Frankenskeins: The Skein Experiments 

In an earlier post, Looks Like a Shower Scene from Psycho, I discussed color bleed, which is when a color from one yarn bleeds into and changes the color of another, turning a beautiful creation into a bleeding monstrosity. After reading differing opinions and approaches on Ravelry threads, I decided to do some experiments and form my own opinions.

Disclaimer. Experiments were not controlled using the same yarn; I used multiple skeins, not a single yarn in the same colorway, on the same base, and from the same dyelot. What I did use were two different sets of mini-skeins that I had purchased for projects. If someone wants to fund my yarn purchases–um, I mean my research–I would be willing to run my experiments with identical yarn. It would also be possible to cut a single skein into many pieces, but I would have to insist on a lab assistant to weave in all my ends.

Materials used: Yarn skeins, lace weight scrap yarn for tying skeins, Amish yarn swift, scissors, glass bowl, Kookabura Wool Wash, vinegar, Dawn dishwashing detergent, warm (not hot) water, and bath towels.

Yarn: One set of hand-dyed mini-skeins from Leading Men Fiber Arts and one set of mini-skeins from Miss Babs. Both sets contained skeins with reddish and purple tones, colors said to be the most problematic for color bleed.

I may have mentioned before that I want to just sit down and start knitting, all this pre-knitting stuff just delays take-off. Winding skeins of yarn into cakes is another one of those pre-knitting things that cannot be avoided. If everything goes well, the yarn is skeined without snags and tangles, the winder runs smoothly, and the ball comes off the winder cleanly, then I usually do not mind it very much, but it is not my favorite thing. It was certainly not something I wanted to un-do as I had to for one set of these skeins that I had already wound last week. But for the sake of science; if pre-washing is going to save my finished project from looking like Tammy Faye’s streaking mascara after a good cry then one must do what one must do.

The first experiment was with the brightest, fuschia color mini-skein from Leading Men Fiber Arts. I re-skeined it from the ball onto the swift and, using some scrap yarn, tied it in 4 places using a figure eight type method. I used lace weight, but string or any contrasting yarn should work. My little YouTube video shows how I tied the skeins.

How to Tie a Skein

I used a glass bowl to observe the amount of color-bleed. One of the things I read was that wool wash made things worse. It may be so because it bled the most and I did not repeat this method. When I first put it into the warm water, the water remained clear but when I checked it 20 minutes later there was a lot of color in the water. I rinsed it several times, not letting the running water touch the yarn so as to be as gentle as possible, and rinse after rinse color kept coming out. I soaked for another 20 minutes in plain water and did more rinses, still color was coming out. I changed the water to a warm water and vinegar solution and set the timer for 10 minutes, which turned into 40 minutes because my daughter called and I found I was more interested in what she had to say than playing Dr. Frankenstein. Call ended and water drained, I rinsed several more times and still some color drained out and leeched onto the towel. Speaking of towels, I threw it in and hoped I had done enough to not ruin my finished product. Looks like I will be relying on crossed fingers and the color capture sheets for this skein.



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The next four skeins were increasing shades of purple. I  did them, two-at-a time,  in a vinegar and water solution. No bleed, even after sitting 20 minutes. The final mini-skein in the set is black, and as I am mixing it with gray I am going to let myself believe that a little smudge of black on gray will not show, remembering that my color capture sheet will be there for the bright bleeding fuschia skein.

The Miss Babs set had a range of a reddish color to muted purples, the final two colors were close enough to the warm grayish background color so as not to worry about it. Because my fuschia in the other set was the most problematic, I did the reddish yarn by itself in vinegar and water. No bleeding. I did the next two in vinegar and water with the same result. I then changed the solution, putting a few drops of Dawn liquid in the bowl and adding some warm water. There were so many suds that I poured some out and diluted it a bit. I soaked the final two skeins in the Dawn and, once again, did not observe any color bleeding.

I ordered some organic, minimal ingredient hand soap and will try a squirt of that next time I wash skeins. I looked online for organic shampoo for color treated hair but, other than the one I found at $35 for 8 ounces, I was not conformatable with the ingredients lists. One for $17 looked promising, but it just said “safe for color treated hair” and I am not sure it is the same thing.

Conclusions. I think I am sold on the vinegar and water for a pre-soak. I am definitely sold on the concept of pre-soaking when it comes to a multi-color project. At this point, I am not trying to clean the yarn so I do not need a sudsing agent. If the water serves to release loose dye and the vinegar helps set the color, that seems like a reasonable first step.

However, I do like to wash a project after it has been dragged around to knitting groups, dropped on the floor, and pushed aside or shoved into knitting bags. For a project that is all one yarn or a knit with similar hues, my Kookabura is probably just fine. When it comes to a multi-colored project I am going to avoid using wool wash and look to other options. I am interested in trying the minimal ingredient organic hand wash I just ordered, and the Dawn certainly is another option. I think I am okay with missing the bus on the shampoo for color treated hair but if I come across a formula that looks mild enough I might give it a shot. The color capture sheets are definitely going into the bath, no matter what I use as a washing agent.

The yarn still looks saturated in color, I did not observe any noticeable fading. After the yarn dries it will be interesting to see if the yarn feels different after being soaked in wool wash, vinegar, or Dawn.

With my pre-washed yarn and a plan for washing at the end, I am ready to start my project and, as always, hope it is a beautiful creation, not a bleeding monstrosity.



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