Dyeing Yarn: A Beginner’s Guide

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Learn all about dyeing yarn and wool with this complete beginner’s guide

Have you ever noticed that even with 1000’s skeins of dyed yarn, you somehow can’t find just the yarn you want for that certain knitting or crochet pattern?

That’s always been my dilemma so I decided to start making my own hand dyed yarn! If you are new to hand dyeing, this is my favorite practice yarn (in white, cream or light gray).

Hand Dyed Yarn in Solid Colors
Skeins of Hand Dyed Yarn in Solid Colors

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Yarn dyeing 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, adding some yarn dyes and turning it into something magical!

In this beginner’s guide for dyeing yarn and dyeing wool, I’m going to share with you the secrets I learned over many years of hand dyeing and working with various types of wool. Not just wool yarn but also raw wool, roving and a variety of fiber including merino and cormo sheep, silk and alpaca.

Beginner's Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn, Fiberartsy.com

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What Kind of Yarn Should I Buy for Dyeing?

Ultimately, the type of yarn you choose for dyeing will depend on what you want to do with it. If you have a pattern for a crochet or knitting project, it should tell you the weight and yardage you need. It may also give recommendations on what type of yarn is best for that specific pattern.

FYI – this is my favorite source for Dyeable Yarn

Some questions to ask yourself:

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

Merino Wool and Nylon Fiber Hand Dyed Yarn

DK or Sport Weight Yarn? Sheep Wool or Cotton Yarn?

The weight of the yarn really doesn’t factor into it. In general, you can dye any kind of yarn from chunky yarn to super bulky yarn. You are really only limited by the space and dye equipment needed.

Instead, the main consideration is what fiber content your yarn has and that will determine which type of dye and what dye method you need to use.

For instance, an Acid Dye that works with protein or animal fiber wool will not work on plant fiber yarn such as cotton. In that case, you need to use what is called Fiber Reactive Dye.

People ask me about ‘Wool Dye‘. Presumably, this means they want to know how to dye yarn wool yarn. Again, 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. Also, Jacquard has now come out with a dye for Polyester and Nylon blends called iDye Poly. I have not tried either of them, personally, so I can’t give you any first hand information on that. But, I’ll be sure to update this dyeing guide when I get the chance to experiment.

Where Can I Find Yarn to Dye?

When you are just learning how to dye wool, I suggest going with a nice, yarn that’s not too expensive. Just some practice yarn. This is my favorite practice yarn. It is inexpensive yet takes the dye beautifully. This yarn is also a great choice for many knit and crochet patterns.

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 to dye.

Knit Picks has a wonderful selection of bare yarn to dye for every budget. Wool of the Andes (my favorite) is a lovely, soft yarn at a great price that dyes up beautifully. Plus, this yarn comes in a rainbow of colors so you can practice overdyeing some already-dyed yarn. Make sure to check their Clearance Sale Page!

Bluprint (formerly Craftsy) has lots and lots of cool yarn and tons of sales. While you’re there, check out their many Knitting and Crochet Classes

Darn Good Yarn has exotic yarns such as recycled sari silk

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

As I said previously, 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 a silver gray yarn with deep reds, blues and greens.

White Wool Yarn ready for Hand Dyeing
Undyed wool yarn

What Yarn Dyes Should I Use?

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As stated previous, which dyes to use 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.

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

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

NEW! Jacquard iDye Poly – use with Polyester and Nylon fibers

In general, I use Jacquard Dyes for all of my yarn dyeing but there are other, good brands available for wool, such as Cushing’s Dyes.

Skeins of Merino Sheep Wool and Alpaca Yarn Dyed with Jacquard Acid Dyes in Solid Colors

Does RIT Dye work for Dyeing Yarn?

Well, yes you can. However, RIT Dyes are 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. Rit is also a decent choice if you’re just learning and don’t want to invest a whole lot of money buying yarn dyeing supplies just yet.

Can I Dye Yarn with Food Coloring?

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

See my tutorial on Dyeing Yarn with Kool-Aid

What Other Dyeing Supplies Do I Need?

