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May '09

Pancake Dye

It’s nice to be back on the blog!  I had no idea, when posting the lesson on scrolls, that it would be 2 days before I could get back on the site.  To those of you who sent me personal inquiries as to my health and safety – Thank You.  As a general rule of thumb, if I don’t give advance warning about a pause in blog postings, you can just assume something beyond my control, as well as that of Buddy my  web master, has taken over.  My intention is to post every day unless I am prevented from doing so.  Thanks to Buddy’s hard work, the delay was minimal, as compared to other interruptions we have experienced in the past.  Thanks also for your patience.

Let’s get back to hooking by discussing the Pancake Dye process.     


While this IS a casserole method,  to just call it “casserole” is too generic a description to suit me.  The process calls for layers of wool, dyed one at a time, the next piece placed on the previous one … much like a stack of pancakes.  In fact, I even go so far as to call it an “ordered pancake dye” process – the ordered part coming from the usual way of hooking the cut strips in the order they come off the cutter.  As evidenced by this photo, an ordered approach to cutting and hooking this wool keeps all the spots together so that the hooked piece retains the actual spotted look of the wool being hooked.  Since I was making a batch of this wool over the weekend, you are invited to look over my shoulder. 


Start by cutting wool to a size that just fits inside the casserole pan being used.  Since my big pan is slightly larger than a 1/4th yard of wool, all my pieces were cut to the 1/4 yd size and soaked in hot water with a little softening agent.  I usually use 5-8 different colors of dye on pieces this size.  This batch (1/16 tsp dye per 2 cups water) had a good yellow, gold, yellow green, blue green, teal, a couple of reds and some khaki.  After dissolving each color in its own cup, a little citric acid was also added.  

Dyeing begins by spooning or pouring the various colors in the spots where they are wanted.  Sometimes, on smaller pieces of wool, I put a separate color  in each corner and a 5th color in the center.  On a larger piece like this … I just play around until I end up with something I like.  (I’ll show finished pieces later in the post.)  Once I am done, a second piece of wool is laid over the first piece.


While colors from the previous piece immediately begin to bleed through to the new piece, you are not limited to putting the same colors, in the same places, over the new piece.  If fact, all the “running & bleeding” end up making surprise colors that are the bonus dividend  from this method. 

In the first few layers, the colors will be the strongest.  At first glance, one would think these spots might be too  bold.  However, should that be the case … dark spots can easily be toned down. 


Here is the previous piece, after it was toned down – all I did was pour some of the yellow dye directly on the deep blue spot.  I chose yellow because it was one of my more paler dyes – the yellow green would also have worked.   It immediately changed  everything by bleeding the color out, making the color value and tone acceptable to me.  The same thing could have also been achieved by just using plain boiling water.  Even though citric acid permeates the wool, nothing is permanent until it is set with heat and time.

As successive layers are dyed, I often “top” off the cups of dissolved dye.  i.e. after dyeing 3 layers with the original dye, more boiling water would be added to the cup of dye.  Suddenly, the strength of dye (and resultant color) is lessened.  This means that the next three pieces dyed will end up lighter in value than the first three.  By adding water every 3 or 4 pieces, it creates a stack of wool that has darker pieces on the bottom, medium colors in the middle and lighter ones on top.

Before leaving this shot, look at the color of liquid that surrounds this stack of wool.  After dyeing several layers, a lot of excess dye has pooled together around the edges.  If left in the pan, when set, all the edges will be much darker than the piece in general because of the way the dye “wicks” in to the wool.  Sometimes I like that dark edge and use it for veins to go with the lighter part of the wool.  However, at other times I don’t want that dark edge … which was the case for this batch.  

When I do not want the dark edges, I pour out all the excess dye after I am finished with all the pieces.  One needs to make sure to keep a finger on one corner of the wool so the whole thing does not slip out of the pan while this is being drained.  (This excess dye … which usually comes out reddish brown, can be saved and used for something else  … or  just dumped out.) Since the wool will need plenty of moisture while cooking, plain water  (or clear vinegar) needs to be  carefully poured in to replace the colored water which was removed.  Remember to pour it carefully in on the side of the pan so that good dye spots are not dissipated.  The  wool needs to sit in about 1/2 an inch of water while it cooks.      

