Hand-Dyeing 101



When I first started my adventure with dying yarn, I began very simply — with food coloring.  The first skein I dyed, I used every bit of my Mom’s green food coloring and still got a very light color of pale kelly green.  It didn’t turn out like I expected, but I was so proud of it.  (Still am, actually!)   Wanting to immediately use up this precious little skein of sport weight, I turned it into this:


This hat is loosely based off of DROPS 104-40b textured hat design — free pattern on Ravelry! — but I altered mine to better suit sport weight yarn.  It’s just snug enough to be comfortable, and has just a bit of a slouch.  Perfect for a dewey fall morning or a blustery winter day.

Some time in the (hopefully) near future, I’ll write up my pattern for this hat if you would like to make it also.  But before we do that…have you ever wanted to try out dyeing yarn with food coloring?  Here’s how to do it:

  • Get some undyed/bare yarn (KnitPicks Bare works very well as they sell individual skeins — you could also use any light colored wool you may have lying around that you don’t mind practicing on).  I suggest you start with natural animal fibers, such as wool, as they typically take dye better and are easier to dye than other fibers.
  • Once you have your yarn, fill a large bowl with lukewarm water and add approx. 1/2 cup of vinegar to help the fiber ‘grab’ the dye.  Next, make sure it is skeined up (i.e., not in a ball or yarn cake)**, and place it in the bowl of water/vinegar — make sure to push it down fully in the water so all of the air will be released.  Let soak for at least one hour.
    **if you’re yarn is in a ball or cake & you need to turn it into a skein, tie one end to a raised umbrella swift and wind the yarn manually around the swift until it is in a skein.  Make at least three ties at different points around the skein — figure 8 ties work best.  These will keep the yarn from tangling during the dying process.
  • After your yarn has soaked, get a large stainless steel pot — this can be one that you use for food if (and only if!) you’re using food coloring — do not use a pot that you use for cooking if you are using non-food based dyes!  Fill the pot with warm (not hot!) water.  PLEASE NOTE: If your yarn is not superwash, you will need to be VERY careful not to change temperatures too drastically or stir the yarn in the pot as it will felt.
  • Once the yarn is added, bring the pot to a simmer.  (Again–if your yarn is not superwash, be veeeeery careful here.  Do not boil!)  When the pot is at a simmer, add food coloring (or food coloring mixed in water, depending on the shade of color you want) and add to the pot.  Note: if you want a solid color without strong variations, do not pour the dye directly on the yarn.
  • Turn the stovetop down to medium or lower and let simmer for 30 minutes, or until dye is exhausted, (i.e., the water in the pot is clear).
  • Turn off the stove, take the pot off the burner, and let sit until it cools to room temperature.
  • While waiting for the yarn to cool, fill your large bowl with water again and add a splash of dish detergent, (not too much or it will strip your yarn of too many necessary oils).  Once the yarn has cooled, transfer it to the bowl to soak for approx. 20-30 minutes.
  • After soaking, rinse the yarn in cool water until the water runs clear, all soap is gone, and no dye is being released.  (If not superwash, be careful not let the water run too strongly on the yarn.)
  • Gently squeeze out excess water from the skein & hang to dry in a warm place for at least 24-48 hours.  (It is recommended that a towel is placed under the yarn as water — and possibly extra dye — will drip as the skein dries).

Et, viola!  Once the skein is completely dry — I mean, COMPLETELY…no one like mildew in their yarn — cake that baby up & knit away!

What color are you going to try?



5 thoughts on “Hand-Dyeing 101

    • Hey Nikki! I’m glad you liked the post! Just a note, food coloring only permanently adheres to animal fibers. You can pretty much use the same technique for cotton, but make sure you get a dye that works on plant fibers, (such as Rit). I’d love to see how it turns out! 🙂

      • Ohh I see! Thank you! I have some wool as well I can try it on 🙂 my kids refuse to wear anything but expensive bamboo blends (or other crazy soft yarns) or cotton, so I’ve been buying a lot more cotton lately. If I end up dying, I’ll let you know!

  1. Great instructions! and a cute hat. I have been playing with dying every now and then for the past year, and really enjoying the results. Just finished knitting a scarf I used Black Cherry Kool-Aid to dye. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s