Instructables
Picture of How to Dye Yarn: Handpainting
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I've been dying to dye my own yarn for months now. I've been a knitter for many years and the beautiful yarns that are available now inspire me to create my own. I finally did it, and documented the process here.

All items used here should NOT also be used to prepare food.

Materials you will need:
Yarn - I got mine at Dharma Trading, 75% wool, 25% nylon fingering weight (sock yarn)
Dye - I used Jacquard Acid Dyes
Distilled white vinegar
Synthrapol (available at arts & crafts stores; I got mine at AC Moore) or Dawn dishwashing liquid
Dust mask
Gloves
Small tub for soaking
Colander
Plastic wrap - my sources recommended brand name (thicker ply)
Measuring cup
Measuring spoons - plastic or stainless
Little containers for the dye
Sponge brushes
Sprinkler or spray bottle
Microwave oven (ideally an extra one, not one you use to cook food in)
 
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Step 1: Prepare the yarn

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Prepare a skein of yarn by securing it with figure-8 ties.

Step 2: Soak yarn

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Soak yarn in warm water to cover, plus 1/4 cup vinegar and 1/4 tsp Synthrapol, for at least 1 hour.

Step 3: Prepare work surface

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Prepare work surface. First I covered the table with plastic trash bags, taped down. Then I laid down a couple layers of plastic wrap in an oval shape.

This would also be a good time to write out your instructions, and put them up on the wall. Years ago when I took organic chem lab they made us write out the lab instructions prior to performing the experiments, and I found this to be a very helpful preparatory step. Also actually referring to your instructions as you go is a good idea.

Step 4: Take safety precautions

Put on dust mask & gloves. The dye starts out as a very fine powder, and it's best not to inhale it or come in contact with it. Sensitivity to dyes is cumulative, and once you start being sensitive to it, it will only increase. So it's best to try to keep contact to it down to a bare minimum if possible. I usually tend to be very casual about these things, but even I used a dust mask & gloves during mixing and dyeing.

If you don't want to heat the plastic wrap, you could lay out the white yarn on a glass plate. A spare turntable plate works fine as it has a lip on it. To avoid the white areas, gently press the dye into the yarn, squishing it but still keeping each color separate. Cook in intervals until any water squeezed out run clear and all of the dye particles are absorbed into the fiber.

It truly isn't the vinegar that causes the stench.... it's the plastic wrap!!! If you heat plastic epspecially thin plastic such as plastic wraps it puts off fumes ... same reason as not burning plastic...
sgreen193 years ago
I don't think it's toxic, but it can be unpleasant. I use citric acid instead of vinegar. The smell isn't as strong.
kewpiedoll99 (author)  sgreen193 years ago
I've since switched to citric acid myself, for the same reason. I actually looked up both substances online to try to determine whether cooking citric acid or vinegar could be toxic and everything I found reassured me that it's probably not. I asked a chemical engineer friend as well and he didn't think there was a need to worry. To all: I'm not a chemist and I can't assure a reader that this is 100% safe, you must make your own risk assessment and decide for yourself. There might be a risk in heating up plastic wrap in the microwave! If anybody knows more about this, I'd welcome hearing about it in the comments!
sgreen193 years ago
Depending on the dyes, I don't think you'd need to let it sit for an hour. I use Greener Shades Dyes and there is no need to allow the solution to wait.
kewpiedoll99 (author)  sgreen193 years ago
After a lot more experience, I would have to agree that waiting isn't necessary. Thanks for pointing that out!
grooooovy4 years ago
Check out the summer yarns contest today, and vote for your favorite!
ti_jean_544 years ago
If You Don't want to use plastic and microwave some people use a cheep crockpot from garage sale. Cook it under a roof of porch or out in garage where vinegar smell will not bug you.Heat till fiber absorbs all the dye.Water will get clearer.
Just remember to keep water temp for wash and rinse about same temp.
and don't scrunch it around to much or it will shrink and felt on you.that means hand wash and drip dry if you can.
I lay old window screen (fiberglass-don't want rust) across my tub.


ClaudiaRN5 years ago
I make sprinkle tops by heating a skewer and melting holes in the bottle tops.
kewpiedoll99 (author)  ClaudiaRN5 years ago
That's a really good way. I usually use a nail and hammer holes in them. I discovered recently that wide mouth jars like large spaghetti sauce jars make very good sprinklers (I also use them for watering my seedlings).
TraumaComet7 years ago
This is great! I just started drop-spinning my own fibers. This will definitely come in handy. I've heard that you can also use Kool-Aid to dye yarn by sealing it and heating it. Has anybody ever heard of that?
i have used kool-aid a couple of times, very successfully. just be sure to use enough, or else you get very subtle colors.
cool, how to you drop spin? Always wanted to do that.
kewpiedoll99 (author)  TraumaComet7 years ago
Yes! There are several blogs I've read about this on the web. The book I mentioned in the last page of this Instructable has a section on Kool-Aid dyeing, too. I really recommend that book - it's got a LOT of great stuff in it.
wocket6 years ago
great instructable, but a bit worried about the health and safety of microwaving cligwrap. stinky and gives of horrid chemicals. Can use anything else instead?
awesome project! I felt as though it was something I could easily do. The instructions are clear and very easy to follow. I hope you show us what you make with the yarn, it would be nice to see how it looks in that context. Thanks kewpie doll ... keep 'em coming.
kewpiedoll99 (author)  bethvandusen7 years ago
Aw shucks, thanks B.
darkmuskrat7 years ago
"dying to dye" lol, best quote in a while. good instructable
wow. you are so SMART!!!! this is awesome! *favorited*