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One of my long–standing to-do items is to do a bunch of dye samples on wool and silk so I have a reference for color mixing, color intensity, and for the behavior of different dyes on the two substrates. Some of the dye mixtures tend to break into their component parts, and more on silk than wool. Even some of the dye primaries will take up unevenly on silk if you aren’t careful. There are things that can be done – additives, adding half the dye and/or acid at the beginning and the rest during the heating time, and so on. My water is very hard, and that contributes to the problems on silk that I’ve complained about before. I wanted to know which dyes were the worst, and how they all behaved. I have a pretty good idea from the time I’ve been practicing, but wanted reference samples too. I use two different sets of primaries, red-blue-yellow and magenta-turquoise-different yellow, and they mix different greens, oranges and purples. With physical samples, I can plan better to get what I want, rather than relying on memory and instinct. And yes, the scientist in me wanted to know.

I started this project a couple times, with either disaster, or enough awkwardness that I never finished. But I’m doing a demo next week, and wanted a dyed colorwheel to talk about. Sometimes a deadline is just the thing. But what to dye the samples in? That was the major problem with previous attempts, finding something small, heat-resistant, inexpensive to mix all the dyes in, and ideally to heat them as well.

Disposable coffee cups – all of those things! Unfortunately, it turns out they are also permeable to acid dyes.


Turquoise was the worst, followed by magenta, then yellow. Black stayed entirely contained. Rings all over the counter. Ooops.

Raid the grocery store to see what else might work. Bowls: leak-proof and microwaveable, according to the package. Wider than I wanted, but should work just fine.


So I started over and measured out a batch of the dye stock solutions and got everything ready.


The packaging lied.


And off to Goodwill.


Eighteen used teacups later, I had a definitively leakproof heatproof dyeproof solution.
Not too long thereafter, the first batch of samples was drying on my handy multipurpose drying rack.


I finished them all Sunday night: wool, silk, one batch for each set of primaries. I’ll post closeups and more detailed descriptions later.


Right now I’m just happy I managed to get the photos off my camera, after two days of fighting with the cardreader and CF card. (And why do I need USB cables with three different ends??)

3 Comments on “Colorwheel”

  1. #1 Laura
    on Jul 9th, 2009 at 6:50 pm


    There’s something inherently wonderful about masses of string in many colors.

  2. #2 cyndy
    on Jul 12th, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Third time is a charm!

    Your results look wonderful from here!

    Hope your color wheel turned out the way you wanted, and was worth all the effort!

  3. #3 cyndy
    on Jul 12th, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    ps…had to come back to tell you I just noticed “Silverlock” on your side bar, haven’t thought of that book in years, but it was a great one!