My Adventures in Knitting, truly my Yarn-escape!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Yarns - Feeling the Blues (Dyeing with Black Beans)

     I love blue.  Probably anyone reading this blog knows that by now.  So when a new pattern popped up the first of February (The Easy Bulky One) I immediately thought of the 8 skeins of  Bare Swish Bulky Yarn  I have and my hankering to try and dye with Black beans to get a marvelous smoky blue.  I've been staring at pictures of black bean blue dyed yarn for the past year.  I love the grayish blue tones, a perfect blue, but I wondered could I get a similar blue or blue at all?  I spent last Friday reading every post I could find on dyeing with black beans, also reading a Ravelry discussion thread started 9 years ago (which took all afternoon till evening to finish reading) and finally felt ready.  With 5 lbs. of beans I started my first dyeing journey last Friday.  Here I am on Wednesday and I'm still working on my dyeing, trying to get different shades of blue for a sweater.  I'm hoping for an ombre effect with the light tones on top and the darker blues on the bottom.  I didn't get the range of hues I hoped for, but I'm still very pleased with my results.  Here are my observations and details of what I did in case the blues overtake you too and you want to try.

     Before you start you might want to try the Red Cabbage Test!  What color you get will be determined by your water, not your talent.  To get a blue out of your Black Beans you need neutral water.  And I have read that bottled water is slightly off of neutral (I forget which way).  I have been blessed with water straight off of the 14,000 ft. mountain behind us, Pikes Peak.  They don't add anything, but from experience I know it's high in certain minerals (such as fluoride).  But despite that my water tests proved the water was a perfect #7pH (neutral). Yeah!  When doing the Red Cabbage test you cut up the cabbage, add boiling water and what color you get tells you what pH you have.  A violet means neutral.  Red means an acidic liquid, green alkaline.  If you don't get violet this could be an opportunity to also test what can be added to your water to get neutral pH water. (There are some attempts to adjust peoples' water or get a different color than blue from black beans on the Ravelry thread - Color Variations for Black Beans).

     My first go was an instant (well as instant as a whole day and night can be) success with 5 lbs. of beans (which was a high amount compared to others), I wanted a real dark blueish-grey.  One reason for wanting it dark is that this process produces a non-permanent color, the darker shades will last more.  This is explained in detail in this blog post - NATURAL DYE TUTORIAL: BLUE YARN FROM BLACK BEANS!  I used this blog as my most used go-to reference and the Instructables - NATURAL DYEING WITH BLACK BEANS.  In the blog post, the author experimented with proportions of beans to water to see what shades of blue she could get.  I wanted to start with the really dark shade of blue (the bottom of the sweater).  So I used a 2:1 ratio water to beans.  I measured by putting my black beans in a huge stock pot, then digging my forefinger in and measuring, about an inch, a digit up.  I then filled the pot up with water twice that depth using my finger as a gauge just touching the top of the beans.  After the beans soaked for a bit I could tell I had gotten a very strong brew of blue going.  I kept stirring through the day and a couple of times in the night.  An hour before they hit 24 hr. soak I stopped stirring so the sediment (which grey's the blue down) will settle.  Then I carefully scoped out the water to dye in.  Then I added my prepared yarn, 4 skeins. How to mordant your yarn described below.

    Two skeins I took out at 12 hours (opposed to the usual 24 or 48 hours).  And the other two skeins I left for 48 hours.  At first, I thought I went overboard with the 5 lbs. of beans, but I'm loving the shades I got and if I do it again (which I probably will) I'll go for the big dose of beans and 12 hours.  The earlier batch I thought left more of a bright color, it's a very subtle difference that I like (opposed to the 48 hour batch which was ever-so-slightly darker and a tad greyed down). 

How - To Helpers 

Here's a list of helpful hints I gleaned from the blog posts I read and from reading the Ravelry thread in the group "Plants To Dye For" Color Variations for Black Beans, and what I've learned just doing it.  I suggest you read the Instructables first - NATURAL DYEING WITH BLACK BEANS so you know what I'm referring to.  Also, this blog post really helped me - NATURAL DYE TUTORIAL: BLUE YARN FROM BLACK BEANS!  

