Over-the-Counter Colors:
Hand-Dyed Yarns From Interlacements

Interlacements skein
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If you've ever attended a fiber festival where Interlacements had a booth, then you know just how popular -- and beautiful -- these yarns can be. Interlacements is the Colorado-based company of Judy Ditmore, the talented dye artist recently profiled in Cheryl Potter's book, Handpaint Country.

Since 1996, Judy Ditmore has been providing hand-dyed yarns and fibers to the weaving and knitting markets. The standard Interlacements yarns are available in stores, and Interlacements offers some spectacular limited-edition specials on its own Web site. You can also see Interlacements yarns at many fiber festivals through the year.

Interlacements yarnOn the Menu
Interlacements offers two types of products for knitters and weavers: rainbow-dyed and hand-painted yarns. The rainbow-dyed yarns are colored in a large dye pot in which all colors are added at once.

This poses challenges if done improperly: The colors can overlap to the point of becoming a "a dark muddy mess," as Ditmore puts it. The fiber and dye are boiled together, and then the fiber is removed and allowed to dry. Then, and only then, is any excess dye rinsed out.

The Handpainting Process
Interlacements' handpainted yarns require significantly more time and energy than the rainbow-dyed ones because all dyes are applied by hand with sponge brushes directly onto the fiber.

The yarn is then given a thorough kneading to make sure the dye has fully saturated the fiber. Then it is wrapped in plastic and set aside for at least 24 hours. Finally, the yarn is rinsed repeatedly before being allowed to dry.

The Yarns
Interlacements offers both standard and slightly unusual yarns and fiber combinations, including blends of rayon, cotton, and flax, as well as mercerized cotton floss for weaving, colorful chenille and eyelash chenille, and silk.

an Interlacements sockA Test Drive
I'd never used Interlacements yarns before, so I chose a hank of superwash Toasty Toes merino in what I thought was a modest colorway, Summer Fruit (pictured at left and at the top of this page). Toasty Toes retails for $27 a 560-yard hank, providing enough yarn to knit not one but two standard pairs of adult socks.

When I opened the package, I was greeted with a brilliant riot of near-vaudevillian color applied to a surprisingly soft and stretchy merino yarn.

The colors were always on the move, shifting delicately from hue to hue. Although the colors never overlapped to the point of muddiness, some colors hadn't fully saturated the yarn, producing lighter blotchy spots that reminded me of tie-dyed T-shirts.

I'll admit that I was initially put off by this, but I found that the inconsistent spots translated into subtle but beautiful results in the knitted fabric.

When knit into sock form, the yarn produced brief stripes of color offset by deeper shifting hues in the background. If you want to avoid the broader flames of background color, Ditmore recommends using several balls of yarn at the same time, alternating balls every two rows.

Color Bleeding
Depending on the intensity of color in your yarn -- especially reds, purples, dark greens, and black -- Ditmore recommends giving your hank one gentle rinse before you begin knitting it. This will help release any excess dye that wasn't removed in the final rinse.

I didn't do this with my test yarn. The extra dye didn't bleed onto my hands or my needles while I was knitting (and I couldn't help myself - my swatch became a full sock!).

When it came time to rinse out the finished sock, however, the water instantly turned fruit-punch pink. It took almost 10 minutes of constant rinsing and squeezing before the dye stopped bleeding.

Once dry, my socks were as colorful as ever. The warm rinse had relaxed the fibers into limp, fuzzy softness that helped add harmony and cohesiveness to the loud colors.

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