To Dye For

I don’t think anyone gets into spinning without also becoming a home dyer.  It sort of follows along as you are working with various fibers that taking control of the color becomes a more and more interesting idea.  I’ve dyed quite a bit of my own spinning fiber and sometimes my finished yarns, and I also employ dyeing techniques into my yarn “reclamation” projects, which may involve commercial fiber, inherited yarns, and even some formerly finished objects.

Today I’ve got a combination of the above, with some worsted weight Lopi from Iceland I got at a local resale shop, yardage of pink superwash DK from a commercial yarn company, and some silk- both hankies I have drafted out and rolled up, as well as a bit of sari ribbon.  I’ll be dyeing this in the oven using food dyes.The first thing I do is use a niddy-noddy to measure off 25 yard mini-skeins of the yarns, tying them with figure eights of cotton in three spots. I place them in a glass pan with the silk pieces, and soak them all with a mixture of 1/2 to 2/3 cup white vinegar and 2 cups tepid water for about an hour. I press lightly on the soaking fibers to make sure they get evenly saturated, to maximize the color absorption.


My young assistant and I are using Betty Crocker Neon and Dark gel food colors for this experiment.  The pink and white of the untreated samples remind me a little bit of blossoming fruit trees we see here each spring in the Northeast, so I think we’ll add some spring greens and a bit of brown to complete that effect. These particular colors can be bought in the baking section of most US grocery stores, and the squeeze tubes they come in help to create defined color breaks if that’s what you want.  To dye wool or silk with an acid dye process, you can also use Wilton’s food colors, primarily used in cake decorating, McCormick’s, or even Easter egg dye tablets.  The addition of vinegar helps the dye strike the fiber, and heat sets it.(Unsweetened Kool-aid mix works the same way, but already includes citric acid, eliminating the need for vinegar.)


We paint it up with the color tubes as we like, add another cup of tepid water, and place it in a 210 degree Fahrenheit oven for 45 minutes.  When the timer goes off, we turn off the oven and let it cool completely before rinsing thoroughly with tepid water.  Usually I let it sit overnight.  The dye is exhausted if the liquid is clear.  After rinsing, I hang the yarn to dry before either twisting it into mini-hanks, or hand winding it into center-pull balls.  The silk hankies can be used as they are, spun into yarn, or blended with other fibers for spinning or feltwork.

Once the pan is in the oven, my assistant needs to get washed up and ready for bed… she’s getting better about keeping the dye off her hands, unlike mom.


I recently used this dyeing method with two sets of commercial yarns, experimenting with creating some long color changes by spacing the dye in the pan:

I wonder how this batch will turn out?


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Filed under Adventures in dyeing, Yarny goodness

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