Dyeing cashmere

I go through my closets regularly to throw away any unnecessary items. These two cashmere cardigans have haunted me for years.

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They are not super expensive top quality cashmere but they are soft and warm and expensive for me. However, the colour doesn’t do me any favours in neither of these cardigans and I don’t know why on earth I did buy them in the first place! (Probably, because they were the two least ugly colours available…) The blue is so 50s ice-cream bar cutie blue and the gray makes me look mousy. The pearly buttons do not help. I’ve been dreaming of dyeing these cardigans but I couldn’t find any advice on how to do it online. The fabric dye packages available to me never mentioned cashmere among the suitable fabrics. Finally I took a risk. I bought some Nitor Allfärg – Yleisväri fabric dye that is suitable for both wool and silk.

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Here are instructions for someone trying to do the same. However, I take no responsibility if you use these instructions and do damage to your knits or yourself! Also, the way of doing things might be different with other brands of fabric dyes.

The instructions follow the Nitor package instructions for wool.

This is what you need:

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  1. Cashmere knit (weigh it and use the right amount of dye for the weight!)
  2. A huge kettle (10 litres)
  3. A smaller kettle or a bowl
  4. Fabric dye
  5. Water kettle
  6. Vinegar and apple vinegar
  7. A measuring set
  8. Masking tape
  9. A food thermometer
  10. A stove
  11. A wash basin
  12. A big spoon for stirring (not in the picture)
  13. Rubber gloves (not in the picture)
  14. A dark coloured towel

First, I removed the buttons that I was not going to keep, and that could have caused uneven dyeing result. However, this step is optional. Then, fill the basin with cold water and put the garment to soak. While the fibers slowly absorb water you can make the preparations.

During my first attempt the food thermometer caused problems by getting tangled in the fabric when I was stirring the mixture. On the following dyeing projects I used masking tape to tape the thermometer to the side of the kettle. I left the end of the thermometer free to make the reading more accurate, though. The masking tape was also handy at fastening the thermometer wire out of the way.

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Boil 1 litres of water in the kettle (or boil it on the stove). Pour the hot water to the smaller kettle. Add the dye. The Nitor colours are mixable. I wanted to make the light blue cardigan darker blue, so I used just the blue fabric dye. However, I couldn’t really find dark green fabric dye at the store so I had to settle for some olive green. I had some blue dye left, so I added half a tee spoon of the blue to the mix.

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Mix the colours in. To test the colour I used a piece of kitchen roll:

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Pour the mixture to the big kettle and add 7 to 10 litres of water. (I used 7,5 litres. Remember to leave room for the fabric and some room for stirring.) Following the instructions, I added 1 dl of vinegar:

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Now you can take the fabric that has been soaking. Squeeze gently most of the water out and lower the fabric to the dye solution. Turn on the stove and start stirring with a big spoon. (Btw. the plastic spoon absorbed some dye. I recommend using a metallic spoon or a spoon that you don’t mind ruining.)

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Now the booooring part starts. You have to stir the pot all the time. Do not stop or you get ugly spots. I also kept folding the fabric carefully and pushing the fabric under the surface as it kept floating. It takes maybe half an hour or more to bring the liquid to the required 80-90 degrees of Celsius. After that you have to pay close attention to the thermometer to prevent the solution for heating up more. Nitor instructions call 40 minutes of dyeing time for dark colours I was using. When the time is close to ending you actually notice the dyeing solution becoming more and more transparent as the dye is being transferred to the fabric fibers.

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When the time is up it is time to cool the fabric down – slowly!  Pour out some of the dyeing solution and add some cool water. Stir and repeat. Then when you think that the solution is close to the hot water temperature from the tap, fill the sink or basin with hot tap water and transfer the fabric there. Use rubber gloves to prevent burns! Continue simultaneously cooling and rinsing until the temperature is about 30 degrees and the extra dye has left the fabric. Add half a dl of apple vinegar to the last rinse.

Squeeze gently most of the water away, spread the knit over a thick dark coloured towel and roll the dyed knit with the towel in a roll to absorb the water. Finally spread the fabric to dry on a horizontal surface to prevent stretching.

When the cardigans were dry I selected some pretty buttons and sewed them on. I really love metallic buttons so it’s no wonder that both of the cardigans got gorgeous metallic buttons. Especially I love the ones in the blue sweater that I found in Helsinki. With the blue sweater the project did not end there. The fabric dye did not dye the light blue polyester thread used in the buttonholes, so I got some blue buttonhole silk and resewed the buttonholes to cover the light blue thread. It was a cumbersome task but worth it. The buttonholes now blend in and the cardigan looks professionally finished.

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I am very happy with my dyeing result. The cashmere knit did not suffer in the slightest and the colour is nice and even. Now I can wrap myself in these gorgeous forest green and royal blue cardigans. It’s been a few weeks and I have already used both of them several times.

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