How NOT to Dye Yarn

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Yarn Dyeing Gone Wrong!

Learn How NOT to Dye Yarn so you don’t end up with Ugly Yarn.

Ever have one of those Grand Ideas where you just know it’s going to turn out super cool?? Yeah, well I had one of those this week.

I know how to dye pretty yarn and how to mix and match dye colors but then again, you never know how something will turn out until you try.

Well, this super cool and fun yarn dyeing experiment did not turn out the way I thought. At least, I figured out one way to dye ugly yarn, I mean really BUTT UGLY yarn.

To learn how to dye pretty yarn, go see my Beginner’s Guide to Hand Dyeing Yarn

How NOT to Dye Yarn or How to Dye Ugly Yarn

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So the idea was to wind the skein into a ball and then dye it with all 3 primary colors in separate sections so that the yarn would end up with all the primary and all the secondary colors. Cool huh? I swear, Ms. Ruch, I paid attention in art class when you talked about the colorwheel!

All of my dyeing buddies are already sighing and shaking their heads…. Anyhoo, if you would like to duplicate my ugly yarn experiment, here’s what I did….

Yarn Dyeing Supplies:

– Wool Yarn s.a. Bare-Dye Your Own
Jacquard Acid Dyes (I used Sky Blue, Yellow Sun and Cherry Red)
Ball Winder (or roll it up in a ball by hand)
– Water
– Vinegar
– Dyeing Pots & Pans (no longer safe for food!)
– Stove

Wind up the Yarn

First, you need to turn the skein of yarn to be dyed into a center pull bump with the ball winder. You could also wind it into a ball by hand, but the pattern will be different.

Prepare the Yarn for Dyeing

Secure the end of the yarn so it doesn’t unravel. Hint: Make sure you mark the end or it’ll get lost and you’ll never find it again in that ball of yarn. Yes, I’ve done this lol.

I soaked my yarn ball in a warm water and vinegar solution for 2 hours (enough water to cover the ball and about 1/4 cup vinegar). While the yarn was soaking, I mixed up my dyestocks according to package directions.

Dyeing the Yarn

First, I dyed half of the ball of yarn with Yellow Sun. I filled my pot with enough of the water/dye solution to cover half of my yarn cake. Set the yarn in the solution and turn the heat to a medium. Lightly simmer for about 25 minutes until the water is clear.

I flipped the yarn over and repeated with the Cherry Red dye. So far, so good.

Yarn dyed with yellow and red

Third, I turned the ball perpendicular and dyed half of the cake with the Sky Blue dye.

Dyeing yarn with yellow, red and blue

To my surprise – altho it shouldn’t have been – the part with all 3 dyes turned Black. DUH!

Part of the yarn is actually quite pretty with a speckled yellow, orange and green. There’s also a lot of white since the dye did not penetrate all the way to the center of the yarn cake.

unwinding the dyed yarn

Hand dyed yarn with yellow, red and blue dye

So, tell me about some of your failed experiments! Please, I’m dying to know lol!
And if you want to learn how to dye pretty yarn, I have those tutorials as well.

Here’s my favorite book on Hand Dyeing Yarn the right way:

How to Dye Ugly Yarn

Learn how NOT to dye yarn

How NOT to Dye Yarn

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  1. I like the colors in the last picture with all the strands next to each other. Can you make a craft with the strands next to each other?

  2. LOL. I think it looks great and you can be fairly certain that it’s unique.

  3. Jill Orent says

    I really like the way it turmed out. I did a peice of top similar fashion in the crockpot before don’t know what I will do with the yarn but for just playing around it looks great. It is always fun to experiment.
    How does it look knitted?

    • That’s the question lol! I’m going to knit a swatch this weekend and see. Probably like icky confetti??

  4. Melissa Smith says

    A for effort! And if it looks too ugly, then start the ugly Christmas sweater now. LOL

  5. Bonnie @ wemake7 says

    It looks like it came out pretty cool. My failed experiment before was trying to make popcorn while we were camping with tin foil, kernals and butter, didn’t work out as good as I thought lol.

  6. Paula Parker says

    I never thought about dying yarn. I see yarn at garage sales, unused at a next to nothing price, but the colors. Great solution.

    • Tons of yarn at garage sales! And Goodwill, too. You just have to match the fiber in the yarn to the dye. i.e. acid dyes for wool fiber, fiber reactive dyes for plant fiber such as cotton

  7. I now know what not to do. I have had wool sitting here for a while to dye, but haven’t done it yet. I’ll keep waiting.

    • Give it a try! It’s lots of fun. Let me know if you have any questions along the way

  8. I think I am going to try your kool aid and jar method on some old baby yarn. You you know the type. that super thin but soft baby yarn that is multi colored pastel colors but mainly white. It used to be so poplular but now its a thing of the past. I think I’ll first wash it an make it all fluffy and then dye it. Or do you think I should dye and then wash it?

