Thursday, May 13, 2010


Try Dyeing!

Please read all instructions before starting

Safety is Important – Read this first.

Never use your dyeing tools for food preparation. This includes microwaves, ovens, crockpots or any pot used in the process.

Label all tools “DYE USE ONLY” so others don’t accidently use them. I do this even if I am using food colouring or KoolAid for dyeing.

Always wear gloves when handling, mixing or using dyes. Use thick rubber gloves around hot water. It is advisable to also wear goggles and a face mask when handling dye powder.

While dyeing is fun I do not recommend children being involved in using acid dyes (i.e. as per kit). The safest form of dyeing for children is food colouring – with plenty of parental supervision.

Never eat, drink, prepare or have food around while you are dying.

Keep your pets away from your dyeing area.

If you store unused dye label it clearly and well, store it high.

Take care with boiling water.

Allow yarn/fibre to cool completely before handling to avoid scalding.

Be environmentally responsible when disposing of dye.

Yarn Preparation

Ensure you skein is secure with 4 or more ties; this avoids a big tangled yarn mess. Dampen your yarn or fibre but DO NOT use any form of wool wash in preparing your fibre. If you need to wash your yarn/fibre dishwashing liquid is great.

The acid dye in your kit already contains a mordent and dye bath acidifier and is specifically formulated for dyeing wool – raw or spun. You do not need to soak your yarn in vinegar.

Mixing the dye

· In a ‘Two pot kit’ each small pot contains roughly 10g of dye powder. This 10g of powder will dye 100gms of fibre, at full strength.

· In ‘Primary Colour Kits’ the three packets (red, yellow and blue) contain, in total 20g of dye, this will dye 200gms of yarn at full strength.

To make a dye solution add 10g of powder to 1 litre of water.

This is a 1% solution.

Put the dye powder in a container that will hold hot liquid (this container will now only be used for dyeing purposes) and add boiling water to mix dye, stir slowly and once dissolved add cooler water to bring the solution to room temperature.

For Primary Colour Kits add the packet of dye to 700ml of water.

· You can create new colours with the primary kit while you are making the dye solution – it’s just like school, red +yellow = orange, blue +yellow = green, red + blue = purple.

Be very light handed when blending colours, it’s hard to undo!

Remember to make as much as you need to dye the entire project.

The 1% solution is a great starting point, especially if you wish to reproduce your results at a later date. (It’s worth keeping notes on what you are doing, you’ll appreciate it later.)

Of course the 1% solution is merely a suggestion. You can use any amount of water you like, what is important is the amount of dye for the weight of the fibre you are using. If 10g of dye powder dyes 100gm of fibre then using 5g of dye powder for the same weight of fibre will produce a lighter colour.

Another alternative is to water down your 1 litre 1% solution i.e. decant 100ml then add another 100ml of water. You now have a half strength solution.

Lots of creativity can go on during this part of the process and I often just throw caution to the wind and add dye and water in random quantities, making sure I have enough solution for my entire project.

Setting the dye

It doesn’t matter what process you use to get colour onto your yarn or fibre you’ll need heat to set the dye.

If you are using your kitchen and kitchen appliances DO NOT cook food at the same time.

If you use a microwave, oven, frying pan, Crockpot, steamer etc they should then only be used for dyeing only and NOT food preparation.

(You can use food colouring with your household appliances, however be aware that wet yarn/fibre can give off an unpleasant – to some, odour. I choose to keep even food colouring dyeing separate to my normal kitchen use.)

Heat can be applied directly in the dyeing process – putting your yarn into a dye bath that is already on the heat source and bringing it to boil for 30 mins, or steaming your painted yarn for 30 – 40 minutes.

(I’ll explain steaming once we’ve painted our yarn.)

The fun stuff! Hand painting your yarn.

This procedure is not as complicated as it sounds!

To hand paint your skein of yarn simply pour off a little of your prepared solution onto your skein. You can also use a bristled or sponge brush to paint on the dye, or a spray bottle to spray the dye onto the yarn.

Squirty sauce bottles are another option, but it can often be hard to control the flow especially the first initial rushed squirt.

Using disposable cups to pour on liquid works really well.


