Learn how easy it is to hand dye or hand paint yarn at home. No previous dyeing experience needed!
So, you have decided to try dyeing yarn at home and maybe you are not sure where to begin. Hand painting is one way to get exactly the color and pattern you want.
There are several different ways to hand paint yarn and every yarn dyer has his or her own favorite method. The main difference is in how you apply the dye.
Some people like to use brushes to paint the dye directly onto the yarn. I have found that this method works well if you have a large sponge brush or a small amount of yarn.
Other fiber artists use small cups to pour the dye. The downside to this is that you give up some control. It is very easy to accidentally pour too much dye which then flows to areas you didn’t intend to dye that color.
Personally, I prefer to paint the dye onto the yarn using squirt bottles. These give me more precise control over how much dye liquid is applied and where.
The basic steps of hand painting yarn:
- Soak yarn in warm water and vinegar
- Mix dyes according to package directions
- Squeeze water from yarn and lay on plastic wrap
- Apply dyes, one color at a time, with squeeze bottles or sponge brushes
- Roll up yarn and steam
- Rinse and hang to dry
This is my favorite practice yarn (in white, cream or light gray!)
In This Article
- What is Hand Painted Yarn?
- Yarn Dyeing Supplies
- Yarn Dyeing Safety
- Presoaking the Yarn
- Applying the Yarn Dye
- Setting the Dye
- Rinsing the Hand Painted Yarn
- What Kind of Yarn Can You Dye?
What is Hand Painted Yarn?
Hand Painted Yarn is exactly what it sounds like … it is yarn that has the dye directly applied to it by hand. As I said above, this can be done with a paint brush or sponge, a cup or a squirt bottle.
The main difference between this and other yarn dyeing methods is that the dye is directly applied where you want it.
Yarn Dyeing Supplies:
– Wool Yarn ** (Huge selection of Yarns to Dye)
– Jacquard Acid Dyes
– Digital Scale
– Dust mask ***
– Squirt bottles (1 per color)
– White Vinegar
– Plastic wrap
– Chopsticks (optional)
– Old Newspapers
– Stock Pot with a Rack (for dyeing only)
** Make sure that the yarn you have is a protein yarn which simply means animal fiber. This can be sheep wool, alpaca, goat or silk.
*** Safety Note: You do not want to breathe in the dye powder so always put a dust mask over your nose and mouth when handling the dyes. See more safety recommendations below:
Yarn Dyeing Safety
If you are dyeing yarn or wool in your kitchen, very carefully cover all counters with newspaper or plastic. Never handle food at the same time that you are dyeing.
Also, remember that any equipment used in dyeing will no longer be safe for food prep so make sure that all of your pots and pans and measuring cups, etc. are dedicated to yarn dyeing only. The only exception to this rule is if you are dyeing with food color instead of chemical dyes.
Also, as I stated previously, wear your dust mask anytime you are handling dry dye powder.
Pre Soaking the Yarn
Before you begin painting the yarn, you need to soak it in a very warm (but not hot) water and white vinegar solution. (The is actually the ‘acid’ in acid dyes).
How much white vinegar you need depends on the amount of yarn you have. Normally, I paint about 8 to 10 skeins at one time so I add about 1 – 2 cups of vinegar to my water. Simply push the yarn below the surface and let it soak for about an hour.
Now, while your wool yarn is soaking you can mix up your acid dyes. Since the instructions can vary depending on the brand of dye you use, I won’t go into the details. Make sure to follow the directions on your dye container.
For Jacquard Acid Dye, I usually mix approximately .3 oz per 1/2 gallon of water. (Note: this can also vary by color as some are stronger than others)
Next, carefully remove the yarn from the water and let it drain for a bit if you can and then squeeze out the excess water. You want the yarn to be damp but don’t let it dry out.
Now lay a long piece of plastic wrap on your table and place the yarn on top. The piece of plastic should be larger than the area of your yarn.
Applying the Yarn Dye
Now the fun starts! With the squirt bottle, begin applying your dye to the skeins of yarn. You can use the chopsticks to carefully move the yarn to make sure the dye penetrates to the bottom of the skein.
When switching colors, I will usually leave a small gap to give the colors a chance to blend together.
After all of the color is applied, you need to use newspapers to soak up any excess dye. Sometimes when you hand paint yarn, too much liquid dye is applied. So, it is important to remove the extra which can move around when you set the dye.
Setting the Dye
In order for the yarn to not bleed, we need to set or fix the dye. Begin by carefully rolling the yarn in the plastic wrap. Place the rack in your stock pot and set the yarn on top of the rack. (If you don’t have a rack, a steamer basket or even an old aluminum pie plate will work.)
Now, add some water to the bottom of the pot making sure the water is below the yarn. Bring the water to a boil and simmer for about an hour. Then, turn the heat off and let the yarn cool overnight.
Rinsing the Hand Painted Yarn
Finally, all that is left is to thoroughly rinse your yarn in luke warm water. You need to handle the yarn carefully to keep it from felting. No drastic temperature changes and no agitating the yarn.
Once the water runs clear, fill a bowl with room temperature water, add a tiny squirt of dish soap and place your yarn in the bowl.
Gently push the yarn into the water. This will help to remove any excess dye particles that didn’t adhere to the yarn.
Again, carefully rinse the yarn and then hang it up to dry.
Your lovely hand painted yarn is now ready to use! You can make a colorful crochet scarf, hat, knit shawl or wrap, the possibilities are almost endless!
Below is a skein of yarn from my alpaca farming days that I call “Tutti Fruity”.
This was 80% Alpaca Fiber, 20% Merino Wool in a DK Weight which I dyed with bands of purple, turquoise, emerald, aztec gold, yellow sun and crimson red.
I hope you found this yarn dyeing tutorial helpful. If you have any questions or if anything is unclear, please let me know in the comments below.
What Kind of Yarn Can You Dye?
Actually, you can dye just about any kind of yarn. The only difference is which type of dye you use. For example, protein (animal) fiber is dyed with acid dyes. In contract, plant fiber yarn (cotton, linen or bamboo) is dyed with fiber reactive dyes.
Nowadays, there is even a dye for synthetic fibers such as acrylic or nylon.
Related Yarn Dyeing Tutorials
Here’s another good tutorial on hand painting yarn from Dharma Trading.