This list is somewhat random and not necessarily in order.

  • I tied my yarn with a smaller finger weight yarn at the points where they weren't already tied by KnitPicks to help keep them from tangling (they still look like they'll be a bit of a challenge).

  • First soak your yarn for one hour in water, I made sure it wasn't really cold but room temp. We don't want any fast radical temperature changes so your yarn doesn't felt. Afterwards, I rinsed this yarn several times because I could smell some chemical on the yarn and I wanted as free of chemicals (that might change the color) as possible. Squeeze out as much water as possible.

  • I used alum as a mordant and after reading Cream of Tarter (often referred to as CoT) softened the yarn and made some colors brighter I added it also.  For 5 skeins of yarn, I used 2 Tbls. of Alum and 4 tsp. CoT. Instructables says: "There seem to be a lot of differing opinions on the correct amount of mordant to weight of yarn so I kind of averaged it out to about 8-10% alum."

  • Remember to bring your mordant water up to a low simmer slowly (thankfully I had Superwash because I left my second batch in my teen's hands while I took a walk and came back to it furiously boiling!). Also, don't stir after it is simmering.
  • The water for doing the mordant took 4 hours to cool (part of that outside in the cold). Some recommend starting the day before when you start soaking your beans and letting the yarn and liquid cool overnight. This is what I'll do next time.
  • I rinsed my yarn several times after treating them before soaking in black bean water.

  • Remember don't stir your beans and water an hour before you strain for the liquid.  I soaked for 24 hours.
  • After your beans have soaked for 24 hours - "Do not stir the pots at this point. Remove any bean particles that may be floating on top of the water using a strainer, then transfer the water into your dye pots using a cup or ladle. Be careful not to get any bean particles into your dye pots – they will turn the fabric a grayish color." Dyeing With Black Beans

  • When my dye (bean juice) was ready I carefully scooped it into a bowl using a very fine sieve. 

  •  When I got down to beans and water, I scooped down to the beans then ladled beans into the sieve to drain into a pot, then I scooped 2 overflowing cup measurements of beans in qt. freezer bags (to force air out of the bags I dipped them in a small bowl of water and zipped the bags up). Yes, I have LOTS of beans now for dishes like Huevos Rancheros, chili (see my recipe below) and taco filling.  I then let the bean water sit another couple of hours (my yarn was still hot from mordanting it, I had plenty of time).  Then I strained it again into a large pot (later I found the glass container worked better to cover the yarn).  I did note my first batch was crystal clear, the second from another brand bean was cloudy regardless of what I did.  The first better beans?

  • I had the yarn in a large pot but transferred it to a large glass container with a more narrow base so the liquid would be more vertical and the yarn was covered better. I stirred often.

  • Don't boil your bean water and yarn, this usually greys out the color and doesn't produce blue yarn.

  • Don't refrigerate your bean water and yarn or put outside where cold, this also according to Ravelry users creates a grey tone, not blue.

    • My first 4 skeins were in a water/ bean solution of  2:1. The beans were 5 lbs.  Because this was such a strong concentration I took the first 2 skeins out at 12 hours.  This is the best color result. The next 2 skeins came out at 48 hours and are a tad darker (if you look closely) and a little greyer, making it less bright looking like the 12-hour batch, I liked that one the best.

    • To make a lighter Black Bean dye I got a 2 lbs. bag of beans and started over.  I also used a different ratio of 3:1 water to beans. I also did a 24-hour soak and then put in 3 more skeins.  I liked the look of the soaking yarn the next day and pulled 2 skeins out at about 15 hrs. This is the lighter skeins.  
    • Rinse your skeins when done several times till the water comes out clean.

