There are a lot of different tools you can use to dye yarn, and everyone has their own personal set of these tools that are molded to their specific preference, workflow, dyeing style, dye space, etc. I know I mentioned grabbing a stock pot in the first article I wrote here, and that’s exactly where I began back in 2012. Now, after years of trying different things and having to adapt to various dye spaces, I think I’ve tried a little bit of everything short of a full-blown professional studio setup like some of the ones I’ve seen online. So I’d like to share some different options with you that might be a good next step after the signature stock pot.
The one thing that may most dictate the tools you build with is the heat source you have available. If you’re working out of your kitchen and can use the stovetop, that’s a great place to start—that’s actually how I got started. If you’re wanting to keep the wet wool and vinegar smell out of the house and have opted to work in a garage, shed, carport, etc., then you’ll need some sturdy folding tables and a portable heat source. I’ve used both single burners and big ole turkey roasters successfully. The single burners held stock pots for small batches, and then the turkey roasters were reserved for larger batches like sweater quantities. I had a good flow, and I used that setup in a couple of the places I’ve lived—I dyed yarn in a detached garage and also on a covered porch!
With my current setup, I’ve started using hotel pans on the stovetop. It uses two of the stove’s burners, so it heats up pretty quickly, and the shallow shape allows a bit more control over the dyes than I’ve been able to get in stock pots. That was the biggest reason I liked using the turkey roasters, but hotel pans are less expensive and a bit more adaptable. But depending on your setup, the roasters might be best for you. I would encourage you to look into all of these to get an idea of space needed, cost, usability, etc.
Another important factor is water source. In a kitchen, of course, you will probably be able to use the sink—unless it’s made of something that can be stained with dye. Or in a garage you can use a utility sink. I’ve also used a hose when dyeing outside! You can get a bit creative if needed.
The easiest way to work with the dyes is to mix the powders with water ahead of time. To do that, I use a funnel and plastic squeeze bottles from Dharma Trading Co. They’re awesome for reducing any ongoing contact with the dye powders themselves (which can be messy and hazardous if you inhale them), and they make mixing colors for your formulas consistently a breeze because you’re working with liquid colors that are very easy to measure. To keep things super simple, I decided to use 8oz bottles, and then I decided how concentrated I wanted the dye solution to be. I use the same powder-to-water ratio for all of my dyes. Each dyer has their own preference, of course, but setting a standard of consistency is key to creating reproducible results.
Oh, and make sure you label the bottles with the powder color so you know what to grab when! That’s a lesson I learnt the hard way, as I only had a handful of colors at the time and thought I’d be able to tell what was what easily enough…but I was wrong. So now I label every bottle with the exact dye powder name from the manufacturer. Oh, and before I forget, if you don’t want the whole artist look with very colorfully-dyed hands, rubber gloves are a good idea—for mixing the dyes AND for when you’re measuring them out later!
Speaking of consistent results, make sure you have a notebook and waterproof pen nearby for writing down what you do. I’ll talk more about that stuff in more detail in another article, but in the mean time, start writing things down!
When I’m prepping the yarn for dyeing, I like to put a zip tie through each hank to keep the loop from getting tangled as I work with it. It makes life so much simpler when you’re trying to move the yarn! Before I dye, I always pre-soak my yarn in warm water with a little bit of vinegar in it, and that requires buckets or tubs of some sort. What I use depends on how much I’m dyeing, so I have an assortment of tubs and buckets I can use.
As far as the post-dyeing process, I’ve learned to have dedicated equipment for each phase. So I have a rack for yarn that’s cooling, and then I have a separate rack placed elsewhere for yarn that’s finished and drying. The reason I don’t just put it out to dry right out of the dye bath is because I like to post-soak my yarn once it’s cool. It helps get the vinegar smell out. I don’t like my customers to open their package and get hit in the face with that strong odor! But if I put it in the post-soak while it’s piping hot, the cool soak water will shock the wool and make it not-so-happy (another hard-learnt lesson). So I let it cool, then I soak it, then I squeeze it out and hang it to dry on a separate rack to help me remember what’s finished and what’s not. You’ll probably want a couple of racks handy, and you’ll want to have several bowls and buckets available to transport wet yarn and post-soak it if desired.
The rest of the main tools you’ll need are common kitchen items, like hot pads, oven mitts, tongs, measuring spoons, things like that. I have a full set of tools that are only used for dyeing, just like my pots, as my professional acid dyes are not food-safe. If you’re working with food safe dyes like Kool Aid and food coloring, you can relax about this if you wish, but generally I would still recommend having a separate set for dyeing.
Now that I’ve run through everything in a rather long-winded manner (thank you for hanging in there if you’ve read all this!), I’ll include a simple shopping list for you that will zero in on the basics (other than the yarn, dye, and mordant) that will get you started. :)
- Pots / pans
- Measuring spoons
- Stir spoon
- Paper towels
- Zip ties
- Oven mitts
- Rubber gloves
- Bowls / buckets / tubs
- Plastic squeeze bottles
- Note-taking supplies
From here, you can take this and tweak it to be what you need. Have fun experimenting and growing into your own personal style and workflow as a dyer! And always remember that your creativity is unique, and there will always be a place for your ideas to shine!
My name is Annie, and I’m a knitwear designer and yarn-dyer living south of Atlanta, GA. When I’m not doing yarn-related things, my other hobbies consist of reading, playing ultimate frisbee, photography, and video games.