How to Dye Wool

I love to dye wool yarn. It was scary at first. Who wants to mess up their yarn, right? I got brave and tried it. It was, in fact, quite simple. And watching how the yarn comes out of the dye pot is always a fun adventure!

You can find many tutorials for dyeing wool online. I will be sharing the methods that I use. So when you read in one of my dye recipe posts that says I dyed the yarn in the crock pot, I dyed it as shown below. If I vary from this method, it will be stated in the dye recipe. The specifics for each colorway will be shared in the yarn recipe post.

I hope you'll be brave and try your hand at dyeing your own wool. It really is quite fun. And it's not scary at all after you try it the first time. But I will warn you~ it can be addictive. 😀

I'd love to see the yarn you create! If you have a yarn recipe you'd like to share here on the DHC blog, I'd love to hear from you!

 

Before Dyeing

No matter which dye method is used, it is good to skein and tie the yarn first. This keeps the yarn from tangling in the dye process and keeps it easy to manage and wind later.

 

 

I use a home made swift to skein my yarn. You can use a swift or you can wrap the yarn around a couple of chairs. It doesn't really matter what you use. You just need to make a big loop of yarn. It doesn't really matter how big the loop is. If you're using many colors, the yarn will have a different look with different size "loops." You will get less pooling if you have a bigger loop.

 

 

After the yarn is all skeined, take a few pieces of yarn (preferably cotton or acrylic so it doesn't take up the dye) and tie the skein. Simply weave the tie through the skeined yarn in a few places and tie it at one end. This will keep the yarn orderly so that it doesn't tangle. After the ties are placed, you can take the yarn off the swift without fear of knots and tangles.

 

Pre-Soak

Next l soak the yarn in very warm (almost hot) water and a couple of glugs of vinegar (about 1/4 cup).  The vinegar helps the yarn grab the dye more quickly. Plus, if your yarn is scratchy, it softens it up quite nicely!

Put the vinegar into the empty bowl, then add hot water until the bowl is about half full. Add the yarn and squish it down until the yarn no longer floats. Add more water so that the yarn is completely covered.

 

 

Let the yarn soak for about 30 to 45 minutes, and then carefully move it to the chosen dye pot.

 

 

Preparing the Dye

Food coloring makes a wonderful dye for wool yarn. Food grade dyes are the only ones I use for any of my wools. You can use Kool-Aid or other drink mix. Just be sure to use the ones that do not have the sugar already in them. You can also use Wilton's icing colors, regular food coloring drops, or food coloring gels like you find on the baking aisle in the grocery store.

 

 

I mix my dyes in a large mug that I know holds about 2 cups. This gives me room to have up to 1 cup of dye liquid and still have room to stir well.

It's probably not necessary, but I put about a teaspoon of vinegar in the bottom of the mug. Then I put the food coloring in the mug and fill with hot water while mixing. I usually fill the mug until I have about 3/4 to 1 cup of liquid, but this can vary depending on what I'm trying to create.

 

 

I normally don't mix the dye until the yarn is ready. Then I mix all the dyes that I will use. After all the dyes are ready, then I start adding them to the dye pot or yarn.

 

Crock Pot Method

I love dyeing yarn in the crockpot! I love that you get a colorway with many colors that has little to no pooling. Plus, it is very low maintenance! The most wonderful part of dyeing in the crock pot is also the most scary. The colors will begin to blend as the water heats. You will think it's going to turn out gross. Don't panic. Very often, I look in the crock pot when the yarn is cool and think it's gross and that I've ruined it. Then I pull it out. It normally ends up really lovely!

 

While the yarn is soaking, fill the crockpot about half full of very hot water and another glug of vinegar. Turn the crockpot onto high so that it will be ready for the yarn. {This may depend on your crockpot. I have one that gets super hot. When I use it to dye, I only set it on low.} Now gently put the yarn into the crockpot, letting it twist and coil into the water any which way it desires. This twisting and unorderly manner is what creates a non-pooling yarn when using several colors.

 

 

Next I add the dyes. Add each color wherever you would like. I try to not let the colors mix initially~ although they will blend a bit after a while. Be sure that you do not stir or you will have mud! I don't even poke the yarn down into the water. I just pour and leave.

