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## Wool Dyeing Using Liquid Dyestock, Percentage Formulas and Three Primaries

This is the third in a series of articles about dyeing wool using liquid dyestock, percentage-based formulas, and the three primaries. As mentioned before, when I first began wool crafting, I decided to to try dyeing my own wool to save on money and time shopping. I didn’t see a lot of selection online (the web was relatively new) and Dorr Mill, while blessedly nearby, was still an hour away. I knew that I wanted a large selection of colors to use for projects, and I knew this could get prohibitively expensive. The purist in me had already decided to use only primary colors for dyeing, rather than listening to the reasonable side of me that said to use all the lovely pre-formulated colors available. Using those colors would have been easy — I could just go envelope-by-envelope and try them all. But I found the color selection somewhat limiting (not that it really *is,* mind you, but when your greedy heart wants every color of the rainbow, it feels a little binding). Despite all of this initial thinking, when my first shipment of dyes, wool and equipment arrived in the mail, I stood there scratching my head, wondering where on earth to begin. I wanted to experiment with many colors from all over the color wheel, but I could see no clear and organized path in front of me using primaries, which was unsettling, given the magnitude of the Grand Plan I had laid out for myself. How would I make deep pumpkin orange, or a soft, wheat yellow, or the palest grey green? I had no clue how to formulate those colors, and I didn’t like the idea of hit and miss — I could see wasting a lot of time and money that way, and I didn’t have much of either at the time.

So I revisited the article by Linda Knutson in a very old issue of ‘Threads’ magazine that had already guided my decision-making to that point. I remember reading the article, when all the light bulbs in my head started to flicker on. I made a spreadsheet on the computer of all the possible combinations of red, blue and yellow, in 5% incremental changes, using only two of the three colors for any formula. For instance, I started with 100% red, and the next formula was 95% red and 5% yellow, then 90% red and 10% yellow and followed this pattern down to 0% red and 100% yellow. Then I repeated this, starting with 100% yellow and the remainder blue, then 100% blue and the remainder red. This approach was easy to understand, and it thoroughly and systematically covered all colors around the outside of the color wheel, producing a lovely collection of vibrant colors. Many were near-duplicates, so I culled through them, choosing colors that produced a nice, even progression all the way around the wheel. It was exhilarating to have a start, something to branch out from.

All-in-all, I dyed 60 formulas to a medium value, dyeing six 4-gram squares at a time, one in each of six beakers held in a dry casserole and placed in the microwave. (More on the detail of this method in the next article.) This took several days, mostly because of mistakes I made in basic technique. Once I got into the groove, things moved along more quickly, and later I could do this many colors in one day.

Below is what a chart of two-color formulas looks like, with a numbering system that shows how much of the “main primary” is in the formula. It is essential to use some kind of numbering system if you plan to do quantity trialing of colors — you must label each piece with permanent marker before you dye it, so that you can keep track of the formula for each piece. If your attention span is like mine, you will forget what you did five minutes ago, or less than that, if the phone rings.

Notice that I use the initials ‘R, Y and B’ (red, yellow, blue), rather than M, Y, C (magenta, yellow, cyan) only because this is how I have always thought of the primaries, so it is familiar. Also notice that no matter what the formula is, the chart is in the same order — R-Y-B — because I have learned from unhappy experience that keeping all the labeling and dyeing in the same order all the time prevents mistakes, like putting 75% blue into the pot, when it should have been 75% red, if I’m lazy about charting the colors. You may choose a different way of organizing formulas, but this is one option that I have found to be logical and easy to work with.

(Please note: it is very difficult to find a universal way to format tables and spreadsheets for articles sites, so I have formatted with basic text, using dashes and extra digits to line everything up visually. This should also make it easier for you to cut and paste these charts for your own use, no matter which platform you are using.)