At this stage, the pan is covered with aluminum foil and placed in contact with a heat source.  It can be baked in the oven at 300 for 30 mins. or simmered on the stove for the same amount of time.  Before stopping the cooking process, it’s a good idea to peak in and make sure the water is running clear.    

The end result is beautiful wool.  If cut and hooked in order, all the splotches of color will stay together when hooked.    


This method also comes in handy as general leaf wool.  If cut and hooked out of order, the end result is a stripy sort of look.  However, with this particular application, that is precisely the kind of look that I want.    



Happily, the baby parakeets pay no attention to blogs or the internet, posting significant growth gains every day with or without high tech aide.    Everyone seems to be doing fine.  (Actually, the oldest male of this group has a name:  “Rugby,”  as suggested by one of our regular readers, Geri Burns.)  I am open to taking other name suggestions … but only promise to keep one of the birds in the aviary after they grow up!   All look as though they are “coloring” up in the same general way.  Parakeets with the same parents and  born in the same clutch, don’t necessarily end up being colored the same.   Sometimes, they are quite different.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that their coloration will stay true to their  early markings, producing birds with yellow heads, black and yellow wings and tails … and white bodies.     Since none of my adult birds have that sort of coloration, one would be a nice addition to the aviary.  I am sure that a future blog will answer all our questions on that subject!

It’s good to be back.


9 comments to “Pancake Dye”

  1. Phyllis Says:

    Hi Gene,
    Glad you’re back!
    Many thanks for my birthday cake – I hope you saw the photos on Rughookers. You were with us in Berlin, OH in many ways.
    Your pancake dyeing is very much like a method I call Frying Pan dyeing – it’s done with stacks of wool, in an electric frying pan (great for doing away-from-the-studio demonstrations) and the dye is applied with turkey basters. I use a set of mini-turkey basters that I found once in a dollar store. Large basters and small basters tend to create different effects just because of the amount of dye that can be applied with one squirt.
    I’m beginning to see why parakeets don’t build nests – Rugby is so much larger, I think he would be smothering Itty Bitty if they were in a confined space.

  2. Gene Shepherd Says:

    Phyllis – I am glad you had a nice birthday/hook-in. I would have liked to have shown up, but it just wasn’t possible.

    Yes, your frying pan method is the same as the pancake methods … just using different tools.

    Now, we have two names: Rugby and Ittybitty. GRS

  3. Arline Keeling Says:

    I love your detailed descriptions….It makes a girl more confident after watching you dye wool…….Ann Taylor did a frying pan dye session back in 2004 I think it was.
    Thanks again for sharing all of your talent with us……….V. Sharmay
    PS Tell Marsha Arline has some of her roses open this morning…….4th of July is their name

  4. mikumita Says:

    Where do you find your white casserole pans? i have a white pot,,and would like to find a white casserole pan now to give pancake dying a go.

  5. Gene Shepherd Says:

    miumita – My pan is the drip pan from an old block “ice box.” It is not available except through an antique store find of some sort. You might look at a restaurant supply store for something that would work. GRS

  6. dackles Says:

    Gene, wonderful tutorial on ‘ordered pancake dyeing’ . Very detailed and if I ever get adventurous I’ll know where to come to learn how to do it. You mentioned that only one of the babies will be kept, what happens to the rest?

  7. Gene Shepherd Says:

    Della – I should qualify that statement to – PROBABLY, only one of the babies will be kept. I want to build my aviary flock, but don’t want them to all look alike, so keep birds that have different colors or variations, etc. Additionally, one needs to keep the group as biologically “unrelated” as possible. So, I will keep at least one and the rest will either go to a good pet store, or given away as gifts. I often have people in my church that want one, etc. Are you interested in me shipping one your direction? GRS

  8. Miccosukee Says:

    Great tutorial on pancake dyeing. I would probably tend to attempt it in an electric frying pan, as my kitchen is so small. Looks like one of the easiest to attempt.

    I guess we don’t know yet what the sex is on the babies but when it comes to names we will always have Miss Weigle, Serne Selene or William (for William Pickering). The choices are endless!

    Glad you are back!

  9. Catherine LeMasters Says:

    so glad you are back on line. I wonder if you would share the name and model of your camera. It produces such good quality photos. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with the hooking world. Kate