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

Quick tip – check out your local thrift store for cheap roasting pans, stock pots or casserole dishes. Stay away from aluminum, however, as that can affect the end result.

Basic Yarn Dyeing Supplies:

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

This list is only a suggestion and totally customizable to your needs and budget. And, before you go out and buy a bunch of yarn dyeing supplies, please take a look around your house.

You might be surprised by what you already have that can be repurposed such as old ketchup or mustard squeeze bottles or craft brushes.

NEVER use pots, pans, measuring cups etc. that are used for food prep.
ALWAYS wear a face mask when handling dry dye powder.
Helpful Tip from Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece by Gail Callahan: Cover your work surface with newspaper and spritz them with water. This will attract dry dye particles that may escape.

Dyeing Yarn in Multi Colorways. Alpaca and Merino Wool Yarn dyed in various Colorways for Knitting or Crochet
Skeins of Hand Dyed Yarn

Yarn Dyeing Techniques

There are many different methods for creating hand dyed yarn such as hand painting, kettle dyeing, speckle and submersion dyeing, etc. Check out this online class for dyeing yarn at home.

Online class for dyeing yarn

Hand Painting Yarn

With Hand Painting, you apply the dye onto the yarn directly by hand. It gives you control over the exact placement of the dyes and therefore the final look of your yarn.

With this method, the dye will bleed somewhat, but not as much as with other dyeing methods. Hand Painting can be done with squirt bottles, cups or paint brushes. After applying the dye, the yarn is then heated to set the dyes.
See the step by step tutorial How to Hand Paint Yarn

Kettle Dyeing Yarn

The main difference in Kettle Dyeing is that the yarn is placed inside a pot, pan or kettle and the dyes are poured on in sections. This gives you less control than with hand painting as the dyes tend to run and blend. The dye is then heat set in the same kettle.
See the step by step tutorial How to Kettle Dye Yarn


Speckle or Sprinkle Dyeing

Speckled Yarn, Sprinkled Yarn, Spotted Yarn or Confetti Yarn … this dyeing technique goes by many different names. Basically, it’s a yarn colorway that has a single or a few main colors with specks or dots of other colors. Kool Aid drink powder works great for this method.
See the step by step tutorial How to Speckle Dye Yarn


Dyeing Wool with Kool Aid Powder

If you’re a beginner yarn dyer and don’t want to invest in expensive dyes or equipment, you can make beautiful yarns with Kool Aid powder. No special pots or pans needed as it is food safe.
See the step by step tutorial Dye Yarn with Kool-Aid

Dyeing Self Striping Yarn

Self Striping Yarn is yarn that is dyed to repeat the same color or pattern over several rounds of knitting. This type of colorway is often used with knitting socks.
See the step by step tutorial How to Dye Self Striping Yarn without Special Tools

Dyeing with a Slow Cooker or Crock Pot

A Crock Pot can be used to heat set dyed yarn or you can dye the yarn in the Crock Pot itself using the Kettle Dyeing Technique.
See the step by step tutorial Dye Yarn with a Slow Cooker or Crock Pot

Dyeing Semi Solid Yarn

By winding my skein of yarn into ball or cake, I figured out a simple way to dye semi solid (almost gradated) yarn.
See the step by step tutorial Easy Way to Dye Semi Solid Yarn

There you have it! Now you have all the tool and information you need to dye your own beautiful yarn and wool.

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!

This is my favorite book so far for anybody interested in how to dye yarn from beginner to advanced. I highly recommend it! Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece

Plus, here is an interesting article on the chemistry of dyes and dyeing.

Beginners Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn
How to Dye Yarn. Guide to Yarn Dyeing

Beginner's Guide to Dyeing Yarn

Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fiber. Learn how to dye your own beautiful yarn.
how to dye yarn - a beginner guide
Image by Inga Klas from Pixabay

How to Dye Yarn and Wool

Dyeing Yarn: A Beginner’s Guide

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  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,

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

    • 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!


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