——–R—Y—B———–R—Y—B———-R—Y—B–

R100–100 – 00 – 0 — Y100 – 0 – 100 -00 –B100 – 0 – 00 -100

R-95 — 95 – 05 – 0 — Y-95 – 0 – 95 – 05 — B-95 – 0 – 05 – 95

R-90 — 90 – 10 – 0 — Y-90 – 0 – 90 – 10 — B-90 – 0 – 10 – 90

R-85 — 85 – 15 – 0 — Y-85 – 0 – 85 – 15 — B-85 – 0 – 15 – 85

R-80 — 80 – 20 – 0 — Y-80 – 0 – 80 – 20 — B-80 – 0 – 20 – 80

R-75 — 75 – 25 – 0 — Y-75 – 0 – 75 – 25 — B-75 – 0 – 25 – 75

R-70 — 70 – 30 – 0 — Y-70 – 0 – 70 – 30— B-70 – 0 – 30 – 70

R-65 — 65 – 35 – 0 — Y-65 – 0 – 65 – 35 — B-65 – 0 – 35 – 65

R-60 — 60 – 40 – 0 — Y-60 – 0 – 60 – 40 — B-60 – 0 – 40 – 60

R-55 — 55 – 45 – 0 — Y-55 – 0 – 55 – 45 — B-55 – 0 – 45 – 55

R-50 — 50 – 50 – 0 — Y-50 – 0 – 50 – 50 — B-50 – 0 – 50 – 50

R-45 — 45 – 55 – 0 — Y-45 – 0 – 45 – 55 — B-45 – 0 – 55 – 45

R-40 — 40 – 60 – 0 — Y-40 – 0 – 40 – 60 — B-40 – 0 – 60 – 40

R-35 — 35 – 65 – 0 — Y-35 – 0 – 35 – 65 — B-35 – 0 – 65 – 35

R-30 — 30 – 70 – 0 — Y-30 – 0 – 30 – 70 — B-30 – 0 – 70 – 30

R-25 — 25 – 75 – 0 — Y-25 – 0 – 25 – 75 — B-25 – 0 – 75 – 25

R-20 — 20 – 80 – 0 — Y-20 – 0 – 20 – 80 — B-20 – 0 – 80 – 20

R-15 — 15 – 85 – 0 — Y-15 – 0 – 15 – 85 — B-15 – 0 – 85 – 15

R-10 — 10 – 90 – 0 — Y-10 – 0 – 10 – 90 — B-10 – 0 – 90 – 10

R-05 — 05 – 95 – 0 — Y-05 – 0 – 05 – 95 — B-05 – 0 – 95 – 05

This exercise completed, it was time to venture deeper into the color wheel, by adding the third primary to the formulas. I knew this would increase the number of possible formulas exponentially, forcing me to think three-dimensionally. (I hate that.) So I had to figure out an organized way to approach it, and I ruminated for some time. Finally, my “Eureka!” moment came one day at my son’s basketball game, and I wrote down my plan on a scrap of paper with a pencil stolen from a student sitting next to me. I started with 90% magenta this time (since I already had 100% red), adding 2.5% blue and 7.5% yellow. Next, I used 90% red, 5% blue and 5% yellow, and finally 90% red, 7.5% blue and 2.5% yellow. Then I followed the same pattern, using 80% red with all possible combinations of blue and yellow in 5% increments (I could use larger incremental changes with 20% of the formula to use, vs. only 10% of the formula, when the red contributed 90%). And I speculated that, in general, there would not be a discernible difference in color with a 2.5% change in formula. I repeated the process down to using 50% red and all the combinations of the other two colors. Then I followed this same pattern using blue, and then yellow, as the main primary.

Below is a chart showing how this looks, with a numbering system that you could use, that indicates in shorthand the name and quantity of the main primary for the formula, and how much blue is also in the formula. (When blue is the main primary, you could use numbers that indicate how much yellow is in the formula.) If you know how much of two colors are in the formula, then it is easy to figure out the rest. This may seem like overkill, but it comes in very handy when you have about 200 squares spread out all over the living room floor, and you wonder which formula you used for a particular piece, as compared to the piece next to it. For serious color study, having a code like this written on each piece is very useful.

