yarn

Dyeing and Overdyeing, or: My process, shared

I did a little more overdyeing about a week ago, fixing up some more yarn I wasn’t completely happy with and, since a few of my lovely knitterly friends had recently asked about how I dye yarn, I took some photos as I worked. I thought there might be some other curious people out there, though I have to stress that this is only how *I* dye yarn; I have no idea what others do, or even if I’m doing stuff that might be considered ‘bad’ by people with more know-how than myself. My steps do not contain specifics because I really am just figuring out how this goes myself, and I haven’t worried myself with exact measurements and repeatable colorways just yet. So this isn’t a tutorial, just a general overview of my process – it works for me, is relatively low-maintanence, and produces yarns I like knitting with. Which is pretty much all I really want from the whole thing.

To start with, I like to re-skein my yarn in as big a loop as is manageable – I usually use the long end of my coffee table. Honestly, this step is kind of a pain in the ass, but it makes a thinner skein, which makes it easier for the dye to get into those hard-to-reach places. I soak those skeins in a tub of water overnight …

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… with nothing added, just water. Some people add a dab of dishwashing liquid, or even a little vinegar, but I don’t. No big reason, I just don’t. I let that sit overnight, to make sure the yarn is fully saturated. When it’s time do to the dyeing, I measure that same water into my two dyeing pots (which were on their way out and are now only used for this purpose) with the appropriate amount of vinegar. I get my measurements from The Twisted Sisters Sock Workbook, which I happily recommend to anyone looking to dye wool or yarn. Even if you have no desire to knit socks or do any handspinning, this book has the best, simplest, overview of the various dyeing methods. You’ll notice it open in a couple of the photos below – I always keep it handy when I’m dyeing in case I freak out and need some guidance.

So the yarn is now in the pot, with a water and vinegar mixture, which means it’s time to start heating it all up.

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I keep the heat pretty low-ish – I’d rather wait longer than accidentally ruin my yarn – and let it slowly rise up to where I want it. I’m being vague there on purpose, because the temperature depends on what I’m doing. The dye will start to strike at a certain temperature, so I might add it to the pot below that temperature if I’m aiming for a more solid yarn. That way, the dye will have time to disperse evenly in the pot before the yarn starts to really take it up. If I want colors placed right where I pour them, for a more variegated effect, I will let the water heat more before I dump it in. While the pot heats, I mix up my colors …

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I use Kemtex acid dyes and, again, my formula for dye mixing comes straight from The Twisted Sisters book. I am starting to understand how to create a repeatable colorway and a better way to mix colors but, for now, I just try to have an idea – especially if I’m overdyeing – of what I’m aiming for, and then work my way backwards. If you look again at the top photo, you’ll see that I started with two blue yarns. The one of the top originally looked like this – no way was that not going to pool. In that case, the goal was definitely to drown the pinks to create more of a blue-purple semi-solid. The other skein was actually a lovely color (more blue than the ‘before’ photo shows) but, surprisingly, had enough shade variation to obscure any pattern I tried. That was a little simpler, I just wanted to even out the shading.

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I mixed up some blue dye, which is quite bright, for the first skein to try and get those pinks as close as possible to the blues. I used navy for the second because it was an almost perfect match for the darkest blue already in there. Because I wanted good coverage in both cases, I added the dye before it was fully heated.

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I let the yarn bathe in the dye while it continued to heat, and waited until the water was clear. That’s it, really. When the water’s clear, it means that the yarn has taken up all of the dye. At this point I might carefully add more if there’s still more work to be done on the skein. If I’m happy with it how it is, I let it simmer very, very, very lightly for ten more minutes, then remove it from the heat. The last step is rinsing, and you want the rinse water to be the same temperature as the yarn to avoid felting, which is easiest to do if the yarn has cooled completely.

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I pour it out of the pot and then dump the water out once it’s stopped steaming. When it’s ready to rinse, I use another tip from The Twisted Sisters and use the yarn to create a barrier between the drain and the water.

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Just a wee drop of dishwashing liquid is enough for rinsing, and I just sort of lightly squish the water through the yarn on its way to the drain. When the water’s clear, that’s it!

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The best part is watching the skeins dry; the colors always look slightly different dry than wet. As wet skeins, I was slightly underwhelmed. I was happy enough with the left skein, and it looked even nicer as it dried.

Overdyed commercial sock yarn

But the other skein really bothered me – it looked so dull and blah. I should’ve known what to expect – the white is the bamboo content, which can’t take up acid dyes and has a vaguely gray-ish look when wet. But dry – what a difference! The white returned to full brightness and shininess, the dull grayish color turned into a deep midnight blue – it went from blah to beautifully dramatic!

Overdyed commercial sock yarn