Experimenting with Yarn Dyeing

A few weeks ago, while enjoying the remaining days of my Christmas holidays, I spent an afternoon experimenting with yarn dyeing. I had about 95g of Berroco Ultra Alpaca in my stash – about half was white and half was grey. What would happen if I joined these balls and dyed the skein together?

Here is the yarn skeined:

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I must admit, it looks super cool like this.

In order for the dye to adhere to the fibres, an acid needs to be used, because, science. A common acid to use with dyeing is vinegar, so in prepping my yarn, I added it to my slow cooker with 8 cups of water and 1 cup of vinegar, and I let it sit in that solution for about an hour.

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I decided to dye/overdye the yarn purple, and in the past have used Wilton food colours with great success.  I took 1/2 tsp food colour and mixed it with 2 cups boiled water. Mason jars worked great for colour prep.

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See the blue on that paper towel? The purple Wilton makes must use blue to achieve its purple colour. I’m not trying to get a specific colour with this, I’m simply experimenting, so after the yarn soaked for an hour or so, I turned the slow cooker to low and added the dye.

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I’ve only dyed a few times, and I’ve been amazed every time with the process of ‘exhausting the dye.’ This happens when the colour of the water, which at the beginning is a vivid shade, becomes clear, the fibres absorbing the dye that was in the water. You doubt it will happen, but inevitably, this happens:

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Water on the spoon is clear. So cool.

After this dyeing experiment, my skein looks like this:

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And this:

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Seeing it caked, it gave me some pause as to what to make with it. It would make for a very dramatic gradient.  I could unravel and separate the two colours (using a Russian Join to connect them), and make something with the two smaller colours.  There are some lovely hats or cowls with colour work easing the transition between the dramatic colours.

Unhappy with the softness of the purple shade, I redyed it this weekend, using a dye that was such a deep purple, it was like Smoke On The Water was my soundtrack. Once again, I used the crockpot and I’m a lot happier with the final colour.

Having only tried home dyeing a few times now, each skein truly is an experiment for me. I’m still learning the tricks, playing with colours and their vibrancy, and admittedly having a LOT of fun each time while making a glorious mess in my kitchen.

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Home-Dyed Yarn

Apparently, making things with sticks and string isn’t enough for me as I’ve had the urge for quite some time try home-dyeing.

In Fall 2015, a friend and I went to a dyeing workshop, and under the guidance and supervision of a local indie dyer, we used various chemical-based dyes to create our own hand-dyed yarn.  Here’s the post I wrote about this fun experience, and here are the yarns I dyed:

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My finished yarn.

Dyeing‘ to try this again (do you see what I did there), I took to the interwebs to read how I could do this at home. I didn’t want to delve into using the chemicals, so I looked into food-based methods. Kool-Aid powder was a common method, however, they’ve stopped selling the powder in Canada. What I did have an abundance of is Wilton Icing Colours.  I’ve been cake decorating as a hobby for years and my stash of gel icing colour is quite full. And it works quite well for dyeing yarn.

As my base yarn, I used Lions Brand Sock Ease. It’s was easily available at a big box craft store and rather affordable – a huge plus for this new experiment!

I’ve been eyeing Kate Atherley’s Bigger on the Inside Shawl as my next shawl project, but I haven’t found the right yarn. This is how I chose my dyeing colour – TARDIS blue.  The icing colour I used was Wilton’s Royal Blue.

I followed the instructions as posted by Creative Green Living for dyeing yarn in a slow cooker. I soaked my yarn in vinegar and water, the acidity in the vinegar helps the dye bond with the fibre.  I mixed the colour with water, preparing the dye base. I wish I could tell you exactly how much I used, but i just kept adding the colour until it looked like the right shade.  I didn’t need it to be precise; I just needed it to be TARDIS blue.  Yarn and dye base were placed in the slow cooker and cranked on high until the dye became exhausted – this happens when the yarn absorbs all dye, and the liquid that remains behind is clear.  Cool your yarn, rinse your yarn, dry your yarn.

After a few hours in the crock pot, here is my finished yarn:

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It isn’t a solid colour, instead it’s rather tonal, but I like it.  As well, the colour ‘broke’ in a few places. What does that mean? Some icing dyes are made with different colours to achieve their hue. Royal Blue, for instance, is comprised of both blue and red colours. When the colours ‘break,’ it means that one has separated out.  There are more serious instances of colour breaking, but here’s what it looks like on my skein:

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That pinkish splotch is where the colour broke. With this yarn, I wasn’t aiming for perfection, I was aiming for TARDIS blue. I’m beyond thrilled with my yarn.

As for home dyeing? I am hooked. Completely hooked. It was so much fun playing with colour, preparing the yarn, and watching something that is white become something brilliant. In my mind, I’m already planning out other skeins I can dye, different colour combinations, and am just generally excited by the potential of it all.

Get busy living, or get busy dyeing: A post about dyeing yarn

Okay, so I MIGHT have mis-quoted Stephen King, but the quote works much better for my purposes this way.¹

It turns out yarn dyeing is a LOT of fun!

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Rows of dye

Last week, I went with a friend from my knitting circle to a yarn dyeing workshop.  It was held at a local art studio, and the Yarn Enabler introduced us to the fun world of yarn dyeing.  She explained some basic science behind dyeing and explained the materials she brought along, then essentially said, have fun.  Amanda and I looked at each other, and eventually dove right in!  It’s a little overwhelming for your first time to say ‘have fun,’ but we got there!

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Three shades of grey, and one shade of teal

I’m not afraid of colour.  I typically gravitate towards bright colours of yarn, and teal is one of my favourites.  It should serve as no surprise that I ended up dyeing my yarn in hues of teal and grey.  I was so very happy with how it turned out.  That wasn’t the only skein I dyed – my second skein was pinks, blues, and purples.  As I said, not afraid of colour and once again, the yarn and colours make me just so happy! I’m rather easily amused with the simple things of life.

My finished yarn.
My finished yarn.

I’m not sure what my yarn is destined to be.  One will likely become a cowl, because what else to make with lovely DK cashmere and merino yarn? Once I cast something on, I’ll be sure to share!


¹The original quote from Mr. King is: Get busy living, or get busy dying.  I think I like it better my way.