———–R—Y—B—————R—Y—B—————R—Y—B–

R-09-02 – 90 – 07 – 03 — Y-09-02 – 07 – 90 – 03 — B-09-02 – 07 – 03 – 90

R-09-05 – 90 – 05 – 05 — Y-09-05 – 05 – 90 – 05 — B-09-05 – 05 – 05 – 90

R-09-07 – 90 – 03 – 07 — Y-09-07 – 03 – 90 – 07 — B-09-07 – 03 – 07 – 90

R-08-05 – 80 – 15 – 05 — Y-08-05 – 15 – 80 – 05 — B-08-05 – 15 – 05 – 80

R-08-10 – 80 – 10 – 10 — Y-08-10 – 10 – 80 – 10 — B-08-10 – 10 – 10 – 80

R-08-15 – 80 – 05 – 15 — Y-08-15 – 05 – 80 – 15 — B-08-15 – 05 – 10 – 80

R-07-05 – 70 – 25 – 05 — Y-07-05 – 25 – 70 – 05 — B-07-05 – 25 – 05 – 70

R-07-10 – 70 – 20 – 10 — Y-07-10 – 20 – 70 – 10 — B-07-10 – 20 – 10 – 70

R-07-15 – 70 – 15 – 15 — Y-07-15 – 15 – 70 – 15 — B-07-15 – 15 – 15 – 70

R-07-20 – 70 – 10 – 20 — Y-07-20 – 10 – 70 – 20 — B-07-20 – 10 – 20 – 70

R-07-25 – 70 – 05 – 25 — Y-07-25 – 05 – 70 – 25 — B-07-25 – 05 – 25 – 70

R-06-05 – 60 – 35 – 05 — Y-06-05 – 35 – 60 – 05 — B-06-05 – 35 – 05 – 60

R-06-10 – 60 – 30 – 10 — Y-06-10 – 30 – 60 – 10 — B-06-10 – 30 – 10 – 60

R-06-15 – 60 – 25 – 15 — Y-06-15 – 25 – 60 – 15 — B-06-15 – 25 – 15 – 60

R-06-20 – 60 – 20 – 20 — Y-06-20 – 20 – 60 – 20 — B-06-20 – 20 – 20 – 60

R-06-25 – 60 – 15 – 25 — Y-06-25 – 15 – 60 – 25 — B-06-25 – 15 – 25 – 60

R-06-30 – 60 – 10 – 30 — Y-06-30 – 10 – 60 – 30 — B-06-30 – 10 – 30 – 60

R-06-35 – 60 – 05 – 35 — Y-06-35 – 05 – 60 – 35 — B-06-35 – 05 – 35 – 60

R-05-05 – 50 – 45 – 05 — Y-05-05 – 45 – 50 – 05 — B-05-05 – 45 – 05 – 50

R-05-10 – 50 – 40 – 10 — Y-05-10 – 40 – 50 – 10 — B-05-10 – 40 – 10 – 50

R-05-15 – 50 – 35 – 15 — Y-05-15 – 35 – 50 – 15 — B-05-15 – 35 – 15 – 50

R-05-20 – 50 – 30 – 20 — Y-05-20 – 30 – 50 – 20 — B-05-20 – 30 – 20 – 50

R-05-25 – 50 – 25 – 25 — Y-05-25 – 25 – 50 – 25 — B-05-25 – 25 – 25 – 50

R-05-30 – 50 – 20 – 30 — Y-05-30 – 20 – 50 – 30 — B-05-30 – 20 – 30 – 50

R-05-35 – 50 – 15 – 35 — Y-05-35 – 15 – 50 – 35 — B-05-35 – 15 – 35 – 50

R-05-40 – 50 – 10 – 40 — Y-05-40 – 10 – 50 – 40 — B-05-40 – 10 – 40 – 50

R-05-45 – 50 – 05 – 45 — Y-05-45 – 05 – 50 – 45 — B-05-45 – 05 – 45 – 50

You may wonder why we stop at 50% for each main primary. Any formula that contains 50% of any one color will also contain the other two colors in increments of 10%, 20% 30% and 40%. So those increments were already covered in the existing charts, in fact the only formulas not covered by the charts above were those where no primary contributed more than 40% to the formula. So I worked up formulas for these nine colors, which of course, are mostly grey, listed below. You can see that there is no color above 40% or below 20% in any formula. Formulas with 10-15% of one of the primaries will be more like a dull secondary color, and probably very near one that has already been produced. Only when there is at least 20% of all the primaries in the formula do you start to see greys, near-greys, and browns. Notice that you don’t need to repeat the process using yellow and blue as the main primary — this will duplicate formulas. The combinations below are the only ones needed to finish sampling. You may want to explore using each main primary at 45% and 35%, as well — this will create some discernibly different shades, especially when yellow is the main primary, because it is so easily altered by small changes in the other two primaries. But if your color needs are simple, the formulas below may be enough.

