smart dyeing

You will get confidence & spectacular results, flying by the seat of your pants! ..or you will get a ball of brown felted wool & berry blue hands!

The unpredictable & uneven results are what thrill me. Talk about that color is SO you, it couldn’t get anymore you! ..unless it turns out like total crap then it’s SO not you!

That fact that it’s kool-aid is remarkable & a bit troublesome (I lived on that stuff as a kid & now I’m using it as an acid dye!) I also use plain old dropper style food coloring (McCormick in the box) in assorted & neon colors.

Animal fibers work best, but watch the agitation & heat, don’t SHOCK the wool by drastic temp changes.

Keep it small & cheap at first, till you get your method worked out. You can just do one color or a bunch. Make it solid, hand painted or semi-solid, it’s all in your kool-aid stained hands!

A free ball of wool from the take a ball, leave a ball bin outside a local yarn shop (yes really & thank you to whoever left this for me!) ..look, I never work with dopey yarns..

I wound this onto my swift & loosely tied it up. I found the more places I secured it, the less tangles I got. Just be weary the more spots you tie the more likely you will get uneven dyeing (think t-shirts, tie-dye & rubber bands) but I like semi-solid coloring, so I didn’t care. (How big or little you make your hanks will affect the color repeats, mine were roughly 22” when laid straight/flat)

I put the hanked yarn in a generous sized roaster pan filled with warm water & left it to sit for 15-20 min, letting the fiber get fully saturated. Then I drained off most of the water, leaving just enough so the yarn could move around a bit,  added a few glugs of white vinegar to aid in setting the dye & turn the stove onto low to warm it up. (not boiling, just steamy HOT HOT HOT)

I dispensed the color straight from the drink powder packets & dropper bottles, sprinkling it on here & there. Leaving some spots speckled, other times I used a spoon to swoosh the color for a larger distribution or to drip some colored water on other areas. (you could tint all of the water for a solid color, or sections for some kind of stripes, I went a little CRAZY)

* NOTICE the low water level, that is how I got the intense color saturation & speckles to not get diluted, there were soaked sections of wool sticking up out of the water, that I could directly spatter with kool-aid powder & let sit. Those raised areas of wool also acted like a color containment fence, sectioning off areas & not letting the dye travel around. If you want more of an all over/even coloring or softer colors use more water & vinegar, just remember the more water, the more the dye will move.

I worked mine in stages, adding 1 or 2 colors, then hands off once I liked the look, letting sit undisturbed in the hot water to set the dye. The water will turn rainbow colors, but then as the wool sucks up all the dye, it will turn white cloudy/clear again, use a spoon to check and when it’s clear your ready to layer on the next color set or move to the next area of yarn. Every once in a while flop the scalding wool around to get at the underside & inside of the hank. There will be large un-dyed spots if you don’t get at these hidden spaces, which can add to its beauty! (This is where it can go seriously off track so mind your excitement & control your color enthusiasm)

Once I am completely satisfied or completely frustrated, it’s done! just move it off the heat & let it cool down to room temp. Then take it to the sink/bath and gently rinse with water the same temp as the wool, until it looks & feels good (water should be clear) you can use a wool wash if you like or a little hair conditioner if it’s a bit felted & rough.

Gently squeeze out most of the water, sometimes I lay it in a towel & step on it to press out even more water. Then simply hang it somewhere safe to drip dry. (I usually hang it on my porch letting the sun & the breeze make quick work of it. (honk if you see a NINETEEN HUNDRED HOUSE with a porch full of drying yarn! (You’ll know you have the right house if you see a spastic basset hound/yellow lab mix barking his jerk head off at you)


Once it’s completely & thoroughly dry, twist it into a pretty loaf and freak out at how marvelous you are!

The one with the ball band is Patons in winter white & the one to the right (no ball band) is Patons in Natural Mix (taupe)

There are many methods of dyeing, some people do the whole process in the microwave, crockpot, in jars in the summer sun or in a glass dish in the oven. Some mix their kool-aid with a little water and paint it on or put it in a squeeze bottle & apply it directly to a saturated hank. Anyway you want to work it is A-OK, just always REMEMBER to heat set the colors!

Here it is knitted up …yes, more honeycombs for the beekeeper & another merit badge!

Things of importance ..well sort of

* I’ve used cheap off brand, dollar store powdered drink packets with 100% success!

* I usually use light-colored wool yarns (whites & creams) but you can over-dye & intensify an already colored yarn or add layers of color & speckles to a boring yarn. (the chubby patons Natural Mix hank was a light taupe to start with)

* KnitPicks makes a 462 yard sock blank, basically it’s a knitted flat piece of wool/nylon that you can hand paint/acid dye. No more pooling colors, you can make excellent stripes or a perfect gradated pattern, then just knit it off the flat. They are double stranded so you can knit 2 socks at a time & they will match! They also have a few dyeing tutorials!

