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Wool Dyeing – Equipment Needed For Advanced Methods
This is the second in a series of articles on dyeing wool using three basic methods, metric measurement, liquid dye, and percentage formulas. In the first part, I described an overview of the methods used for dyeing wool and their reasons. In this section, I will go into more detail about the devices I prefer to use.
These methods can be adapted to dyeing all kinds of wool fibers, from fleece to worsted and yarn, because they are based on the weight of the wool, not the dimensions. In fact, you could dye other fibers and materials using the same equipment and methods I’ve described. Indeed, all of the information below and in future articles can be adapted as it will likely need to be adapted to suit the dye product being used and the fiber being dyed. So even if you’re dyeing silk, cotton, or other fibers, read on!
The following are ideas and suggestions for using accessories – at least for the devices that have worked well for me. At the end of the article I will provide links and other information on where to find these supplies.
I always use white wool or the lightest possible natural wool. This keeps the purchase of raw materials to a minimum and also streamlines the important variable of analyzing primary colors. For example, if you are looking at two similar colors of wool with the goal of creating a color between the two, it would be much more difficult to use two different base colors for the two pieces, which changes the color formulas for the colors used to overdye them. so very different. But finding that in-between color is much easier if you look at two wool colors that are both created on white or natural wool with the same three primary colors. By standardizing the primary color and using only primary colors, both formulas are related. So an intermediate color is obtained by a mathematical formula that lies somewhere between two other similar mathematical formulas. When I make a mistake mixing a formula, I often catch it by comparing the resulting color to the colors on both of its mathematical sides, if it doesn’t follow the logical progression of colors, which colors do. This systematic approach has created a predictability of painting that is very satisfying and comfortable. If I want a special effect using a different base color, I can always dye white wool over that base and then finish the special effect. I find this occasional need for a two-step process to be preferable to stockpiling many colors of wool.
I use ProChem wash-fast acid dyes, buying three of the primary colors they offer. These dyes can produce a full range of colors in many values, from near white to deep black – just about any color I could ever want. While basic colors can produce standard shades of gray and black, I’ve found that these formulas don’t work as well for special effects like gradient colors. The formula tends to separate into components as the color develops, giving an unpredictable result. Not that it isn’t usable or desirable in certain circumstances, it just might not be what I want. Thus, ProChem’s pre-made black is more predictable and therefore preferable for distressing and aging and highly mottled effects. Regular browns and tans are also more difficult to produce with consistency, so a regular dyer may want to stock gray, black, and/or some browns with the primary colors.
I do two types of dyeing, each with its own process and cookware:
Testing colors on small pieces of wool to find new colors
Dyeing large pieces of wool for own use or for sale.
I test the colors on 4-gram pieces of wool (5″ x 5″ in 13oz wool), one piece in six beakers half-filled with water, microwaved in a dry crock pot (just to store them – any stable non-metallic container will do). I use 300ml scientific beakers because they are built to withstand repeated heating and cooling without breaking. They are thin so I find them easier to handle and I can fit more in a pot or casserole dish. (Mason jars are fine for a regular dyer.) I’ve tested literally thousands of pieces of wool and have found the microwave to be the most convenient and certainly the most cost-effective method. I’ve also tried placing the beakers or jars in a water bath on the stove and in the oven, but I found the process more time-consuming and logistically difficult, so I’ve stuck with the microwave. You may find that you prefer a different method, so use whatever method works for you as long as the water in each jar is simmering. If you use the microwave, be careful when heating water in small pots. When it boils well, it can sometimes suddenly “explode” or “pop” which can burn you. If the water is close to boiling, wear protective gloves over the hands and wrists. In all my hundreds of batches, this has happened twice, and one of those times I got nasty burns.
For large pieces of wool, I use the standard stainless steel pots that many dyers use. If you’re using an electric stove, you may need to put something extra between the burner and the wool, unless you’re using a good, heavy pot. A thin metal pot resting directly on the burner will absorb the color of the wool placed against the bottom of the pot, causing dark spots. So you have two options. To avoid this, a spacer can be placed between the pot and the burner or a vegetable steamer can be placed at the bottom of the pot. I personally prefer a vegetable steamer because then I can protect the wool while leaving the pot directly on the burner, so the water heats up faster. (I’m always in a hurry.)
I use a gram-accurate digital scale of 3000 grams with a bin for storing wool. It’s compact, easy to use, not too expensive and does the job.
For small pieces I use 1 ml, 3 ml, 5 ml and 10 ml syringes. For larger pieces, I use 20ml syringes or 250ml plastic beakers. To measure even larger amounts, I use ProChem’s plastic jugs rated to 1000 ml, and I’ve tested and found that the graduations on these larger containers follow the ml graduations on the smaller syringes and beakers pretty closely, so when measuring different amounts. of dye, I feel confident that if I measure part of the formula in a jug and part in a very small syringe, the formula ratios will still be accurate. I have tried other sizes of syringes and jugs but have found them to be less reliable when it comes to marking accuracy, although this may just be an issue with the specific products I have come across. It may not matter all that much to the casual dyer, but if you’re into precision dyeing, there’s definitely something to it, as evidenced by my pile of rejected dyes. And remember that the markings rub off on many syringes after repeated use, so try to avoid touching the numbers and graduation lines while you’re working.
