Beginner’s Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn

A Beginner’s Guide To Hand Dyeing Yarn. Learn how to Dye beautiful Yarn with this complete yarn dyeing guide.

Have you ever noticed that even with 1000’s of dyed yarn colorways and combinations, you somehow can’t find just the yarn you want for that certain knitting or crochet project? That’s always been my dilemma. And since I love to play with color anyway, I decided to start dyeing yarn.

That opened up a whole new world of color for me. There is nothing quite so rewarding as taking a plain, white skein of wool yarn and turning it into something magical!

Here, I’m sharing my secrets with you in the Beginner’s Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn.

Beginner's Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn,

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You can dye just about any kind of yarn from chunky yarn to super bulky yarn, from merino wool yarn to many cheap yarns. The weight of the yarn really doesn’t factor into it.

The main consideration is what is the yarn made of and that will determine which dyes you need to use.

People ask me about ‘Wool Dye‘ which I assume means they want to dye yarn made of sheep wool. In that case you need to use an acid dye.

Acrylic or Polyester yarn was not really dyeable until fairly recently when RIT came out with a dye specifically for synthetic fibers. I have not tried it, personally, so I can’t give you any information on that. But, I’ll be sure to update this dyeing guide when I get the chance to experiment.

Beginner’s Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn

What Kind of Yarn Should I Buy?

Ultimately, what kind of yarn you get will depend on what you want to do with it. If you have a pattern, it should tell you the weight and yardage you need to complete your project. It may also give recommendations on what type of yarn is best for that pattern.

Some questions to ask yourself:

What weight of yarn do you need? Lace or DK? Check your pattern
Does it need to be machine washable? Stick with Superwash or Cotton Blends

As I said previously, I don’t have any experience dyeing cheap acrylic or polyester yarn so I recommend you stay away from them and begin with a natural fiber yarn.

That said, a small percentage of nylon blended in with wool or alpaca is fine. Beware though, that the nylon won’t dye like the natural fibers which you may not want but it can produce a nice contrast like the merino wool skein below:

Beginner's Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn,

Where Can I Find Yarn to Dye?

If you’ve never dyed yarn before, I suggest going with a nice, wool yarn that’s not too expensive. Just some practice yarn. When you’re ready for something nicer and more expensive, head to your local yarn shop or fiber festival. Those are the best places to find a lovely variety of yarn blends and weights.

Knit Picks has a wonderful selection of bare yarn to dye for every budget. Wool of the Andes is a lovely, soft yarn at a great price that dyes up beautifully. Make sure to check their Sale Page!

Craftsy has lots and lots of cool yarn and tons of sales. While you’re there, check out their many Fiber Arts Classes

Darn Good Yarn has exotic yarns such as recycled sari silk

Amazon – great place to buy yarn straight from the farm!

You also don’t have to limit yourself to white yarn. It’s fun to play with overdyeing colored yarn. I especially love the deep, jewel tones I get from overdyeing silver gray.

Beginner's Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn,

What Yarn Dyes Do I Need?

That depends on the fiber content of your yarn. Different dyes work with different materials.

If your yarn is made up of protein/animal fibers, you need to use Acid Dyes. (Sounds scary, but the ‘acid’ is just the white vinegar that you add to help set the dye.) Match the content of your yarn to the type of dye.

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I mainly use Jacquard Dyes but there are other, good brands available such as Cushing’s Dyes.

Jacquard Acid Dyes – use with Sheep, Alpaca, Mohair, Silk (Protein/Animal fiber)

Jacquard iDye – use with Cotton, Hemp, Linen (Plant Fiber)

Skeins of hand dyed yarn in a rainbow of colors. A complete Beginner's Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fiber

Can I just use RIT?

Well, yes you can. However, RIT is what is known as a Composite Dye, which means it has different dye types mixed together for various fibers.

That’s good if you don’t know the content of your yarn but it won’t give you the bright, strong colors of fiber specific dyes. It is, however, readily available and inexpensive.

Does Food Coloring Work?

YES! Kool-Aid, Easter Egg Dyes or plain Food Coloring work great for dyeing yarn! Food Colors are cheap, easy to come by and you don’t need any special pots and pans which makes them a good choice for the beginning yarn dyer.

See my tutorial on Dye Yarn with Kool-Aid

What Other Supplies Do I Need?

If you’re dyeing with Kool-Aid or food coloring, you can use whatever pots and pans you have in the kitchen. If, however, you will be using professional dyes, any utensils, dishes or pots will no longer be safe to use for food.

Check out your local thrift store for cheap roasting pans or casserole dishes. Stay away from aluminum, however, as that can affect the end result.

Basic Yarn Dyeing Supplies (depending on your dye method):

-Old pots, roasting pans, glass casserole dishes
-Plastic cups, spoons (for mixing dye powder)
-Face mask
-Chop sticks (handy for moving yarn around gently)
-White vinegar (for acid dyes)
-Plastic wrap
-Squirt bottles or small cups
-Heat source s.a. stove or hot plate

Beginner's Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn, A Tutorial

How Do I Dye My Yarn?

There are lots of different methods for dyeing yarn such as hand painting, kettle dyeing, submersion dyeing, etc. I have a few tutorials to get you started:

How to Hand Paint Yarn
How to Kettle Dye Yarn
How to Speckle Dye Yarn

Dye Yarn with Kool-Aid
How to Dye Self Striping Yarn without Special Tools
Dyeing Yarn with a Slow Cooker or Crock Pot
Easy Way to Dye Semi Solid Yarn
6 Yarn Dyeing Techniques

This is my favorite book so far for any yarn dyer, beginner or advanced. I highly recommend it!

Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece
Beginner Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn,

What do you think? Ready to try hand dyeing some pretty yarn? Let me know how it turns out and if you have any questions, feel free to ask!

How to Dye Yarn. Complete Beginner's Guide to Yarn Dyeing

Complete Beginner's Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fiber. Learn how to dye your own beautiful yarn.

Beginner Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn by


  1. Thanks for this post, I’ve always wanted to try dyeing my own yarn, but I was way too scared! I definitely want to give it a try soon though and you’ve provided some really great info here.

    Happy crafting,

    • Annette says:

      Thank you so much, Jess! Give it a try but be careful, it’s addicting! And by all means, if anything is unclear or you have a question, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer.

  2. Bridget says:

    wonderful post! I’m just starting to dye my own and this breaks the process down to seem more manageable. thank you.

    • Annette says:

      Thank you so much, Bridget! I’m happy it was helpful. Let me know how it works out and if you have any questions, please ask!