Sunday, March 14, 2010

Yarn dyeing with RIT dye tutorial

This is my first attempt at dying yarn.  I used a microwave and it was QUICK! I didn't take pictures of the process, because truth be told, I wasn't sure it would work.  The pictures I'm including here are pictures after the fact so that you can get the idea.  Warning... this is wordy, but it works.

-White or Off White 100% wool yarn (I used Lion's Brand Fisherman's Wool because it's a 465yd ball, so there's plenty to make two larger skeins or three smaller ones)
-RIT Powdered Dyes, in any colors you choose (I used Dark Brown, Fuschia, and Petal Pink)
-Something to put dyes in for mixing (I used disposable Gladware)
-Something to mix the dyes with (I used disposable chopsticks from takeout sushi)
-Squirt bottles (like the kind you see in restaurants for ketchup.  I used old hair dye bottles from Sally's)
-Plastic Wrap (you're going to need plenty of this depending on how much yarn you dye)  I used Glad Cling Wrap.  Don't know how much of a difference that makes, but I read somewhere that some plastic wrap can melt all over your yarn.  This one did I guess it's ok.
-Garbage bag or other large plastic to cover your work surface (this stuff stains big time!)
-Plastic Syringe (not necessary, but helpful)
-White Distilled Vinegar
-Wool Soak or whatever else you normally use
-Gloves (believe me these are IMPORTANT)

Keep in mind that you don't want to reuse anything that had dye in it for food.  That's why I used the gladware, and I wouldn't mix the powders around stuff that is meant for food either.  Who knows how far it floats, better safe than sorry.

Wind your ball of yarn into skeins for dying.  You can either use a swift (if you're lucky enough to have one) or you can use the back of a chair.  I used a large roundish box I had from something we bought for the baby.  You can either split the ball into two or three skeins, or keep it all in one....whatever size you want.  Tie the skeins in at least four places (not too tight though).  You don't want everything getting tangled up when you're washing or rinsing.  Prepare the dye solution by adding one packet of dye powder to two cups of very hot water.  I used three different colors, and I dyed three balls worth of yarn.  That's 1395 yards of yarn and I had plenty dye solution left over to dye more yarn.  Mix well till all powder is completely dissolved.
Fill your sink with about three inches of tepid water and mix in one cup of vinegar.  Soak yarn for at least 30 minutes.  Push it all down into the water to make sure it is completely soaked.
Cover your work surface with your garbage bag or plastic sheeting.  I cannot stress this enough, this stuff stains bad.  Lay out a length of plastic wrap that is slightly longer than your skein.  I also used a couple pieces that were a little longer than the width of the first piece of plastic wrap, and put those sideways on top overlapping a little.
(this yarn is already dyed.  It started out as an off white color)

Put your gloves on and get your squirt bottles ready for use.  I used the plastic syringe to suck out dye from the gladware and squirt into the bottles.  You don't have to do this, but I didn't want to take any chances trying to pour directly from the tupperware into the bottle.  Less messy this way.  There's also a plus side to using the syringe.  Mine has markings from 1 to 10ml.  I used that to figure out how much dye there was in the bottle in case I wanted to get a close shade again.  This isn't really perfect science, so it won't get you close enough to use two different skeins on one project (if you dyed one solid color), but it will get you close if you want to use the same-ish color on something else.  If I wanted to have two skeins be the same, I dyed those together.  I think that's the only way to make sure that any two will be the same.  It's a good idea to know what you want to make before you start dying.  For the most part, I just figured I'd make a bunch of little house socks for myself (IF this even worked).  Once I saw that it was really working, I dyed two skeins at a time for a project.
I used 7 syringes worth of dye for the brighter shades of any color, and filled the rest of the bottle (up to 8oz.) with hot water.  My bottles were reusable hair dye bottles, so they had markings from 1 to 8 oz.  (very helpful for me)  For lighter shades, I used either 2.5, 3 or 4 syringes full, depending on the color I was hoping to achieve. I'll give a "recipe" for the shades I used later.  You'll need approx 16 oz of diluted solution for each skein, assuming you split the ball into three.

Pull one skein out of the vinegar bath and wring to get the water out.  Get as much of the water out as possible.  You can also roll the yarn into a towel and squeeze out extra water.  I didn't do this, but I have pretty strong hands, and got a lot of the water out by just wringing it.  You want your yarn damp, not wet.
Lay the skein on top of the plastic wrap.  Use your squirt bottles to apply the dye to the yarn.  I would kind of smush the yarn down every so often to make sure the dye is completely saturating the yarn.  It tends to kind of bead up and look like you're not adding enough solution.  You don't want a big sopping mess under the yarn or the colors will all run together and look muddy.  I mostly did two colors on each skein for fun. 

