The Transformation of the Suri Alpaca Laceweight.
So I bought this yarn on eBay. . . .
Some stories that don’t end well, start this way. This is not one of those stories. Although it is not without its own drama.
Some Cherry Tree Hill Suri Lace mill ends were up for auction on eBay, about the time I was on a roll buying yarn on eBay (it can be addictive). Suri alpaca is the rarer form of alpaca, though becoming more common as this breed is increasingly being raised in the United States and elsewhere. Suri fiber is longer and more lustrous than the more common huacaya alpaca fiber. This particular Cherry Tree Hill yarn normally comes in 50g hanks, 440 yards for about $26. These mill ends were naturally less than full yardage, being mill ends, but respectable lengths, and totalled, if I remember correctly, about 7 oz (almost 200g!). They were, however, ‘potluck’ dyed in red and pink. Not perhaps the most alluring; therefore, I bought them for a relative song. I thought the colors might grow on me, or when I dared, I might try dyeing the yarn (I was a dyeing neophyte then).
Well, the colors did NOT grow on me. All I could see when I looked at the yarn was melted Peppermint. And I was not in the mood for Melted Peppermint Lace at that point. So, after some initial Kool-Aid dyeing successes, I dared to overdye the alpaca laceweight with fairly concentrated orange Kool-Aid. It turned out intense, but improved, to my way of thinking. Sorry, no picture, this was pre-blogging.
I put the red-orange yarn away, waiting for the right project. I did have my red-headed friend who loves orange in the back of my head. I did not love orange in the past, necessarily, but I really liked this deep orange interspersed with warm red. Is it that when you dye something, it’s kind of like your child and you can’t regard it objectively? Although I certainly am aware of those areas where my children may be less than perfect. And I would certainly hope if I dyed something truly fugly, I would be cognizant. I think so. But be that as it may, although the orange/red-orange thing may not be to all people’s tastes, or even always to mine, the yarn pleased me more than peppermint blotches.
When I found out about my friend’s engagement, I did think of this yarn immediately, as the suri is a special fiber and would be worthy of a wedding gift. But I also had started the Mystery Stole 3 in an off-white laceweight with pearly gold-centered beads, which would make a lovely wedding stole. And I didn’t know if she had a wrap already in mind/bought/on hand.
So first I asked if I could make her something of the sort for her November wedding.
Then I asked if she wanted a stole — a narrower, more dressy wrap to go over her shoulders — or a larger shawl.
She would love a larger shawl, to cozily wrap up with in the future, so that it wasn’t a one-time only dressy sort of thing.
OK. White or off-white — or color?
In colors like the wedding colors — her favorite — would be awesome! Fall colors of orange/red/gold/brown.
I had already been plotting a Pi shawl in the recesses of my brain, so this clinched it — a large circular shawl in the Suri Lace, which I had plenty of, was destined to be. But as I thought about a wedding shawl, the colors seemed a little too brightly intense; and I didn’t trust the Kool-Aid not to fade or transfer.
So, now having dabbled in acid dyes, I decided to overdye the orange/red with a little subtle brown. I had Jacquard Acid Dye in Chestnut. I put what seemed like a small amount in my newly-designated dyeing kettle, along with lots of water and some vinegar, and plopped in the hanks.
Whoa! It started to turn significantly brown a little faster than I anticipated! It was in the dye bath all of about 60 seconds before I whipped that puppy out of there. It looked pretty good, maybe; hard to tell wet. Because it hadn’t had the simmering time to set, I microwaved the yarn a few times to heat set the yarn.
Then I rinsed the yarn. And rinsed the yarn. And rinsed the yarn. And rinsed the yarn. It kept bleeding color every rinse — hard to tell if it was red or orange (didn’t look chestnut). I microwaved a little more. And rinsed the yarn. And rinsed the yarn. I used up the brown dye bath on some KnitPicks Bare worsted, and filled the dye pot with clean water with vinegar and simmered for 30 min. And rinsed the yarn. And rinsed the yarn. Seriously, I must have rinsed 15 to 20 times. And every time, there was still red/?orange coming from the yarn. Was this Kool-Aid? Though typically, after microwaving, I had not had any color leakage. Was this the Cherry Tree Hill red, red being notoriously not colorfast? And — HORROR — those lovely long suri fibers were starting to mat together — the Yarn Was Starting to FELT!
(There’s the drama. Okay, I know it’s not what some would think of as drama. But imagine if you have almost 2000 yards of the perfect yarn for your friend’s wedding shawl and it all felts and can never be truly recreated — I can tell you, my heart rate went up!)
So I stopped rinsing and pressing, let it cool and hung it up. And brooded. Did I take the chance that the yarn might not be colorfast? The rinse water was a lot less red by the 20th rinse. But on top of a white wedding dress; maybe a little bit of perspiration bridal glow after dancing; can you imagine if my shawl turned the wedding gown orange?? What to do??
Well, not long thereafter, I had a passing correspondence (about yarn I had ordered) with Jennifer of VanCalcar Acres. I knew she had been so kind as to help Astrid with a dyeing question. So I ventured (a little reluctantly, I hate to presume on people’s kindness and professional time) to ask if she would be willing to give me any advice. She was and she did!
Give the yarn a bath with ammonia added to the water to flush out the excess dye; repeat if necessary; then rinse gently followed by a short soak with vinegar to neutralize the residual ammonia. (What Jennifer refers to as the “Cat P—” part of the dyeing process.) She also suggested re-skeining the yarn to separate the fibers that were starting to think about felting.
Ooh, just doing that (and I wouldn’t have done that on my own, I don’t think), allowed me to see how lovely the yarn was looking. The process was slightly involved and intrigued the cat greatly; first, winding from the swift,
to the ball winder,
then back to the swift.
This is pre-ammonia, so a little redder than it turned out in the end.
Now the ammonia bath. Look at all this color coming out!
I did need to repeat the ammonia treatment, but eventually the rinse water was clear, Clear, CLEAR!
Hooray! I’m not going to ruin the bride’s dress after all!
Now, I could finally get designing and then knitting. And, as I said yesterday, this yarn is heaven to work with. It’s subtly lustrous, almost as though it has silk blended in (now I realize that that’s the long, lustrous suri fiber); soft, and resilient. And the colors make me so happy; rich, deep, toned down a bit by the variegated Chestnut, and blending beautifully as they knit up.
Autumn on my lap.