If you’d like to see what your colours will look like before committing them to yarn, or practise blending colours, take a paint brush, some watered down food colouring (4drops per tablespoon of water) and a piece of paper towel. You can paint onto the paper towel and see how the colours blend and what you like, or don’t, in combination.

Let’s paint!

Work on a well protected surface, a table outside over grass is a good option.

You could use a large bowl or tub covered in a white garbage bag where you can make a ‘ditch’ around the outer of the container can help to contain excess dye, spillage and mess. Pull up the centre of the bag to make an island in the middle and the ditch on the outside and lay the yarn around the moat.

Plastic wrap spread on a flat, well protected surface works well too. Take care with spillage and drips down your cupboard and onto the floor if you’re working inside.

Pour a little of your colour solution into disposable cups. (Make sure you have enough solution, in total to complete your whole project, you don’t want to have to leave the fun to make more solution up.)

With gloved hands tip some solution over about 10-15cm of yarn – longer if you want longer runs of colour. Use a SMALL amount of dye solution, you can always add more if there is not enough coverage, you don’t want to flood your yarn, just saturate it. Gently use your fingers or brush to massage the dye into the yarn, but be careful not to agitate or rub the yarn as you may felt it if it’s not super wash (wool contained in your kit is super wash).

This is a slow and gentle process, let your creativity flow.

Check the underside of your skein to ensure you have the coverage you want. Don’t let the dye pool under the yarn, you can use another section of yarn to mop up any extra liquid, or a paper towel.

Repeat the procedure, with the next colour, on the next blank section of your fibre, leaving a small gap after the first section.

While working the colour encourage it to blend with the previous.

Keep repeating this procedure until you’ve covered all the yarn.

· What you see as you are painting is pretty much what you’ll get in the finished product, that is if you don’t over saturate your yarn and heat it adequately.

Check for any undyed areas before you finish.

At this point I hold my skein over an empty container and squeeze to release excess dye. (You can reuse any solution that still has colour in it.)

Wrap your skein in plastic.

Glad wrap works well, don’t use shopping bags.

Put your parcel into a steam bath – to make a steam bath you need a pot with water in the bottom and a shelf that sits above the water for your parcels to sit on and steam. I use a vegetable steamer or cake rack in my pots. Steam your yarn for 30 – 40 minutes but be careful to not let the pot run dry.

Let your parcel cool before you open it and remember that the yarn inside will be very hot, take care, use tongs and gloves and keep the kids away.

Once the yarn has cooled to room temperature rinse in warm water to remove excess dye.

The yarn should have absorbed all the dye and the water will run clear, if it doesn’t you may not have heat set it long enough or there was too much dye applied in the first place.

Remember to rinse/wash gently, remove excess water (gently) and dry yarn.

Dip Dyeing – a quick simple method

Put your dye in shallow bowls or containers, 2 or 3 works well.

Dip your yarn into one and squeeze out excess yarn. Do this into each container using new undyed sections of yarn. You can overlap parts that have already been dyed to get a colour blend. You can encourage blending by massaging the yarn.

Squeeze out excess yarn and wrap in plastic and steam.

These are not the only ways to dye your yarn, just two ways I enjoy. You’ll find many books and websites to help you learn other methods. There is no right or wrong, it’s art! Just have fun.

Hints –

The dye in your kit can be mixed in dry form, or at the point of creating the liquid, to make various colours.

Be aware of sudden and distinct colour changes as these can often form pooling in your finished product. Longer areas of colour and subtle blended changes can help alleviate pooling. The stronger the contrast in your colours the more obvious the colour pooling can be in your finished item.

Avoid using too many colours when dyeing a skein, two to three work well but one colour, in different strengths or tones can work really well as well. The more colours you add the murkier the result can get.

The actual act of applying colour to yarn is as artistic and personal as painting a picture. Observing what you like in other yarns and becoming familiar with the colour wheel can help you develop your own dyeing style.

You can over dye yarn – it doesn’t have to be white to start with, the original colour my show through or influence the final colour.

You can dye and already finished item. Don’t like the colour of your shawl? Decided that your white tea cosy might look nice in bright orange? Dye it! You can use any method on an already constructed item.

Recommended Reading –

Barbara Parry’s “Teach Yourself Visually Hand-dyeing”

Gail Callahan’s “Hand dyeing Yarn & Fleece”

An example of hand painting a pre-knitted blank.

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