* Wear gloves & use tongs, if you don’t want muppet colored hands!

* I am partial to using tightly spun/low loft sock yarns, because I LOVE them, but as you can see the patons classic worked pretty good.

* Yes it will smell fruity, sadly for only a little while :(

* Most of all have fun, YOU CAN DO THIS and really, who cares what the hell happens right!?! This is exciting!



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34 thoughts on “smart dyeing

      • I haven’t a clue if it shrunk or how to tell if it had? The water is hot and you’ll need to not be really aggressive or rough when moving the yarn around, we don’t want to felt it into a large mass. My suggestion would be to start with small ‘samples” and do your own experiments to see what temps your fibers can handle and still retain color permanency.

        I look at it like having fun with a new art form, rather than a science, so even if sometimes I do something silly or reckless and get puke colored slightly felted wool, I will just laught it off (I atleast gave it a try and maybe had a little fun) all is not lost, ever! I could always knit up some actual fake puke :) or use it as contrast stripes in a pattern, or throw caution to the wind and just go for it, I’ve knit/crocheted up some pretty spectacular things with some pretty unspectacular yarns and loved the results! I’ve also noticed slightly felted yarn has a perfectly wonderful rustic look & feel to it!

  1. Did you leave a Dopey Yarn? LOL.. I think this is awesome! You can do it with Easter Egg dye too.. now would be a great time to snatch up those marked down egg dyes.

  2. thank you for this! This is my next project for the summer – first time dyeing, so I’m excited. I’m reading up everything about dyeing, so that I’m kind of prepared when I try it out. I was wondering how to dye 3-4 colors on the hank, but never thought to do it all at the same time in the pot, like you did.

  3. That is EXACTLY what I was looking for. Thank you so much for this. I just bought about a pound of “blank” merino yarn from Dharma Trading, and can’t wait to try this. Beautiful job.

  4. Can I just thank you so much for sharing your technique? It is absolutely lovely and I’ve been looking for sometime to find out how to get the lovely speckled look. I have some bare yarn purchased from knitpicks and yarn2dye4 that I have been itching to get try with! I’m not interested in selling anything just creating it for myself. Thank you, thank you for posting this!!!

  5. I have tried this on a few occasions, and I love it! My only problem has been with getting the speckles, as mine always seems to run and blur even when I have very little water. Do you have any suggestions as to how to acheive the speckled splendor?

    • I am so glad you are having fun experimenting!

      What might be happening is your yarn is still too saturated with water, that it is still blending it too much. My suggestion is to try a smaller container or move it to a smaller container after the initial soaking.

      When you first put the wool in water it’s almost water repellent so the first lots of water soaking gets the fiber past that repelling stage and better able to absorb the dye but after that, you can drain out most of the water or move it to a smaller container so more of the yarn is above, up out of the water, allowing it to drain out some of that excess liquid. (You may think you don’t have much water, but the yarn is still swollen like a sponge, it’s the overly wet stuff that will tend to bleed).

      That being said, you can also press some of the excess water out between 2 spoons & kind of pile the yarn up on it’s self, then sprinkle on the powder (you might have better control if you take a pinch with your fingers, and sprinkle it on like a fine chief sprinkling on spice, the colors specks come from the individual granules) or you could make a color paste and with an old toothbrush dip it in the paste, then take your finger and run it down the bristles splattering it onto the yarn …this might (would) get MESSY :D

      • I am sorry I never replied to thank you for your help! I am still having fun experimenting with this. : )

  6. Thank you for this tutorial!! The yarn I dyed is beautiful! I was also having trouble getting the speckles, but I am going to try some of the things you said above.

  7. Hiya! I just dyed some yarn (Patons) with Kool Aid the other day! What fun:) One of the colors I picked out was pretty good and the other was an utter *DUD*! “Scary Blackberry”… ugh. It was nearly black juice and turned my yarn a nasty dark grey color. It looked like a dead rat so I threw that one out:) The others that I did were Tropical Punch (red) and a teal food coloring which turned out pretty good!

    • lol, yes somtimes sacrifices have to be made for the sake of experimentation! Even when you are so sure everything is working just right …things can go wickedly wrong :D …we’ve all had that “aww crud, I just made a dead rat” moment!

  8. I’m curious, how did you get that beautiful speckled coloring. Did you just fling it on to the yarn? or just sprinkling it will achieve that look?

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  11. Thank you so much for this funny and awesome glance into your process! I’ve only just realised I don’t need to put all the colors in at the same time, but I can actually work in steps to prevent the brownish camo soup I was getting earlier today. You deserve a medal!

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