How to Start Dyeing Yarn
I’m going to make a small assumption as the start of my writings here, and that is: if you’re thinking about dyeing your own yarn, it’s probably because you’ve been working with yarn and would like to dip your toes into having more creative power over the yarn and colors you work with.
You might simply want a fun craft project, like a hands-on experience that gives you a look into the world of dyeing, or to teach your kids about color. Maybe you have this perfect shade in mind for that sweater you’re itching to cast on, but you’ve looked everywhere and can’t find it. Or maybe you’re like me, and you look around this big beautiful world and see the colors begging to be brought to life, and you want to express yourself through this very tactile medium.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter the exact reason you want to learn about dyeing yarn, I suppose, because it all stems from curiosity, and it all leads to this same starting point. That’s where it started for me, and it certainly took me a long way—I started a hand-dyed yarn company!
I know that standing at the beginning of this can be really intimidating, so my goal is to help make it a little easier for you. The first question I would like to answer is: how do I start dyeing yarn? Well, it’s easy…
- Find some bare yarn & some dyes
- Decide on a color
- Dye it!
Oh, but there are so many details that go into each step! Easy yes, but simple, not quite. I’ll break down those three steps so you can get a more complete picture.
First, the bare yarn. My #1 recommendation is this very web site, Dyer Supplier. I have squished their lovely yarns, I’ve seen how well they take dyes, and above all of that, I’ve interacted with the people behind it and am so pleased with their customer-oriented mentality. They have single sample skeins you can get to start out with, which means you don’t have to break the bank. If you know the fibers you enjoy working with, you can find bases easily on the site.
Now fast forward to when you’ve got some bare yarn picked out and on its way to you… it’s time to decide on dyes. There are quite a few different types of dyes out there, but you want to make sure you’re choosing dyes that will work with the fibers you’re using.
We’ll keep it simple for the sake of this starter article and say that you’re dyeing animal and synthetic fibers. So a few common fibers in that sector are merino, cashmere, and nylon. A familiar combo, yes? Dyes most widely used for these fibers are called acid dyes, which at first might cause some concern—isn’t acid dangerous? Well, in general, yes. But in the case of yarn-dyeing, the acid refers to what we use to cause the dye to adhere to the fiber. The two options I personally have used are distilled white vinegar and citric acid. Each one reacts a touch differently with the dyes, so they produce slightly different color tones. But more on that later—again, for the sake of simplicity in this article, let’s just say you went to your grocery store and picked up a jug of white vinegar for a couple dollars.
Oh, better grab a stock pot to use while you’re there! You’ll want a stainless steel pot you use ONLY for dyeing, not to be confused with your food cooking stuff. The dyes I’m going to recommend to start aren’t food safe, so make sure everyone in the house knows not to grab your dye pot for their next batch of homemade soup.
For the dyes, the two brands I recommend are Jacquard and Dharma Trading Co. I’ve used both, and I enjoy working with both. Dharma has a bigger selection and better prices, but Jacquard is available at more online stores. It’s up to you what you’d like to try. Of course, you could always use Koolaid for the cheapest and most simple option!
From there, it’s basically a science experiment. Mixing dyes with water to make the right concentration, mixing the different colors with each other to get the exact hue you want, making sure you have a good balance of vinegar and dye for the amount of yarn you’re dyeing… That’s where it gets fun and magical. The dye has a mind of its own at times, which sounds funny (and is really just chemistry at work) but makes dyeing interesting. It’s a rewarding craft, and I hope from what I’ve covered here, you have a basic picture of how you can start easily and affordably.
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, and playing video games.