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Space dyeing is a technique used to give yarn a unique, multi-colored effect. While a typical skein of yarn is the same color throughout, a skein of space dyed yarn is two or more different colors that typically repeat themselves throughout the length of the yarn. Space dyed yarn is sometimes referred to as dip dyed yarn.
The secret to space dyeing yarn involves the use of a special chemical called a mordant. The purpose of a mordant is to help permanently fix the dye to the yarn after the space dyeing process. Since different colors of dye require different types of mordants, this makes it possible to dye the same skein of yarn many different colors.
Space dyed yarn can be dyed in either coordinating or contrasting shades. Space dyeing yarn in coordinating colors, such as various neutral tones or assorted shades of blue, provides a subtle yet sophisticated look. Space dyed yarn in contrasting shades, such as yarn that is purple, red, and blue, offers a funkier feel.
Spaced dyed yarn is most commonly used for knitting and crocheting. When space dyed yarn is made to make a knitted or crocheted item, the resulting project features uneven horizontal stripes that produce a collage-like effect. However, the size of the stripes in the finished piece depends on what size of yarn is used. As you might expect, thicker yarn produces thicker stripes.
Making blankets, scarves, stocking caps, and other items with spaced dyed yarn is surprisingly easy. In fact, many of the project patterns intended for beginners work best with space dyed yarns. The simple stitches of these projects allow the vibrant colors of the yarn to take center stage.
While space dyed yarn is readily available at all major craft and fabric stores, space dyeing yarn at home is a fun project for the ambitious crafter. To dye the yarn, you place loose skeins in a large enameled steel vat and pour the dye and mordant over the various loops-—dipping as necessary to produce the varying colors. When space dyeing yarn by hand, however, remember that the object is not to make a uniform pattern. You want to add a variety of dyes randomly through the yarn so that it produces a variegated weave when used for knitting or crocheting.
Although kettle dyeing is sometimes confused with space dyeing, it should be noted that these two processes are not interchangeable. Kettle dyeing is a more advanced technique for coloring yarn that involves manipulating the dye in the pot to produce a number of different looks.
Space dyed wool rarely looks good to me. It always makes me think of tie dyed t-shirts which were popular a few decades ago and which always seemed a bit too much. Almost tacky, with too many colors forced into one space.
Of course, this technique can be used with just two colors and that's not really bad, but often you get that wool which has about eight colors on it and when you knit them into something it doesn't have a pattern so much as it has a chaos of colors.
I'd much rather have a couple of solid colors that were used in a purposeful way and you could probably do that if you were using space dyeing techniques sparingly on a fabric but not so much if you use them haphazardly on a fiber.
@KoiwiGal - Well, even natural dyes need a mordant though most of the time. Lemon juice and vinegar are often used, but the most traditional and useful mordant is actually urine.
It was used so much in ancient dying techniques that it was considered valuable and I recently read that in some places people would have public toilets just so that they could collect and sell the urine to people who dyed wool.
I know that sounds kind of gross, but it must have worked. I imagine they probably used space dyeing techniques with it as well in order to get different colors and patterns. Although there were a lot of different methods of getting patterns and different colors into the fabrics, including things like tie dying and batik techniques which are still used today.
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