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I’ve always been fascinated with hand dyed yarns. I just love the idea of taking a bare, plain yarn and turning it into a piece of art. I’ve always wanted to try dying my own but thought it was something I’d never get to. Then somehow I stumbled onto some videos by ChemKnits on YouTube (check her out for fun tutorials!) and realized I had everything I needed to give it a go with food coloring. I dyed a few skeins with my kids and then guess what happened? I dyed ALL THE YARN!
First, lets go over some of the basics. Yarn dyeing is pretty simple and once you get the process down the sky’s the limit as far as how many colorways you can create. When you break it down there are 4 things you need to dye yarn: 1. yarn, 2. dye, 3. an acid, and 4. heat.
What kind of yarn you use will depend on you dye (or the other way around) but for these blog posts I’m using acid dyes which will work on wool, silk, nylon and other animal fibers. At first, I suggest digging into your stash to see if you already have something that might work. As long as there is some percentage of wool (or the other fibers I mentioned) it should take on the dye. Keep in mind the lower the percentage the less vibrant the colors will be.
This is Lion Brand Wool Ease which is only 20% wool. The colors are quite muted but still a fun experiment to get your feet wet.
I discovered even nylon takes on dye pretty well. This is Lion Brand Modern Baby which is 50% nylon and 50% acrylic. So no wool what so ever! Pretty cool, huh?
Even if the yarn is already a color you can still give it a go. This is called over dying. The yarn above was a light grey.
Once you’ve tried a few techniques on some yarn you already have you can invest in some bare yarn. I ordered my from Crafty HERE. Knit Picks also sells bare yarn. Basically, any light colored yarn will dye up beautifully.
Like I said, I’m using acid dyes for these posts. Acid dyes include food coloring and Kool Aid (I haven’t tried this one). You can also order dyes made specifically for dyeing wool (“real” acid dye). I got acid dyes from Dharma Trading Co. you can also use Jacquard acid dyes and if you’re concerned about the environment Greener Shades is an excellent option.
I suggest starting with food color. I had a ton in my cupboard from making play dough so that’s what I started with. Kool Aid is a great option too (if you use this you do NOT need an acid). Food dyes are great because they are easy to find and are safe to use with kids. They also can technically be cheaper because you don’t have to invest in all new pots or bowls for dyeing. With food safe dyes you can use what you already have in your kitchen and not worry about contaminating your food.
All of these were done with food color. I know the colors are wash fast but I do worry they will not hold up to light over time.
Once you’ve decided you want to invest some more into dyeing you can order the “real” acid dyes. Keep in mind once you do this whatever you dye in can not be used for food afterwards. All of these were done with acid dyes.
In order for the acid dye to attach to the yarn you will need to choose an acid (hence the name). The best choices are vinegar or citric acid. I tried the vinegar first because it’s what I had but the smell got to me so I switched to citric acid. Both work just fine so it’s up to you. You can find citric acid at your local sore by the canning supplies but I found it more cost effective to order in bulk online. I bought mine HERE.
For my experiments I used the citric acid to first soak the yarn in and in the dye bath (or right in the dye for hand painting). I saw this in a few tutorials and it worked quite well for me. Dharma Trading Co. suggests 1 tablespoon of citric acid or 1/4 cup vinegar per pound of fiber to give you an idea of how much you need. Really, I just guessed!
Heat is then required to set the dye. There are several ways to do this. The most popular ways I’ve seen include the microwave, stove top, oven or crock pot. I used the microwave and the stove top. Which one I preferred depended on the technique I was using. I’m kind of leaning toward the microwave though because I’m cheap and it’s the most cost effective. This is something you’ll have to play with. All dyers have their preference.
I’m pretty sure there is a certain temperature you need to get to but I went with “hot.” Yep, real technical! If the dye wasn’t all exhausted like I wanted I simply warmed it up again. The more skeins I did the better I think I got at this part.
A few tips on heat…Because you are most likely using wool you do need to be mindful of felting even if it says superwash. Trust me it is possible to felt superwash wool! The best thing to do is avoid any quick temperature changes. Never move your yarn from cold water straight into hot or the other way around. You also don’t want it to sit in boiling water for too long. Have patience (this is hard!) and gradually let the yarn warm up and cool down.
In addition to yarn, dye and your acid you will need a few things. Not all are required but a good idea to have handy. A lot of these things I got really cheap. The dollar store and thrift shops were a great place to look. Remember if you are using food dyes you CAN use things for food after but with acid dyes you can NOT.
Gloves (A MUST): Not only do you want to keep your hand clean but you want to keep your yarn clean. Any oils from your hands can change how it takes up the dye. Also if you’re using real acid dye it’s not good for your skin. I prefer the long gloves over the cheap ones that just cover your hands. When you’re sticking your hands in water it’s no fun getting it in the glove!
Stainless steel (or enamel) pots: Pots MUST be either of these! Aluminum will leach chemicals into your yarn and effect the color. You can get away with aluminum if you are just steaming the yarn. Stainless steel can be pricey but want a tip? Thrift shops! I got 3 for less than $7!
Glass Jars: I used these for mixing dye stock. Some dyers prefer not to make stock. I didn’t want to deal with the powders on a regular bases so I chose to make stocks. I’ll explain more about this in my next post.
Measuring spoons: Use these to measure out dyes. Get the smallest ones you can find.
Scale: If you want to be really accurate with measuring out dye a scale is handy. I used mine to make my stocks.
Glass bowls: You can use these in the microwave.
Turkey baster: I used this to measure out dye stock. A large syringe would work well.
Squeeze bottles: I really liked using these to apply dye several ways! You can find them super cheap in the baking section of your local store.
Eye droppers: These worked great for speckles.
Roasting pans (stainless steel): To use in the oven. I don’t have one.
Something to protect your work surface: First, I used garbage bags but later found dog training pads worked better.
Steamer insert for your pot: Another find from my thrift shop!
Zip top bags: This is a great way to get around buying new bowls or pans when you first get acid dyes. You can use them in the microwave.
Shower curtain rings: These work great for hanging the yarn to dry as well as help you pick up the skeins while dyeing without tangling the yarn.
Synthrapol: Like I mentioned any oils will effect how the yarn takes on dye so you will want to wash the yarn before dyeing. This stuff works great!. An alternative would be dish soap.
Wool wash: I like using this during the final wash. You could use dish soap if you wanted.
Wash basin: I use these to soak my yarn in the beginning as well as when I wash the yarn at the end of the process.
Rags or paper towels: You’ll want these handy whenever you dye to get any spills up right away. This is the one thing I tend to forget!
Do you dye yarn? Is there anything you’d like to add that I forgot? Comment below and let me know!