The last few weeks have been jam-packed, so I’m going to tell the story over a few blog posts. This one is about my Anything-Worth-Doing-Is-Worth-Overdoing Procion MX dye sample project.
The adventure started with a trip to spend Christmas with my family. The first challenge was packing for the trip. In addition to five fruitcakes, Christmas gifts, and clothes, I needed to pack 500 ten-gram skeins of cotton dye samples from the massive sample-dyeing project I did over the summer. My friend Carla and I had agreed to split the work: I would dye all 1500 skeins, and she would wind two sets of dye sample cards, one for me and one for her. She had wound 1,000 skeins onto cards already; I was bringing her the last 500 skeins. Which, of course, meant figuring out how to pack it.
For the uninitiated, 500 ten-gram skeins is a LOT of yarn. If you’re wondering how much, here’s a picture showing one set of samples – 250 skeins.
500 skeins, of course, is double that volume. We’re talking a giant suitcase full of yarn!
Which led to the first challenge – how do you bring an entire suitcase worth of yarn, plus clothes, etc. for your trip, when you only have one suitcase?
I thought I had solved that problem – buy an inexpensive duffel bag, stuff the clothes and non-breakable stuff into the duffel bag, and put the yarn in the suitcase. (Because if the airline destroyed the duffel bag, going around naked in the dead of winter would be way better than losing my dye samples. (Priorities!)) Then, once the skeins were delivered, I could fold the duffel bag and stick it into the suitcase.
All went well until I started packing. The first problem was predictable (and adorable!):
Both cats find luggage irresistible, of course. After all, what is luggage but a giant box? And what are boxes for, but to sit in?
Fortunately, I solved this problem long ago. I pulled out a couple other suitcases, opened them and set them on the bed, and started putting clothes into one of the other suitcases. Sensing an opportunity to get in the way, the cats immediately ran over and sat in the decoy suitcase. And I got the duffel bag. (Hey, when you’re just a lowly cat-slave human, you gotta be tricky!)
After I started packing, however, I realized there was a problem. I had an entire suitcase worth of yarn. I also had a half-suitcase of fruitcakes and Christmas gifts too fragile to put into a duffel bag. Basic physics says that you cannot fit 1.5 suitcases’ worth of stuff into 1 suitcase, even if you are a stupendous packer.
Anyone else would have figured this out days ago. But I got Cs in physics in college – it was my single worst subject. (Although, physics at Caltech is not exactly easy.) And I majored in math. There’s a reason Techers don’t let math majors figure out the bill at restaurants: we’re notoriously incompetent at basic arithmetic. So there was no obvious reason that I would have noticed that 1.5 is bigger than 1. Except, of course, that even a nitwit would have noticed this and bought another suitcase.
But I hadn’t. So there I was – the afternoon before leaving, short one suitcase. And we were going to the airport before dawn, so no opportunity to get a suitcase tomorrow, either.
Amazon PrimeNow to the rescue! It took over an hour (probably because it was December 23), but they delivered a giant suitcase that would be perfect for the job. I gleefully threw my yarn into the new suitcase, and we flew off to Maryland.
In between family celebrations and various get-togethers with friends, I got together with Carla, and together we surveyed our skeins. Here’s a photo showing most of our work:
It’s hard to convey the amount of yarn involved, but it filled up most of the room – I had to get creative to capture everything in a single shot. There are 1,250 hand-dyed skeins and 750 hand-wound sample cards – a total of 27.5 pounds of yarn. (250 skeins were completed and shipped to me in California already, so this is only 5/6 of the project.)
The skeins I brought are at the top of this shot:
And here are the boxes full of leftover skeins. (Each skein started at 10 grams, but after winding the cards and a few mini-skeins, there were still 7 grams left over.)
Finally, here is the stack of neatly-wound cards:
Each book contains 125 samples, representing all possible combinations of three different dyes (a red, a blue, and a yellow) at 5 different concentrations.
Here’s a closeup of a single page:
Each card has a label on it with the names and concentrations of the three dyes that were used to produce the card. Here’s a closeup of a single card:
Each label starts with the Color Index (CI) name for the dye. This is the “species name” of the dye – its unique identifier within the industry. The CI name never changes, whereas the “common name” of the dye can vary between suppliers. (For example, the Blue MX-2G on this card is called “Cobalt Blue” by Dharma Trading Company and “Mixing Blue” by Pro Chemical and Dye.)
Since no dye supplier actually uses the CI name, the second name is more descriptive. Since I bought my dyes from Pro Chemical and Dye, I decided to use their names for the dye colors, abbreviating them to fit onto the card. The full names of the dyes are Sun Yellow, Mixing Red, and Mixing Blue.
The last part of each line is the amount of each dye used. In this sample, 0.12% of Sun Yellow has been mixed with 0.25% Mixing Blue. There is no Mixing Red in this sample.
I’m in the process of documenting the project. I’ve been photographing each set of samples, trying to get the color as accurate as possible. For tediously technical reasons, taking photos that are true to color is really difficult. I’ve spent at least 10-12 hours fiddling with color checkers, gray cards, lighting, different cameras, and different kinds of post-processing. Each test shot was evaluated against the real-life sample cards on a monitor color-calibrated using a equipment borrowed from a professional photographer.
So far I’ve photographed 500 samples, with 500 left to go. Once I’ve gotten all the samples photographed, cropped, and color-corrected, I plan to put them up on my website, along with documentation about the dyeing methodology and process. Of course, the samples won’t be totally accurate to color – partly due to the limitations of my equipment, but mostly because monitors are notorious for shifting colors, so unless your monitor has been calibrated using photographic calibration equipment, what you see will be different from what I see. But it will hopefully give people some idea of how colors mix in dyeing. And, of course, if you put the time and money into calibrating your monitor, you’ll have something fairly accurate.
It’s getting late here and this post is getting too long, so I’ll end here, and take up the next part of my recent adventures in my next blog post. But I’ll leave you with a hint about a later part of my trip…with cats, of course! (Because, as Fritz and Tigress know, everything is better with cats!)
Lynne Rettberg says
Ian Bowers says
Just as an ‘excuse me’, George Weil (www.gerogeweil.com) labels all its Procion dyes on the container (not on the web site) with the MX codes, for exactly the reason you quote; reproducability.
Mary Coburn says
Love reading your stories!
Eileen Crawford says
Your dye work is exquisite. I look forward to the color card photos being available. Cats rule.
Elizabeth Santarpio says
Tien, you are amazing. Your creative energy gets me going every time I read one of your posts!
Terri Bryson says
I enjoyed this post a lot! Looking forward to more. Thank you.
Linda Morehouse says
Love the dye colors. Can’t wait to see the final product.
Cats. I have two as well. They KNOW you will be leaving when you haul out the suitcases! Mine want me to stay, so they impede the progress. I have taken to arranging my open suitcases in the garage and then taking stuff-to-go out there and finally packing it all at the end. This way I shorten their separation anxiety time. But when I get home they are just as eager to help me unpack!
Thanks for sharing. Your blogs are fun to read.