wool, 10% Nylon) and dyed them in a variety of stripes using Acid dyes. (Debbie Tomkies’ article gives full and detailed instructions on how to do this.)

The dyed blanks were then unravelled into skeins and then woven into sample sized, weft faced mini rugs. Because I have recorded the number of rows in the blank, I can then calculate how much yarn I will need to produce other sizes in future.

The first sample is a  three-colour piece. It uses yellow, black and blue, which merge in some areas. Although the stripes are not much in evidence, I like the intensity of this piece, which I think is because the blue and the black modify one another and then produce a green which is related to the yellow and is not a separate colour.

The second sample uses blue, grey and brown and also leaves some of the yarn undyed. This produced a subtler effect with more pixellation where the colours intersect one another. I prefer the areas in this sample where there is no undyed yarn I think that the white produces a hazy effect, which was not my objective. (I might use this for other purposes at some point.)

The third sample uses blue, grey and green. Although I am not keen on the green in this piece, I think that this is probably closest to the effect that I was trying to achieve. The stripes are present and merge with one another. I think the order is wrong as the green is centred, but I can forgive this in a sample!