Introduction: Beginner's Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn

A Beginner's Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn

A FiberArtsy Post

Have you ever noticed that even with 1000’s of yarn colorways and combinations, you somehow can’t find just the color you want for that certain knitting or crochet project? That’s always been my dilemma. So, I decided to start dyeing my own yarn. Wow! That opened up a whole new world of color for me. There is nothing quite so rewarding as taking a plain, white skein of yarn and turning it into something magical! Here, I’m sharing my secrets with you in the Beginner’s Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn.

Step 1: What Kind of Yarn Should I Buy?

Ultimately, what kind of yarn you get will depend on what you want to do with it. If you have a pattern, it should tell you the weight and yardage you need to complete your project. It may also give recommendations on what type of yarn is best for that pattern.

Some questions to ask yourself: What weight of yarn do you need? Lace or DK? Check your pattern Does it need to be machine washable? Stick with Superwash or Cotton Blends I recommend you stay away from Acrylic or Polyester yarn because it’s synthetic and much more difficult to dye. Honestly, I can’t even tell you what kind of dye you’d need! However, a small percentage of nylon blended in with wool or alpaca is fine. Beware though, that the nylon won’t dye like the natural fibers which can produce a nice contrast.

Step 2: Where Can I Find Yarn to Dye?

If you’ve never dyed yarn before, I suggest going with a nice, wool yarn that’s not too expensive. Just some practice yarn. When you're ready for something nice, head to your local yarn shop or fiber festival. Those are the best places to find a lovely variety of yarn blends and weights.

Knit Picks has a wonderful selection of bare yarn to dye for every budget. Wool of the Andes is a lovely, soft yarn at a great price that dyes up beautifully. has lots and lots of cool yarn and tons of sales. While you’re there, check out their many Fiber Arts Classes. Darn Good Yarn has exotic yarns such as recycled sari silk. And, of course, Amazon – great place to buy yarn straight from the farm!

You also don’t have to limit yourself to white yarn. It’s fun to play with overdyeing colored yarn. I especially love the deep, jewel tones I get from overdyeing silver gray.

Step 3: ​What Dyes Do I Need?

That depends on the fiber content of your yarn. Different dyes work with different materials. If your yarn is made up of protein/animal fibers, you need to use Acid Dyes. (Sounds scary, but the ‘acid’ is just the white vinegar that you add to set the dye.) Match the content of your yarn to the type of dye. I mainly use Jacquard Dyes but there are other, good brands available. Jacquard Acid Dyes – use with Sheep, Alpaca, Mohair, Silk (Protein/Animal fiber) Jacquard iDye – use with Cotton, Hemp, Linen (Plant Fiber)

Can I just use RIT?

Well, yes you can. However, RIT is what is known as a Composite Dye, which means it has different dye types mixed together for various fibers. That’s good if you don’t know the content of your yarn but it won’t give you the bright, strong colors of fiber specific dyes. It is, however, readily available and inexpensive.

Does Food Coloring Work?

YES! Kool-Aid, Easter Egg Dyes or plain Food Coloring work great for dyeing yarn! Food Colors are cheap, easy to come by and you don’t need any special pots and pans which makes them a good choice for the beginning yarn dyer.

See my tutorial on Dyeing Yarn with Kool-Aid

Step 4: ​What Other Supplies Do I Need?

If you’re dyeing with Kool-Aid or food coloring, you can use whatever pots and pans you have in the kitchen. If, however, you will be using professional dyes, any utensils, dishes or pots will no longer be safe to use for food. Check out your local thrift store for cheap roasting pans or casserole dishes. Stay away from aluminum, however, as that can affect the end result.

Basic Supplies (depending on your dye method):

-Old pots, roasting pans, glass casserole dishes


-Plastic cups, spoons (for mixing dye powder)

-Face mask

-Chop sticks (handy for moving yarn around gently)

-White vinegar (for acid dyes)

-Plastic wrap

-Squirt bottles or small cups

-Heat source s.a. stove or hot plate

Step 5: ​How Do I Dye My Yarn?

There are lots of different methods for dyeing yarn such as hand painting, kettle dyeing, submersion dyeing, etc. I have a few tutorials to get you started:

How to Hand Paint Yarn

How to Kettle Dye Yarn

Dyeing Yarn with Kool-Aid

What do you think? Ready to try hand dyeing some pretty yarn? Let me know how it turns out and if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

Happy Dyeing!