Let’s get it right out there — I love chenille! It’s yummy, soft, slinky and so much more! Add a little silk, and I’m a goner. I am excited to introduce two (count them TWO) quality chenille yarns. Hang on for the ride because you are about to learn more than you ever thought was possible about chenille yarn and what you can do with it.
Grandfather Mountain (top of picture above) is our 100% Rayon chenille while Blowing Rock (bottom of picture) is our “silky” chenille with 50% Rayon/35% Silk /14% Cotton.
Is Rayon a natural fiber?
Not so much — but it depends on how you look at it. Rayon is considered a “regenerated cellulose fiber.” This means that cellulose (generally soft woods) are broken down with chemicals into a liquid that is then run through a device that looks a bit like a shower head to turn it into fiber — the liquid hardening as it hits the air.
Does it still have the characteristics of natural fiber?
I am going to stay pretty far away from that question — except when it comes to dyeing. When it comes to the wear-ability of rayon type fibers, you really have to test their comfort for yourself.
Spoiler Alert: I will tell you though, that I had a few surprises when I started dyeing these yarns.
“I’ve always heard working with chenille is difficult. Is that true?
Well, yes and no. Chenille yarn certainly takes some thought to “make it shine!” But that’s true of many luxury yarns and, the more you know — the better your outcome.
How is chenille yarn made?
Originally, chenille yarn was woven in a leno style that involved weaving many yards of a wide cloth and then cutting between the warp ends to acquire the chenille yarn. Now-a-days, special spinning equipment allows the yarn to be spun in a much more consistent manner resulting in a, well — more consistent yarn. Modern chenille is easier to use and more resistant to losing the “plush.”
“But, you sell yarns to dyers — can I dye it?”
Yes! Unequivocally YES! And, surprising enough — you can actually dye both of these yarns with acid dyes! During my dyeing, knitting and weaving adventures described below, I was amazed at how much dye the rayon took when I dyed the Blowing Rock yarn with acid dyes.
I did some nerdy poking around and decided it MIGHT be because the last step in rayon production is a strong acid bath. Might the rayon yarn retain enough of the acid to make this cellulose fiber acid dye friendly? I am NOT going to say one way or the other because I’d rather spend the time dyeing yarn. So I’m just going to enjoy having the choice of dyeing with acid dyes OR reactive dyes.
Try out your favorite dyeing method to see how it works on the Chenille!
When I started dyeing this yarn, I was prepared for a lot of things, but not so much the amount of “shrinkage” when wet. I put that word in quotes because I don’t see that the yarn actually shrinks. I see it more as a contraction. There’s a lot of trapped energy in the twisted pair of core yarns that immediately contract when wet. I merely dipped the white skein on the left in water and squeezed it out!
The center skein is wound straight off the cone while the far right skein has been dyed and what I call “popped.” (Un-clap your hands from the center of the skein — popping out the contracted kinks.)
And, when hand dyed (as opposed to package dyed), the yarn loses a bit of it’s perfection and sheen. That’s ok with me — I dye because I expect something less than machine made perfection.
How did I dye the yarn?
I went all fancy shmancy (not!) and dyed a couple of quicky lab dips in the microwave. I used 2%DOS reactive dye on Grandfather Mountain and 2%DOS acid dye on Blowing Rock. I was floored as I expected to see lots of white (or very light) spots on the Blowing Rock. After all, the shiny bits are a blend of rayon and silk fibers — and the silk should be the only fiber friendly to the acid dye.
But no! So, I did another side experiment with the acid dye on the Grandfather Mountain and was amazed that I got about the same amount of color as when I dyed with the reactive dye! I would NOT recommend doing this for real without a lot of testing as I did not test for how well the dye was fixed to the yarn. But it does support the idea that there might be a slightly acidic surface to the rayon parts of Blowing Rock that makes it friendly to the acid dye. Again, not making any solid scientific claim — but there’s just enough logic in the idea to make me confident to do some more testing.
This knit swatch was knit from the Blowing Rock lab dip with Dharma Acid Dye 407 Carribean Blue at 2% DOS. I am liking this a whole lot!
So what’s up when people talk about having problems while knitting or weaving with chenille yarn? While I still think some of those problems are from old school chenille, there is still the problem of worming that makes folks crazy AND, if you don’t use it in a consistent manner while weaving — you can create a hot mess. Let’s just say …. tension matters.
While I did not see any worming on the Stockinette swatch above, I did have a bit on the second knit sample. You can see the little vertical floats? These are elongated stitches carried over several rows before being knit back into a row. I was not able to manage tension well and they did look a little wormy — but I zapped the swatch with a steam iron and the loose bits contracted a bit and ended up laying nicely on the swatch.
And this woven swatch — another quicky, plain weave very loosely sett and beat. I just wanted to see what kind of coverage you could get. The warp is a fine, woollen-spun Shetland wool. Weft — Blowing Rock Chenille.
For the weaver’s out there, take a look at Su Butler’s book “Understanding Rayon Chenille.” She has several examples about how your weaving would benefit from using Chenille from the “same end” while you weave. This is more than I want to think about but for those that do …. our chenille comes to us directly on their original dye cones so you could keep track of which end is which. Once we skein it for you — all bets are off. And, I’m more into the serendipity of not knowing which end is which.
I’m all in! I’m itching to jump right in and see what else I can do with this yarn! How about you?
I could not have written this article without input from two professionals who have seen a lot of action with Chenille. Robin Spady has done extensive research with fabrics used in vintage and modern Chanel garments — many of which use chenille as a beautiful condiment with other yarns and fibers. The other is Su Butler of Subu Designs. If you want a more detailed (and well researched) explanation of all things chenille, go to her website and order her publication “Understanding Rayon Chenille.” Any mistakes in this article are purely mine!