    • I still have one skein in and I added juices I saved in the refrigerator from the previous 5 lbs. bean soak and I added one more skein, which is also looking on the light side.  So this bean soak with juices from BOTH bean soaks is just about to end (it's getting smellier than I like and I want some in-between tones from what I've gotten). I would not recommend doing this in summer. The cooler temperatures even inside I think enabled me to dye the yarn for quite a long time without it turning into a smelly project.

    • This is my last batch of yarn fresh out of the bean juice.  I mixed the two solutions (having refrigerated the darker earlier batch's leftovers).  I had one skein sitting there for about 44 hours, the other one I threw in yesterday, so maybe 20 hours.  I got a very light (perhaps the lightest yarn) and a lighter medium toned blue.

    • Yarn takes at least two days to dry after everything and I'm in dry Colorado.  I don't want to put them in the sun because it can fade in sunlight.  Remember the darker the shade the more likely the color will last.  More on that in this blog post - NATURAL DYE TUTORIAL: BLUE YARN FROM BLACK BEANS!
    • I have frozen some dyeing juice from both black bean concentrations.  I need one more skein (KnitPicks is out right now) and I'm thinking of getting 2 more skeins of Bare Swish Bulky Yarn so I have plenty leftover in case.

    • If you also want to try some Black Bean yarn dyeing take a look at KnitPicks huge collection of Bare Yarn.  You can dye anything from wool to silk to a cashmere blend.  Also, the skeins are twice the size of the dyed yarn skein at about the same price.
    •  Superwash Yarn has the best results when dyeing with black beans according to other Ravelry dyers.

    And finally, this is the sweater hot off the presses this month that I'm going to start to swatch tomorrow - The Easy Bulky One.  I'm really excited.  There's a KAL (The Easy Ones Knit-Along) going on for those who want to join, and you can do either the bulky version or a fingering weight version - The Easy One.  Of course, you don't need to dye your yarn to start!  I'm totally excited!

    Other Posts on How-To Black Bean Dye-

         I got away from reading this book Bonfire and I'm dying to get back to it.  It's a great mystery but I just needed some light Western Romances for awhile and I read a few oldie but goodies from Linda Lael Miller.  I ran through a part of her McKettrick's series - "McKettrick's Luck", "McKettrick's Pride", and "McKettrick's Heart" - McKettrick's Men.  Now I'm on "Creed's Honor".  I've read them all before years ago, but sometimes I just like a light and warm read, I think this especially is my reaction to the daily news.  Just take me away somewhere else!

    Vegetarian Chili

    This is a simple recipe of opening lots of cans and dumping them in your pot and simmering for an hour.  You can use fresh beans for canned. I did a mix of black beans (soaked and cooked about 3 hours in garlic and onions and some chili powder) and canned kidney beans for my Super Bowl chili.

    Saute onions, add all the rest of ingredients and chopped up garlic, a clove or two. Cook about an hour with the lid on. Serve with grated cheddar cheese, sour cream and I like avocados on it.

    1 or 2 garlic cloves
    2 - 3 canned Kidney beans (use the water in the can only for this bean)
    1 can garbanzo beans (drained)
    1 - 2 cans black beans (drained) or freshly cooked
    2 - 3 cans of Hunts tomatoes with onions & green peppers in it
    Chili powder to taste

    For an amazing finish for the chili make some brownies - Katharine Hepburn’s Brownies, I cut the sugar down to 3/4 cup for an intense chocolate and less sweet brownie.

    Come Join Us at Unraveled Wednesday


    1. Wow, thank you for sharing your dyeing experience! I really love how the colors turned out!

    2. Your yarn came out beautifully!
      Last summer I tried dying a cotton shirt with red cabbage. It was a total disaster, even though I mordanted it and everything! In the end, all I had was white shirt. My husband thought it was pretty funny, so at least someone enjoyed it.

    3. Very pretty....I wonder if it is light fast?

      1. No, it's not, but the darker it is the more color (a lighter version) will last. Check out this blog for pictures from someone else over a 4 yr. period. (End of blog post).

    4. Your color choice is a favorite of mine. Thanks for the process post. It is very interesting to me to see it all HAPPEN. Great blues