**-R—-Y—B-**

40—40—20

40—35—25

40—30—30

40—25—35

40—20—40

30—40—30

30—35—35

30—30—40

20—40—40

You may also wonder why I jump 10% with each main primary, while using 5% increments for the other two colors. I realized that by using 5% incremental changes for the main primary, it would greatly multiply the amount of colors to trial! Also, jumping 10% each time with the main primary makes it possible to keep the percentages of the other two colors in round numbers. And I didn’t think that using smaller increments of the main primary would produce colors that were discernibly different, for all the extra work, and I have found this to be generally true. I experimented with formulas in between some of the colors and found a few that were new, but in general the colors in between were only marginally different. I also tweaked a few formulas to split the difference more evenly between the two colors on either side. Ultimately, I created about 165 “master colors”.

In this manner, I sampled the entire range of colors that could be made using the three primaries, resulting in a wonderful collection of color from every part of the color wheel. Naturally, once I had a lovely universe of colors, I felt it absolutely mandatory to explore the values of light and dark for these colors (an announcement that caused a lot more spousal eye-rolling and sighs from the rest of the tribe, who wanted dinner in the pot, not wool). Mentally, I multiplied 165 times 6 or 7 values for each, and felt completely overwhelmed by the number that resulted. But, as you can see, I never do anything small. So I took a big breath, apologized to my entire family, and plunged in.

Before continuing, let’s return to the concept of the ‘1% dyestock solution’, which, as you may recall from the first article, is 1 part dye powder and 99 parts water. Also remember that 1 ml of liquid weighs 1 gram, making it possible to compare liquid and dry measurements equally, using metric.

It is known that doubling the amount of dye with each darker value will provide a nice progression of a color from pale to dark, in 6 to 8 jumps — this is the principle at work when using the jar method. I knew this would be the case before I started, so for me the only real question was where to begin to create a pale shade, and then see where doubling would take the color from there. So I experimented until I found a good progression of values, and it is listed below. There are, of course lighter and darker values than these, but these meet my needs.

The lightest value I generally produce (a pastel that I refer to as Level 1) uses a 5% “saturation” of dyestock, meaning that for a 4-gram piece of wool, (the size of the samples for all my trials) I use 5% of that amount in dyestock, which is.2 ml, to achieve a pastel value. (Multiply 4 times 5%, or.05, and you’ll see that the answer is.2. Remember again that the ml measure of the dyestock and the gram weight of the wool can be related on equal terms to each other.) A 10% saturation, or.4 ml, produces Level 2, and so on. I found that most colors follow a predictable pattern, value-wise. However, when moving around the color wheel towards yellow, about 2/3 of the way through the greens and the oranges, the amount of dye must be increased to keep the values about the same, visually, as more yellow is added to each formula. The chart below shows the saturation levels needed for generating values on 4-gram pieces of wool:

**————————BLUES & REDS—————–YELLOWS———
————————————–ml————————–ml—–
——————–**

__Saturation__—

__Dyestock__——

__Saturation__—

__Dyestock__

Level 1 ( Pastel )——-5%———–0.2————7.5%———-0.3

Level 2 (Md Pstl)——10%———–0.4————-15%———-0.6

Level 3 (..Light )——20%———–0.8————-25%———-1

Level 4 (Lt. Med)——40%———–1.6————-50%———-2

Level 5 (Medium)——80%———–3.2————100%———-4

Level 6 (Dk Med)——160%———-6.4————200%———-8

Level 7 (…Dark )——240%———-9.6————300%———12

There are couple of exceptions to these numbers in the brighter red and blue families. Some of these pastels run a little dark using a 5% saturation, and for a few of those I start with 3%. You may find your own preferences, but this is a good starting point. When I am working up these values on wool samples, I don’t label them — the values are obvious when they come out of the pot. I dry them, stack them together, and place a folded piece of card stock around them, which contains the formula number, percentages in the formula, and the saturations used for each level.

On the very first day of my Grand Plan, I imagined dyeing perhaps 300 colors, total. Today, I have close to 1,200 in an inventory that I offer for sale, and I have near-future plans for adding at least 70-80 more, plus many more specialized colors in the future. It was quite a process to organize all of this, and I couldn’t be happier with the collection — there is not one color I don’t love!

I know that this is a different way of approaching color, and I hope it helps you, should you take on your own Grand Plan, or even if you just want to do some dabbling.

Copyright Susan Sylvia 2010

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