Once you've got your yarn saturated well, but not sopping, wrap them up length-wise in the plastic wrap.  I used an additional length of wrap slightly longer than the wrapped piece, to cover the whole thing once again.  I don't know that this is really necessary, but I can say that mine didn't really drip at all, and that's nice :-).

Here's the cool part!  I put the whole thing on top of a publix bag in my microwave and heat it for one minute.  Once it was done, I flipped it over and heat it for 1 and 1/2 minutes more.  THAT'S IT!
CAREFUL taking this out of your microwave, it's HOT.  I also noticed that the darker colors get hotter than the lighter ones.  Lay the heated skein on top of a surface that won't stain or burn.  I just put mine on my stove top.  Flip it over every once in a while to make sure that the dye won't just pool on the bottom and make it darker on one side.

Go ahead and dye your other skeins the same way.  Have fun with this, try new combinations of colors!

Let the yarn cool to room temperature.  I guess this would take maybe an hour and a half.  I wasn't paying attention to the clock. 

Once the yarn has cooled, you can rinse in the sink with lukewarm water.  Be very careful not to use water that is colder than the yarn, it will felt.  Mush it around until the yarn runs clear.  Careful with this too.... if you mess with the yarn too vigorously it may felt, I did this to one of the skeins :-(.
After the yarn has been rinsed thoroughly, you can use the soak to recondition the wool.  Wring out and hang to dry.

Sit back and enjoy the view of hand-dyed wonderful little skeins in any color you want!

IMPORTANT!  Make sure you're yarn is COMPLETELY dry before you wind into a ball.  You don't want a bunch of mildew all over your hard work.

I'm going to try mixing dyes to get new colors next time.  I'll probably mix the dyes in the actual squirt bottles though.  I would hate to mix the concentrated dyes, not like the colors, and then not be able to start over.

Here are pictures and the "recipes" I used for them.  Keep in mind that for each of these, I used however many syringes full of dye (10 ml each syringe) and then filled the bottle up to the 8oz line.  That means that if I used more dye, there was less water, and vice versa.  I won't be listing the amount of water, because I really just didn't take note of that.  Each picture will have just the number of syringes I used for each color of yarn.  Also remember that each skein (approximately a third of the ball) uses almost 16oz of diluted dye.  If you use two colors, you will use almost all of both bottles.  If you use three or more colors, you'll have more left over in each bottle.

7 Brown
7 Fuschia
7 Petal Pink

7 Brown
7 Petal Pink


5 Petal Pink
2.5 Petal Pink
left the last bit without dye

7 Fuschia
7 Petal Pink

Like I said, I didn't know if this would work, so I didn't take pictures of the process.  I hope you enjoy this and have wonderful results!  If you use this method, send me pics.  I'd LOVE to see what you do with this!!!



  1. Beautiful! Isn't it fun? I'm going to be trying this method next week - we're doing it as the Midnight Knit activity. I'm especially looking forward to it after seeing your results.

  2. Hi! I wrote similar tutorial couple of months ago and I'm thinking about do some things like you. But I'm a little worried about using a plastic wrap.

  3. awesome. i am trying this in about 5 mins with some natural zitron trekking. thanks for your blog post about this... will follow in your footsteps and blog about my experiences too. i would LOVE to see your yarn knit up!

  4. Thanks for this tutorial! I wanted to try something a little less intimidating than acid dyes before I made a bigger investment, and this was just what I was looking for.

    A few things that might help others:
    1) I tied three skeins of yarn together when dyeing so I had consistent "dye lots".
    2) Get nitrile gloves (available at a hardware or health supply store) rather than latex or dish gloves. They're more chemical-resistant than latex (and don't have powdered insides), and they have more sensitivity and dexterity than dish gloves.
    3) I added a little shot of vinegar (1 oz) to each dye bottle when mixing the working solution to help the setting process. This was fine for all colors except dark green, which shifted to an almost denim blue.
    4) If you don't want to use the entire dye packet at once, you can make a quarter pack (~ 8 grams) if you measure on a postal scale. Use 1/2 cup of hot water to make the concentrated solution.
    5) Play with mixing concentrates to get custom colors. I tried this on my second batch and got a darker, redder purple with scarlet and navy blue mixed in.

    See my skeins here: They've been re-skeined on a niddy-noddy to mix the colors.

  5. Thank you so much. Dyeing my first skein today hopefully, as I get up the courage. Your tutorial is amazingly helpful. Jan Ash, Topeka, KS

  6. Do you think you could use cotton yarn? The two craft stores in my area only carry 6 skeins of wool yarn between them.