Ready to take your Knitting or Crocheting to the next level? Why not dye your own perfect cotton yarn for that great pattern? This easy step by step tutorial shows you how!
Don’t you hate when you can’t find the perfect color yarn for your latest crochet or knitting pattern? I know that feeling and it is why I started dyeing my own yarn at home a long time ago.
As you may know, over the years I have shared quite a few tutorials for dyeing wool yarn and fiber but it occurred to me the other day that I have never written a post about how to dye cotton yarn.
So, this article will show you how to do just that using special fiber reactive dyes. Also, I noticed that I have never shared a post on dyeing synthetic yarn such (as polyester). Make sure and check back for that.
- What is the best dye for cotton?
- Can you dye cotton yarn with wool dyes?
- Supplies needed
- Yarn Dyeing Safety!
- Step by step instruction for how to dye cotton yarn
- Can you dye cotton with Rit Dyes?
- Can you dye cotton yarn with food coloring?
What is the best dye for cotton?
Plant fibers, which includes Cotton, Bamboo and Linen are best dyed with Fiber Reactive Dyes aka Cold Water Dyes such as Jacquard Procion MX Fiber Reactive Dyes.
These dyes are specially formulated to adhere to plant materials.
Can you dye cotton yarn with wool dyes?
Wool Dyes aka Acid Dyes are formulated to dye Protein Fiber or Animal Fiber. This includes the wool or hair from sheep, goats, alpacas as well as silk from silk worms.
Since Cotton is a Plant Fiber, wool dyes will not work. They would simply wash out and not adhere to the yarn.
- Cotton Yarn (I used Peaches & Cream)
- Fiber Reactive Dyes
- Soda Ash
- Hot Water
- Dust Mask & Gloves (see Safety Note)
- Old Containers (large and small)
- Squeeze Bottles
- Measuring Cups & Spoons
- Chopsticks & Plastic Spoons
Yarn Dyeing Safety!
NEVER use pots, pans, measuring cups etc. that are used for food prep.
ALWAYS wear a face mask when handling dry dye powder.
While handling the dye in liquid form is considered safe, you may not want to walk around with turquoise hands, so wear your gloves. (Optional)
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.
Step by step instruction for how to dye cotton yarn
1. Soak the yarn in Soda Ash
First things first … is your yarn in skein or hank form? If yes, move on to the next paragraph. If not, you will need to skein your yarn first. (Check out this article for instructions if you are not sure how to do that.)
Once your yarn is wound up, the first thing you want to do is soak it in a mixture of Soda Ash and Hot Water. This will make the dye bond or adhere to the cotton fiber.
Make this mix at a ratio of 1 Cup Soda Ash to 1 Gallon Hot Water. Stir it with a chopstick or large spoon until the soda ash is dissolved then add your yarn and soak it for 20 minutes or so.
Note: the excess soda ash/water liquid can be saved for future dye projects. I keep mine in a large mason jar with a tight fitting lid.
2. Mix the Dyes
Now, while your yarn is soaking, you will want to go ahead and mix up your dyes. How much dye per water depends on how strong you want your colors.
A general ratio I use for strong/dark color is 2 tsp dye per cup of water. Therefore, if I want lighter tones, I will start with 1/2 tsp per cup and go from there. (For this yarn, I mixed for strong color).
Before you handle the dye in powder form, place the dust mask over your nose and mouth. Then, measure the dye, put it in an old container and add a little bit of the water.
Using an old plastic spoon, mix the dye into the water to dissolve and then add the rest of the water. If you are going to apply the dye with squeeze bottles, go ahead and put the liquid dye in a bottle.
(Alternately, you can also apply the dye with the cup. I just find that method a little messier and it is harder to get the dye where I want it.
Repeat above steps with all your remaining dye colors.
3. Apply the dye to the yarn
Now comes the fun part! Take your yarn out the soda ash/water mix and wring out the excess liquid. (Remember to save it!)
Then place the yarn in a large container. You want to be able to spread it out as much as possible so you can better control where the dye goes.
Take the first squeeze bottle and begin applying the dye to the yarn in sections. You can use a chopstick to move the strands around so you can get the dye underneath.
Continue adding the liquid dye to the yarn. You can cover all of it or leave some undyed. It’s totally up to you.
Keep in mind that the colors will continue to migrate along the yarn so some of your white patches may end up with some dye on them.
4. Let the yarn sit
Once you have the dye where you want it, cover the yarn and let it sit for at least 12 hours. If your container does not have a lid, you can simply use plastic wrap or place it in a plastic bag and tie it closed.
5. Rinse the yarn
When you are ready, carefully take the yarn to a sink and rinse out the excess dye. This may take a little while so be patient.
Once the water runs clear, put a little squirt of dish soap in the sink, fill it with water and soak your yarn to remove the rest of the dye. Then rinse well with water.
Finally, just hang your yarn to dry. It is now ready for you to crochet or knit with!
Cotton yarn is perfect for knitting or crocheting dish cloths, towels, washcloths and product bags.
Can you dye cotton with Rit Dyes?
Absolutely! Rit Dyes are designed to dye most types of fiber. They are composed of all different chemicals for all different fibers.
This means, Rit contains fiber reactive dyes for plant fibers as well as acid dyes for animal fibers and some chemical dyes for synthetic fibers.
This way, even if you don’t know what fiber your yarn is made of, you should be able to dye it with Rit.
The downside to Rit is that the colors tend to not be as strong as dyes that are made specifically for a certain fiber.
Can you dye cotton yarn with food coloring?
Food coloring (which includes Kool Aid drink powder, Easter Egg dye tablets and Wilton cake dyes) work well on protein (animal) fibers such as wool but not plant fibers.
The yarn will not hold the dye. So no, you cannot dye cotton yarn with food coloring.
More Yarn Dyeing Tutorials:
Beginner’s Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn
How to Dye Cotton Yarn
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