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?
Either the yarn is the wrong weight or the colors won’t work for what you have in mind or maybe you it to be machine washable.
That has always been my dilemma so I decided to start making my own hand dyed yarn. Not only that but I actually had a yarn dyeing business for a few years so I have had tons of practice.
Here are the basic steps for dyeing your own yarn:
- Choose your yarn and determine the type of fiber content
For example: is the yarn made of wool or cotton? Is it plant based, animal based or synthetic?
- Match the dye to the fiber content
If you have a wool or animal based yarn, you need Acid Dyes. For plant based yarn, you will use Fiber Reactive Dye.
- Pick the dyeing method that will give you your desired yarn colorway
For instance, if you want to make a solid colored yarn, you would use the submersion dye technique. For multi color, you can either hand paint the yarn or use the kettle dye method.
In this Article
- What kind of Yarn Can You Dye?
- Where to Buy Yarn for Dyeing
- What Yarn Dyes Should I Use?
- Basic Yarn Dyeing Supplies
- How To Dye Yarn
>>> If you are new to hand dyeing, this is my favorite practice yarn (in white, cream or light gray).
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.
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What Kind of Yarn Can You Dye?
Ultimately, the type of yarn you choose will depend on what you want to do with it.
For instance, if you have a particular crochet pattern or knitting project in mind, it should tell you the weight and yardage of yarn that you need. The pattern may also give you recommendations on what fiber yarn is best for that specific. 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.
I have not tried acrylic or polyester yarn for dyeing so I recommend that you stay away from those for now 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 also produce a nice contrast like the merino wool skein below:
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 natural fiber 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.
People ask me about ‘Wool Dye‘. Presumably, this means they want to know how to dye wool yarn. Again, in that case you need to use an Acid Dye.
Can You Dye Acrylic Yarn?
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 will be sure to update this dyeing guide when I get the chance to experiment.
Where to Buy Yarn for Dyeing
When you are just learning how to dye wool, I suggest going with a nice quality yarn that is not too expensive. Just some practice yarn. This is my favorite practice yarn.
Wool Of The Andes yarn is inexpensive yet takes the wool dye beautifully. This yarn is also a great choice for many knit and crochet patterns.
When you are 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 also has a wonderful selection of bare yarn for dyeing that fits 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!
Paradise Fibers also has a very large inventory of undyed yarn in different weights and fibers.
Lion Brand has a huge variety of yarn in natural fibers as well as synthetic.
Darn Good Yarn has exotic yarns such as recycled sari silk
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
UPDATE: BLUPRINT shut its online doors, however, the original CRAFTSY brand is being revived! I will update this information as soon as I get it.
As I said previously, you also don’t have to limit yourself to just white yarn. It is lots of fun to play with overdyeing colored yarn.
I especially love the jewel tones I get from overdyeing a silver gray yarn with deep red, blue, purple and green.
What Yarn Dyes Should I Use?
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As stated previous, the type of dye to use depends on the fiber content of your yarn. Different dyes work with different materials.
For instance, the best dye for wool (protein/animal) fibers is special wool dye or Acid Dye. (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
Can You Dye Wool with Rit?
That is good if you don’t know the fiber content of your yarn but it won’t give you the bright, strong colors you get with fiber specific dyes.
Rit Dye is, however, readily available and inexpensive. It is also a decent choice if you are 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 are 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 acid dyes for yarn, 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)
-Chop sticks (handy for moving yarn around gently)
-White vinegar (for acid dyes)
–Squirt bottles or small cups
-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.
How to Dye Yarn (Dye Methods for Wool)
There are many different methods for creating hand dyed yarn such as hand painting, kettle dyeing, speckle and submersion dyeing, etc.
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 is a hand dyed yarn 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 the hand 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 tools and information you need to dye your own beautiful yarn and wool.
What do you think? Ready to try making your own hand dyed 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
How Do You Wash Hand Dyed Yarn?
Washing dyed yarn can be tricky. If your yarn is made of protein fibers (sheep wool, alpaca, goat, etc.), then it is very susceptible to felting and should be very carefully hand washed. See my article on How to Wash Wool for step by step instructions.
If, however, the yarn is labeled ‘Superwash’, that means it has been treated to make it machine washable. You would just need to make sure it doesn’t get all tangled up.
Plant fibers, for the most part, can be washed in a machine. Check the label to make sure.
Plus, here is an interesting article on the chemistry of dyes and dyeing.
Related Wool Dyeing Articles:
6 Yarn and Wool Dyeing Techniques
Natural Dyeing with Dandelion Flowers
Dyeing Yarn with Black Beans
How to Dye Yarn Naturally with Black Walnuts
How to Dye Speckled Yarn
Kettle Dyeing Yarn and Wool
Dyeing Yarn with a Slow Cooker or Crock Pot
Natural Dyeing with Dandelions
How to Dye Semi Solid Yarn the Easy Way
Dyeing Self Striping Yarn without Special Tools