As Promised, Dyeing Tutorial

No, not the death kind of dying, yarn dyeing. I have some desperately soft wool and silk blend that I made a sweater for myself with. Knitpicks has what they call “bare” yarn, white and ready for dying. I just wanted a white sweater (it’s like a sickness- how inconvenient are white sweaters? but I have a bunch already and must have more!) but I had quite a bit of yarn left over after my sweater was finished, just waiting in the closet for a project. A striped hat for the girl is just the project it was waiting for.
Step one: find the ball of leftover yarn. This was surprisingly easy.

This handy dandy tool is a niddy noddy, perfect for winding a ball into a hank. The loop is roughly 1 yard, so I can keep track of how long it is.

Step two: unwind it from the ball and into a hank or long loop. Tie the ends together and also loosely tie loops around it, to prevent it from getting tangled. Don’t tie it too tightly, or it will tie dye, and that’s a different tutorial. If you order bare yarn from Knitpicks (, it comes packaged this way, so there’s no need for this step. If you are over-dying another color, make sure you are using “protein fibers” like wool or silk. Cotton, linen or other plant fibers (hemp anyone?) use a different process. I have over-dyed light yellow with blue to make a funky green, but the process is kind of hit or miss. If you feel confident with color mixing, go for it. Or if you only paid a dollar for the yarn…
Step 3 Soak yarn with a drop of dish detergent in the water. The detergent breaks the surface tension, and lets the yarn really get soaked, so the color will penetrate more evenly.
Step 4 Prep materials: Since I am working on this with my daughter, we are going the low poison route- I have used commercial acid dyes before, but I don’t want to be concerned with the safety of doing it inside with a ten year old. We are going to use neon food colors, white vinegar, and a pyrex dish with lid. We have also used Kool Aid before, but the colors aren’t as mixable, and the cost adds up, believe it or not.

The dark pink wound up taking about 60 drops of neon pink dye. Yes, we counted.

Step 5 Mix color: the girl wants pink and red stripes, which I will interpret as pink and dark pink, and just use different concentrations of the same food color. I mix the dye in a measuring cup, keeping track of the number of drops of dye. Two cups of lukewarm water and a slug of white vinegar are about right for dyeing 75-100 yards of yarn. Part of the fun of this is experimenting with the kids, and you could probably turn it into a science project by tracking the amount of vinegar it takes to get maximum concentration. Or, you could just have fun and make a mess.
Step 6 The microwave: put the lid on the bowl and put in the microwave for about 5 minutes. It will stink like vinegar.
Step 7 Let it cool off. Really, seriously, take the lid off and walk away from the boiling water. Ask me how I know this.  Seriously, have some tea and fudge, and just wait until the yarn isn’t boiling hot anymore.

After 7 minutes in the microwave, the water was still kind of pink, so I added more vinegar and put it back in for 2 minutes.

Step 8: Using a chopstick, or spoon, move the yarn to one side and see if all the dye has been taken up. It always astonishes me to see the water turn clear. If there is still lots of dye in the water, microwave a few more minutes, and if it isn’t dark enough, mix more dye solution and add, then microwave more.  If you want to play with varegation, drop some dye directly onto the yarn, otherwise, mix it with water.

Step 9: pull out of the dye bath and rinse with lukewarm water. Don’t run the faucet directly over the yarn, but dunk the yarn in clear water, to get rid of any dye that hasn’t been taken up. Hang it up to dry, away from the cat.

Because of the rinse, your shower probably won't turn pink. Probably.

Make sure it is entirely dry before winding into a ball, or it might get mildewy.  It will still smell kind of vinegary until you wash whatever you knit with it. For some people that is a deal breaker…and the only advantage to using Kool Aid is that the yarn smells fruity instead of like vinegar. Colors will lighten up when the yarn is dry, and you can always re-dye if you are not happy with the results.


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