I use Synthrapol or the original Dawn fluid (very similar, chemically) to reduce surface tension during painting.
I use either citric acid or vinegar to lower the pH of the dye bath, and if you can get your hands on “acid salt” at a reasonable price (you can sometimes find it in dented cans) that works because it’s pure citric acid. As most dyes say, using vinegar is much more expensive in the long run, so if you plan to dye in quantity, use citric acid, which is also more convenient and pleasant to use.
I use stainless steel chopsticks for mixing – they work great for testing colors in small pots and work well in large pots for pieces up to ½ yard. I bought several pairs and keep them in a beaker filled with water while I paint. This keeps them flushed when I’m mixing several pots with dramatically different colors at once, especially if I’m mixing black in one pot and pale yellow in the other. It’s amazing how a little black dye stuck to a chopstick can turn a pale yellow color. (Don’t ask how I know.) I also like them because they don’t absorb dye and are compact and easy to store. Not great for picking rice though.
I use Glauber’s salt to keep the colors even on the wool, that’s how I sell it — just slightly mottled. The salt molecules compete with the dye molecules to bond with the wool molecules, effectively slowing down the binding of the dye to the wool and thereby preventing the dye from “grabbing” the stains. For most colors this regular mixing is not a problem and I don’t use it for most of the colors in my collection. But with light browns, tans, grays, and some very dull blues, greens, and purples, even color is important, especially in the lighter tones to the midrange. I don’t use it on the darker levels because I find it dramatically slows the absorption of the yellow dye when there is a lot of dye in the pot, often doubling the processing time. If you prefer an uneven color and/or don’t mind a little serendipity in the paint pot sometimes, leave out the salt. If you want to use it, I find regular table salt works well too.
Below are some sources for finding supplies. I distribute these articles to several article sites, some of which have strict limits on the number of URLs that can be used in an article, so I give the names and I believe you can easily find them on the web.
Dorr Mill – wool (I have also used other sources such as Woolrich)
ProChemical & Dye – dyes, plastic beakers, jugs, citric acid, Glauber’s salt, Synthrapol
SKS science.com – Glass beakers (also available at other science or laboratory locations)
Vintage Will Knott Scales, Online – Scale (search for “My Weigh 3001P”)
cooking.com – Stainless steel chopsticks, vegetable steamer (can also be found in other kitchen stores)
Syringes Your local pharmacy will often give you several 1ml syringes with a sliding tip (no needle) for free if you smile sweetly and don’t ask too often. (They may also have 3ml syringes available.) They offer them to everyone as a courtesy. I want 3-4 at once. You can also find 10 ml syringes at the pharmacy for a few dollars. These sizes are the basics for color testing small pieces of wool and I often use them for larger pieces too – even dyeing 1/2 yard requires only 10ml of dye for a 5% (pale) value. eBay and eCrater are also good online sources for syringes of all sizes. Look for veterinary syringes for larger sizes (60ml is common), although I’ve found ProChem’s 250ml jugs to be more accurate and just as easy to use. I’ve been looking online for medical supply companies for syringes, but haven’t been able to come up with a price, but if you find a good source, let me know!
If you want a short and comprehensive list of devices you need to try this method, here it is. Much of it you have at home or know where to get without my help.
Sun yellow color 119
WF Magenta color 338
Brilliant blue color 490
Black color 672
Brown color (optional, also available at ProChem)
Citric acid or distilled vinegar
Glauber’s salt or table salt (optional)
Dishwashing liquid Synthrapol or Dawn
Plastic Jugs – 5-6 in 250ml size, 2-3 in 1000ml size
(All of the above can be found at ProChem.)
1 ml, 3 ml, 10 ml syringes
A useful spoon for scooping out dyes when weighing (any old teaspoon or measuring spoon will do)
Screw-top milk jugs (or smaller jugs if desired) to hold dye
In addition, if you are trying on colors, you will need:
6-12 beakers or mason jars
Casserole or other flat dish
Microwave (preferably for coloring)
6-8 additional small glasses or cups for mixing mixtures
Or to paint larger pieces:
3-4 large stainless steel or enameled pots, about 20 liters
Vegetable steamers (optional)
I hope this information helps you get started. In the fourth part, I describe how I try colors. This is a fun project that I guarantee will wear you out if you’re not careful! You’ll need to set aside several days for this, depending on how thorough you want to be. I can’t be held responsible if it turns into weeks. By this time, your family will be hoping to cook soup in pots instead of wool – better stock up on frozen dinners!
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