Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Guar Gum

I have mentioned using guar gum in a few of my previous posts with a note promising more information on it, so here is that post :)

Sometimes, when applying dye to my yarn, I need to dye to stay if a very specific spot, and I do not want it to bleed into the surrounding yarn/dyes.  In order to do this, the dye stock needs to be thickened.  Enter, guar gum
Any brand will do, this just happened to be what they carried at my local Bulk Barn
Typically used as a thickening agent in food, particularly gluten free recipes, this nifty little powder is great at thickening up your dye stock.  You can usually find it in the grocery store in the gluten free section, or at places like Bulk Barn. I always have trouble pronouncing the name, but luckily, as long as you are close, most places will know what you are looking for.

I first heard about guar gum in tomboyknits Unicorn Farts tutorial. I highly recommend you read this, as the resulting yarn is awesome, and the explanation of the technique of applying it is very detailed. I used the technique to make some Santa Farts, and Mrs. Claus Farts yarns last year.

It can be a bit fussy to work with, as it doesn't always like to blend nicely in water, and I don't have a blender, so that is where my little helper, glycerin comes in handy.
You can pick this up pretty cheap at the drug store or the pharmacy section of any other store. 

I like to mix up the desired amount of guar gum (see info below on how much) with about a teaspoon or so of glycerin, until it is nice and smooth, then add it to one of my squeeze bottles that is about 3/4 full of very warm water. (Here are my bottles, not with water in them though...sorry, only picture I have right now)
Any squeeze bottle will do - these just happen to be ones I got on sale. These are Wilton Candy Melt bottles.

I then add the drops of food colouring, make sure the top is screwed on tightly, and that either the little red cap is on, or for the one missing the cap, make sure my finger is securely over the top of the tip, and shake the crap out of the bottle until everything is mixed. Using very warm water will help mix everything together smoothly.

If you are still seeing lumps, you can do a couple of things. You can try to microwave it for about 30 seconds to heat it up a bit more and shake it again, to see if it will blend.  Sometimes this will help, unless you have a really big lump. These bottles are not supposed to be microwaved, so don't do it for very long...

The other thing you can do, which will also make your life easier when you get to the application stage, is to strain the mixture into another bottle, although this can be tricky. I like to put the second bottle inside of a large cup or mug, to hold it in place, put a funnel in the bottle, put a fine wire strainer over top of the funnel, and pour the dyestock through the strainer, and the funnel, into the new bottle.  This sometimes requires more hands that I have, so this is sort of a last resort. I usually find if you mix the powder really well with the glycerin first, you wont have as much of an issue with the lumps.

Another thing to watch out for with the lumps is them getting caught in the tip of the bottle. If this happens, stop, take the top off the bottle and try to rinse out the lump. Don't try to just squeeze past it.... think dye stock explosion when the lump finally gets through, or the top pops off (been there, done that...at least twice). You should also do some test squeezes on a paper towel or something, so you know what to expect when you start applying it to you yarn, and to make sure you don't have leaky bottle.  You could also use a medical syringe for this, but due to the thickness of the dye, it may be a bit more work trying to squeeze it through the smaller opening in the syringe. I prefer the bottles, since I can mix it in the bottle, and then apply it from the bottle.

So how much do you use?
There are some great stories out there on Ravelry from people who use a little (or maybe a lot) too much guar gum and the adventures they had rinsing it out. If you are on Ravelry, check out the notes on this stash page by VintageNettles. So it is good to have a starting point to work from.  It is one of those thing that you will fine tune with time and practice.

According to the tomboyknits tutorial, for most colours you can use 1/4 of a teaspoon per 8 oz of dyestock. For red and purple, which tend to bleed a lot faster, 1/2 a teaspoon is recommended.  My bottles are 8 oz, and I don't fill them all the way, but I still use either 1/4 or 1/2 teaspoon per bottle. I tend to use the 1/2 more than the 1/4, because I like to have really thick dye to work with.

Once you have the dye stock the consistency you are looking for, you can start applying it to your yarn. Here is one yarn I was working on where I wanted some thin black stripes in between my coloured sections. I made up a black dyestock using 50 drops of Wilton Color Right food colouring and 1/2 teaspoon of guar gum.

As you can see, the stripes are behaving quite nicely, and the lines are relatively crisp. Any unevenness is due to the yarn moving more than anything else. If you look at the full size picture, you will actually see that the black is staying quite nicely in place while the purple is bleeding under the black and through to the other side of the black stripe.

 Using the method from tomboyknits' tutorial (which I highly recommend you read if you have not done so yet), I squeezed the dye onto the yarn close to where I wanted the stripes to send, the gently pushed the dye to where I wanted it to go. Gloves are definitely a must when doing this part, as is extra paper towel!

I also like to separate the yarn and make sure the dye is getting as deep into is as I can, usually pushing the tip of the bottle into the yarn and squirting a little, then carefully squishing it around.  I then flipped the yarn over and did the same on the other side.

One thing I have noticed working with guar gum and superwash yarn is that sometimes, by the time you turn the yarn over, the other side is coated in the leftover guar gum from the dyestock you used on the front of the skein. Much like water will soak through when using regular dye stock, but in this case, you have thickened the water.  I have sometimes had to wipe that off to get the dye to penetrate properly on the other side of the yarn.  I have talked to other dyers about this, and they don't seem to have the same issue. I know that a few of them are not using superwash, so that could be a factor. They may also not be making their dyestock as thick as I am.

When all your dye is applied, heat set as you would normally do. For me, that is wrapping in plastic wrap and using the microwave.

Caution - Guar gum will get, and stay, insanely hot from the microwave! If you used a lot of it, don't try to take the plastic wrap off early, and don't try to wash it too soon. Give it the time it needs to cool.  The guar gum is thick, and not only is it crazy hot, it will also stick to your skin a lot more than regular hot water does!

Once your yarn has cooled, you are ready to wash and rinse. It may take a bit more effort washing the yarn to get the guar gum out, so be prepared to give it a couple of washes to get it all out.

The final yarn I made with the black stripes looked like this after washing and rinsing:

And the test swatch knit up like this, with my black stripes giving me about 3 stitches per stripe:

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