    • Great idea! I’ve only dyed protein fibers (meaning animal fibers such as sheep or alpaca) with Kool Aid so I’m not really sure how it would take on baby yarn which is usually synthetic. Washing before or after shouldn’t make much of a difference though. Either it will take, or it won’t. Let me know how it goes!

  9. We had a blast last weekend at the dyeing party. I’m glad that I read your blog first, you were there with us and 2 of us – there were 6 in all – did some kettle dyeing which came out beautifully. The rest of us painted with acid dyes on wool and cotton. We also tried dyeing wool and linen with lily blossoms with mixed results. This is definitely addicting.

    • Sounds like a blast! Wish I could have been there. I’d love to see pix of the lily blossom dye 🙂

  10. I love that you shared what you think is a failed project. I don’t think it is ugly. It may not be beautiful but it is colorful. I can’t wait to see what you do with it.

  11. Oh wow…what a neat idea!

    Thanks for joining the Link Up this week!

  12. On the bright side with winter coming you could knit a hat or 2 and donate them to homeless shelters. They would love them 🙂 As far as epic fails go… Well that has been my week. Almost every recipe I made with the intent for a blog post turned out to be an epic fail. Live and learn 🙂 Have a great weekend!!

  13. Ok, so I’ve never dyed my yarn before, and I didn’t even know some of those tools existed, but now, to my husbands dismay….I MUST HAVE THEM! I don’t know what I’ll use them for, or if I will ever use them, but every proper craft hoarder must have all tools possible. Right? Did you try just doing a double color for dying the yarn to see if it would turn out better? Good luck on the next attempt. There will be a next attempt, right?

    • You know, Mary, I am just easily bored with the same old, same old! I got tired of dyeing yarn the ‘normal’ way so I’m playing around with weird techniques. Much more fun that way 🙂

      And yes, ABSOLUTELY YOU MUST HAVE THEM! Give it a try and lemme know if you have any questions.

  14. I love it! I think the ‘mistakes’ are sometimes the most fun. I think the colors turned out really cool, it’s like a funky tie-dye! 🙂 Way to just roll with it.

    • You know, for someone who has been dyeing for years now, you’d think I could’ve predicted this a little better. But I like being surprised, too so….

  15. I love to knit but I’m not brave enough by half to dye my own! I think even the biggest fails turn into the best projects!


  16. It didn’t turn out badly although I was really digging the red and yellow together. At least you aren’t afraid to take chances right?
    I’m curious as to how it will work up too.

    • I kind of liked that skein, too. Somebody wanted to buy it, tho so I let it go. I’ve been thinking about dyeing some more to see how it knits up.

  17. Hilarious title! Remember: Failure is the mother of success … but really, the dyed yarn isn’t that bad 🙂

    • LOL! It turned out so different than I thought it would! Figured it might make a fun tutorial 🙂

  18. OK, so you need to edit this with a picture of your swatch! I’m thinking it was probably rather “organic” and not outrageously ugly. 🙂

    • I know! I’m kicking myself for not doing that but somebody wanted to buy the skein. I’ll have to re-create the colorway.

  19. If I just left off the last dye would it look nice?

    • Yes, it would look more cohesive. This yarn was really cool but the third color threw it off a little

  20. The last yarn I dyed I laid the skeins out and applied 3 colors evenly across the skeins. I let it soak in and came back later to check. The dye on top looked beautiful, but entire center was white and the dye had all soaked into the yarn. I had another color of dye which was royal blue and mixed it up and poured it onto the white areas. My beautiful colors of yellow-fuchsia-turquoise (and the secondary colors that happened when they touched) were mostly darkened by the blue now. It still turned out nice looking, but more dark blue than the other colors I had earlier. So I need to make sure I saturate the dye throughout the skein of yarn first so I don’t have huge white areas.

  21. what type of die can be used for acrylic yarn that won’t wash out later when the project is washed?

  22. I have never dyed yarn but I have tried to make my own hook grips out of clay. FAIL. I blogged about it. It seems like every time I try something new its terrible, lol. Your yarn dying process made me laugh. The yarn you call ugly may be beautiful to someone else. I have no yarn stash as I am fairly new to crochet (8 mo) send it to me! I will use it gladly! Thanks so much for sharing. I follow via Bloglovin. I love your blog. I have a skein of white that is old and yellowed. Maybe I will try to dye my own and blog about it. Thanks so much!
    Crochet, A Day In The Life

    • LOL, thanks Crystal! It was supposed to be a “serious” tutorial but when I saw the yarn, I thought ECK! I almost scrapped the whole post but decided to have fun with it. Interestingly, it’s one of my most popular pieces!!

      Try dyeing that old skein. As long as it’s mostly wool, it’ll work great. I’d love to send you the Ugly but somebody actually bought it from me, lol.

      Love your page, I’ll be following as well.
      Happy Sunday!


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