How To Paint a Warp

I am super excited to start this project! My very good friend is going to be a grandma soon and I wanted to weave an extra special blanket for her first grandchild. For as long as I could remember, her daughter, Kaitlyn, has been fascinated with outer space. In fact, Kaitlyn attended the University of Michigan and majored in aerospace engineering. So, it wasn’t too much of a surprise when Kaitlyn decided to decorate the nursery in a space themed decor. So I scoured the internet for ideas. This is my inspiration photo.

To get the blending of colors from the sun out to the deep dark space I decided what I really needed to do was to use a painted warp. I’m relatively new to painting warps, but I’ve learned a few tricks along the way so I’m ready to get this project going!

One of the first lessons I learned is that the colors that you see on the internet displaying the colors of dyes doesn’t always match reality. My aunt Dee Dee and I have quite a few dyes in our collection so we took the time to create samples of each color in three shades of intensity (pale, medium and dark). Most of the time I’m okay with surprises, but for this project I really wanted the colors to match as closely as possible to the inspiration picture.

I will be using 8/2 cotton for this blanket. This means I need to use dye that is specific for this yarn. I will be using Pro MX Fiber Reactive Dye from ProChem. I will be mostly following the directions on their website- with just a few of my own modifications. Don’t worry- I’ll let you know when I vary from the official directions.

Winding the Warp

Just a few little things about winding the warp that will help make the dyeing process easier. Again, I will be using 8/2 cotton and will be weaving this blanket at 24 ends per inch (epi). I want the blanket to be 35 inches on the loom so that means that I will need 840 ends plus two floating selvages (total 842 ends). As you can tell from my grid above, not each color is represented equally- I have a small sliver of yellow for the sun and then a good share of the blanket will be the darker colors. I decided to wind 9 separate warp chains on the warping board (one- 101 ends, seven 100 ends and one 41 ends). Because there are color changes within each warp chain it’s really important to keep the ends in order. To keep those ends steady and in order, I used chip clips which I numbered. When I put the warp chains into the lease sticks, I’ll keep them in order as well.

Making Your Solutions

I like to make all my solutions before I start. You will need three different solutions in addition to your actual dyes- urea water, a soaking solution and paste (optional).

The urea water will be needed to mix your dye. To make this water solution, dissolve 150 grams of urea in one and a half quarts of very hot water. Let the water cool to room temperature before using.

I will be using soda ash to make the soaking solution, but Pro Dye Activator works too. To make the soaking solution, dissolve 40 grams of soda as in 1/2 gallon of water.

Print paste is used to thicken your dye. Using print paste is optional, but adding a teaspoon or two to the dye I find is helpful. To make the paste, measure 55 grams into a dry container and one cup of warm water into another. Gradually add the paste to the water while stirring and then let the paste stand for at least an hour.

Applying the Soaking Solution

First I needed to lay out the warp. As you can see, I’m doing this project in the garage so I can have space. I pushed two tables together, covered them with plastic shower curtains and then laid layers of saran wrap on top of it. I then laid out the warp. As you can see in the picture below I have chip clips placed periodically down the warp. I did this to keep the ends in order on each warp chain. I’ll be sure to remove them as as wet the warp.

Now to apply the soaking solution. In the directions on the Pro Chem site, they say that you can apply the soaking solution on the warp and then either apply your dye while it’s wet or wait until it dries. It all depends on the effect you want in your warp. I painted a warp with this particular cotton before and I was struggling to get the colors to blend even when applied to the wet soak solution. So what I decided to do was to wet the warp, cover it with saran wrap and let it sit overnight to be sure the solution fully saturated the yarn.

Mixing the Dye

I decided to work in groups of three warp chains at a time starting with the lightest color. For my first group I used clear yellow- dark, butterscotch- medium, butterscotch- dark and rosewood. The directions on the Pro Chem site indicates that to create a dark color you need 10 grams of dye to 1 cup of urea water, for medium- 5 grams of dye for 1 cup of urea water. To mix the dye, put the powder in glass and then mix in 1/4 cup of urea water. Stir until dissolved and add a teaspoon or two of the print paste if desired. Once dissolved, add in the remaining 3/4 cup of water. I mixed the dye for each section making sure I labeled the dye cups.

Applying the Dye

There are different tools for applying dye. Sometimes I use the sponge brushes, but this time I’m going to give these paintbrushes a try. I purchased these in bulk from Menards and I like how the bristles are different sizes and they are soft. I think these will work better for really getting into each yarn thread.

Now I just literally painted the warp. I removed the saran wrap as I moved down the warp chain to be sure the yarn did not dry out before I was ready to paint it.

I wanted the blending of colors (opposed to stripes) so I overlapped colors. The saturation of the yarn certainly helped. Let’s see how that turned out with my first section.

When painting, be sure that the dye goes all the way through the yarn. I often move the yarn around a bit and check on the back side to be sure all the white is covered by dye. After completing each section, I covered it with saran wrap. Once it was completely painted and covered, the warp needs to sit for at least 4 hours in a room no less than 70 degrees for the dye to cure – I let mine set overnight to ensure those dark colors had a chance to dye the yarn.

Rinsing the Warp

The next day I removed the warp from the saran warp and dipped each warp chain in warm water. I used my Home Depot buckets to rinse the warp. After changing the water a few times I hand rinsed the chains under running water until the water ran clear.

Now just hang to dry.

The Finished Painted Warp

So this is how it looks like on the loom.

Pretty close- what do you think?

Notes for Next Time

I’m really pleased with how the warp turned out. There were a few adjustments that I had to make along the way. First, the rosewood color (red around the sun) came out quite a bit lighter than what I expected so I went back and re-dyed that part using rust orange at the dark intensity. The deep dark space didn’t come out as dark as I wanted either. Funny how the deep black was lighter than the deep navy. I re-dyed chains 1, 2, and 3 to make them darker as well. I wasn’t able to get that black so I had to settle for a dark, dark blue. In terms of what went well:

  • Letting the soak solution sit on this cotton overnight was really helpful in having the cotton accept the dye
  • The print paste is almost a necessity.
  • Once dyed, having the warp sit covered for 24 hours was helpful in having the greatest amount of dye seep into the yarn.
  • After dyeing, tying the warp change every 2-3 feet was helpful in keeping the yarn straight and decreased the amount of tangling while rinsing.
  • If possible, keep some dye of each color until you finish weaving the project just in case you have a broken warp string.

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