How to Dye Yarn–Part 5

This is IT! The last entry in my how to dye yarn series (for now anyway). I may be back to this series after the baby is born with more techniques to dye yarn. For now, I’m trying to stay away from any toxic dyes (like acid dyes) as a precaution.

Even this section on composite dyes, most of the work was done by my husband because we didn’t want me around the chemicals used in this process. My husband opted not to use PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for this process, HOWEVER I must recommend to ALL of you to follow the safety instructions on your dye packaging and use gloves,  a dust mask and safety glasses while you are using these products.

Cellulose Fiber Dyed with Composite Dye

As in the last two posts, before you begin grab what you need! Don’t forget the PPE!! I will say this a thousand times because I want you all to be safe and healthy and not take unnecessary risks. I would also advise an apron or clothing that you don’t mind permanently changing color (this is TECHNICALLY fabric dye and will take to MOST fabrics). We will ALSO need:


  • A glass jar (large enough to tightly fit your yarn)
  • Squeeze bottles (mine are new ketchup and mustard bottles, but clear works fine)–one per color used
  • Paper Towels (for cleaning spills mostly)
  • A two cup measure
  • Hot water
  • Iodized Salt
  • Packaged composite dye
  • A notebook or printout with your instructions
  • 4.5 oz Pre-washed Cellulose fiber yarn (I’m using cotton)
  • A craft colander (Optional and not pictured)

I’m gonna give you all the heads up now, this process is a little more creative than the last two I’ve written up. There is a VERY large component of “I thought it would be cool” to this one, so be warned going in that I will show you what I did, but that is NOT the only way to do it.

To get this started, mix up your dye in the squirt bottles. My bottles are 12 oz bottles, so I had to do a little math to make sure that I made the right amount for the container I was using. In this case, about 1/2 a pack of dye powder (25 g.) and 3/4 tablespoons salt with 12 oz of hot water. Then cap the bottle and shake to mix (remember to cover the hole in the top with a towel or gloved finger).


Now, here’s where you benefit from my mistake. I thought I would be clever and use a tea kettle to make hot water and then let it set for a bit. BAD IDEA! The plastic bottles were NOT meant to take boiling water and did NOT do well with the boiling water. My second attempt worked MUCH better, I just ran the tap water until it was as hot as it could get and that worked fine for the hot water part.


Now that the dye is mixed up, go ahead and set it aside for a couple minutes (it will help the bottle to cool before you handle it). Grab your glass jars and your yarn. I did three different methods of putting yarn in to see how they would come out, so I labeled my jars, but you do not have to do that. If you want to put dye on the bottom of the jar, now is the time to do so. The key with the dye is to remember, you can add more but you CANNOT take any away, so don’t go too nuts.


Pack your yarn gently into the jars, but make sure it’s squished in there pretty tight. Like I said, I was doing three methods of this. For the “mess” methods, I cut the ties holding my yarn (knowing that it would cause a HUGE tangle later) and for the twist method, I left the ties on. Just remember, in order for fluid (dye) to move, there has to be air. So leave a little bit of air space to allow the dye a way into the middle part of the yarn. Now, here is where we start getting creative.

If you want your yarn to have more white space and a little more defined lines, twist your loops and put them in the bottom of the jar. If you want to have a little more wild variation, use one of the mess methods. For the spaghetti mess, I snipped the ties and grabbed an end then started pushing it into the jar. For the straightened mess I cut the ties and laid it out on the counter, pulling it long and straight then lifted it into the jar. The two mess methods came out looking about the same, so either way really.

Once you have your yarn in your jar, get your colors and use the squirt bottles to run dye down the side of the jar like so:


Tipping the jar will help to get the dye to the bottom of the jar and cover the skein better.

Time for more creativity! I was using three colors to dye these. You can use one or five or however many you would like. Because I was using three, I dyed my yarn in three equal swaths of color. You can do that, or you can make a thin line of one color and a thicker line of others. You can leave some white or not (I chose not). Whatever you do, just remember: you are NOT filling the jar with dye. You have too much if your jar looks like this:


To be fair, that skein still came out nicely, but it would have probably done better if there was a little more air in the jar and a little less dye. Your yarn should have color, but basically be dry.

Now, we wait. The dye needs about 15 minutes to absorb. Because of my boiling water mistake, we had one dye sit on the yarn a LOT longer than the others which created a really interesting impressionist effect. The less time you let the dye sit, the sharper the lines will be, but the more will wash out. I was using fairly light colors to begin with, so I decided to let mine sit a little longer. If you’re doing a solid color, check the manufacturer’s instructions, but usually the longer it sits the darker it gets. With variegated colors, the longer it sits, the more the colors bleed into each other (which can be cool, but not always what you wanted). Here’s mine after the time was up:


Once it’s ready, add hot tap water to fill your jar. I was using half gallon jars, which may have been a bit big for what I was doing. The idea is to cover the yarn with water and let the dye hang out so it can stick. Don’t worry that the water goes murky or the colors seem to become one big mess. The yarn has already absorbed most of what it’s going to.


And now we wait…again. At LEAST 1 hour. You can leave it until the water has come down to room temperature if you would like, but at LEAST 1 hour. Pay attention to what the manufacturer says about this part. I haven’t yet seen a “no more than” warning, but it’s always a good idea to check.

Once your hour (or more) is up, drain the water off the jar and remove the yarn from the jar. Rinse the yarn until the rinse water runs clear. Hang the yarn up to dry and remember that the more spread out the yarn is, the quicker it will dry. If you went the mess method, there’s not need to stand on ceremony, just hang it up and deal with the tangle when it’s dry (wet yarn does NOT like to untangle).




If you did the twist method, just find the tie and hang it up. If you have a dowel or a drying rack with a removable rod, you can insert the rod into the loops and spread them out a little. Just remember to turn the yarn every 8 hours or so to keep from having a weird spot where the dowel touches the yarn.




Once the yarn is dry, lay it out, untangle it if needed, ball it up, and you’re ready to go!

A couple notes for this method as well:

  • You can make more precise dye lines by preparing your dye in small bowels and use a foam brush to paint the dye on. This is called hand painting. Be sure to lay a garbage bag or piece of plastic down UNDER your yarn so you don’t end up painting the table by accident.
  • This method ALSO works for Acid Dyes. Follow the same instructions, but when you get to the “add water to the jar” step, ALSO add your setting material (usually Soda Ash or something similar). Remember to check your instructions. The manufacturer may ask you to use warm or cold water rather than hot. Follow their temperature recommendations.

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