Then put the lid on, leave the crockpot set on High, and leave the room.

Resist any urge to poke or stir. It's best if you leave the lid on the crockpot until it's completely done. Mine normally heats for around 4 or 5 hours. You just have to make sure that it doesn't start boiling.

If you have a lid that you can see through, you can just peer through the lid to check on dye absorption. When you see that all the dye has been taken up into the yarn and the water looks clear or almost clear, then turn the crockpot off and leave it again. This is the hard part~ leave it overnight (or 8 hours or so). Leave the lid on. When you come back to open the lid, the yarn and water should be cool enough to touch.

Now you can rinse any excess dye out of your yarn. I will often rinse well and then make some soapy (babywash) water to soak the yarn in for about 20 minutes. Give the yarn another rinse with tepid water and squeeze gently to help rinse the yarn out. You don't want to do any vigorous shaking, swishing, or wrining with the yarn or it will felt. Then just squeeze the yarn out in a towel (just like you would do when lanolizing or washing your soakers) and let it dry.

 

Kettle Dye Method

Kettle dyeing works best when you are only using one color. I love the tonal colorways that come from kettle dyeing. The subtle variations in hue are my favortie thing about dyeing on the stovetop.

 

I use a very large sauce pan or an 8-quart stock pot to dye on the stovetop. Dump the dye into the pan and fill with enough hot water to cover the yarn. You can always add more water later if it's not enough.

Take the yarn out of the soaking water and lower it into the dye water in the pan. You can poke the yarn down into the dye. Resist stirring~ you will felt the wool. Turn heat to about low to medium heat. Sometimes I don't cover the pan at all, other times I put a lid on but leave it cracked.

As the water heats, be careful to not let it boil. When you see that the dye has all been taken up by the yarn and the water is clear(I check it every 10 minutes or so), put the lid on the pan and turn the heat off. Leave the lid on at least 45 minutes.

Let the yarn cool completely, and then rinse well. I will often rinse well and then make some soapy (babywash) water to soak the yarn in for about 20 minutes. Give the yarn another rinse with tepid water and squeeze gently to help rinse the yarn out. You don't want to do any vigorous shaking, swishing, or wrining with the yarn or it will felt. Then just squeeze it out in a towel (just like you would do when lanolizing or washing your soakers) and let it dry.

 

Microwave Method

Dyeing in the microwave is the fastest dyeing method. That is, unless you decide to make a handpainted yarn. Laying out the plastic wrap and squirting the dye on your choosen areas can be time-consuming~ but rewarding.

There are many ways you can apply the dye to your yarn for microwave dyeing. You can make a big circle of plastic wrap on a table, squirt the dye onto the yarn in sections to make self-striping yarn (or some other patterning), roll the plastic wrap over the yarn, and then fold this big tube of plastic-wrapped yarn into a glass dish. Or you can use several glass dishes, each with a different color dye, and then put a section of yarn into each dish. Or you can put all the yarn into one big, glass bowl with one color of dye.

Any way you go, you end up with yarn and dye in a glass container or dish, often covered with plastic wrap to keep the yarn from drying out. (We don't want to cook it, after all.)

The idea is the same as before: heat the yarn without letting it boil.

I generally heat on high for 2 minutes, (don't open the door) let sit for 2 minutes. Heat for 2 more minutes, and then leave it in the microwave until it's completely cool. I like to watch the second heating to make sure it doesn't start to boil.

After an hour or two, I take the yarn out of the microwave and remove the plastic wrap from the top. Then I let it sit in the glass dish until it's completely cool.

Once it's room temperature, I rinse the excess dye out of the yarn. I will often rinse well and then make some soapy (babywash) water to soak the yarn in for about 20 minutes. Give the yarn another rinse with tepid water and squeeze gently to help rinse the yarn out. You don't want to do any vigorous shaking, swishing, or wrining with the yarn or it will felt. Then just squeeze it out in a towel (just like you would do when lanolizing or washing your soakers) and let it dry.

 

 

Trackbacks

  1. […] Forest Green and weighed my roving out into 4 oz. increments while I waited for it to arrive. Connie at DaisyHead Creations has a nice tutorial on dyeing wool, but here’s the specific, measured process I […]

  2. […] How to dye wool using food coloring and Kool-Aid […]