I absolutely love color, and I am completely in love with hand-dyed yarns. It’s time for my two loves to meet each other! Hi, my name is Tara, and this is Eat, Knit and Dye! By day, I am the graphic designer for Makers’ Mercantile®. By night, I am discovering how to hand dye yarn. And you get to join me on this adventure on Wednesdays.
Did you know that Makers’ Mercantile® sells undyed yarn? Hopefully, you have already had a chance to check out Kinky Yarn and maybe even had some time to play with it. But they also have a whole slew of yarns in different weights and fibers just waiting for you to add some color. They even have the supplies you need for dyeing – acid dyes, natural dyes, and fashion sprays.
Want to learn how to make your own beautiful rainbow long gradient hand-dyed wool? Read on!
For my inaugural post, I decided to start with the undyed base called Frida. It’s a fingering yarn that is ultra-fine and unbelievable soft (16 microns!). It’s a 100% Merino Wool Superwash and comes in a 393 yard / 100-gram hank.
Before we get started, a note on safety. I’ll be using Jacquard Acid Dyes which are not food safe. So, all the tools you see are dedicated solely to dyeing. I am also wearing a face mask when working with the powdered dyes. They are an extremely fine particulate and you don’t want them in your lungs.
I wanted to try my hand at an extremely long gradient in the rainbow spectrum. That means over the course of 393 yards we will hit all 6 colors. I also didn’t want the yarn to be striping, so I want the color shifts to be gradual. To achieve that, I divided the yarn into lots of mini hanks. I sat down with an old coffee thermos and wrapped the yarn around it 20 times, then tied each hank with embroidery floss into two places. I just kept going until I ran out of yarn. (I highly suggest binge watching some shows while you do this, it's not a fast process.) Do make sure things don’t get tangled, and your hanks don’t have to be perfectly measured.
At my local thrift store, I found this really cool pan. It’s supposed to be for brownies so everyone can make sure they get an edge piece. Luckily, I like the middle parts of brownies, so I was happy to sacrifice this pan to this project. You’ll be seeing this pan in future posts. I wouldn’t dye more than one hank at a time, but it works really well for controlling the colors for that single hank.
I filled the pan up with water and 1 tsp of citric acid. Then I added the yarn, trying to distribute the yarn evenly along the path. I put the pan across two burners so the water could be sort of evenly heated. Then I let it soak for about 30 minutes while I prepared the dye.
I wanted a bright, but supersaturated rainbow. For blue, I used a 50/50 mix of Jacquard Sky Blue and Turquoise. For red, I used a 50/50 mix of Jacquard Fire Red and Hot Fuchsia. And for yellow, straight Jacquard Sun Yellow. In 3 condiment squeeze bottles, I mixed up 1/8 tsp of powdered dye with 3 ounces of warm water. For the blue and the red dyes, I used 1/16 tsp of each color to get the total 1/8 tsp of powder. Then, holding my finger over the opening, I lightly shook the dye and water until it mixed. That took care of my primary colors.
To get my secondary colors, I used three more empty squeeze bottles. I knew from previous experience that when mixing green or orange, you need more yellow then blue or red. To get green, I started with 1 ounce of yellow. Then I slowly added blue until I got the green color that I visually thought was the “right” green, which was approximately .5 ounces of the blue. I repeated that for orange by starting with 1 ounce of yellow and .5 ounces of red. Purple was equal parts of blue and red, so .75 ounces of each color.
Now that my dye was ready to go, I turned on the heat to both burners at around low-medium. The water should be hot - almost simmering, but not boiling. Once the desired temperature was achieved, I carefully added my dye. I decided that each row had 3 brownie slices in it, so if I were making brownies, there would be 12 pieces. That means that each of the six colors would get 2 pieces.
I started by adding the dye carefully making sure the wrong color didn't splash into the wrong place. After the dye was added, I used a prong to gently wiggle the dye water around, so the color spread out a bit. For the first dye addition round, I didn’t overlap the colors.
Before I started the second round, I gently wiggled the yarn where the two colors touched to start the gradient mixing. I added the dye at the center of the color section and used the prong to wiggle the yarn around to get the gradual fade that I want. And while it is tempting to keep playing with the color, I stepped away from the pan and let the dye exhaust.
Why is dye exhausted? When it is just too tired to dye any more yarn? Sorry, bad joke. When the water has turned clear, or mostly clear, it means the dye has been absorbed by the yarn and there isn’t any dye left. Now was a great time to use that prong and check the yarn. I noticed that the bottom portion of the yarn didn’t have as much color, so I slightly rotated all the yarn to expose the white yarn areas. Being gentle, I don’t want to tangle all those mini skeins. Then I added more dye the same way I did before. And let the dye exhaust.
One more final check of the yarn and add any more dye if you need too. I was fine with the blues and red (even had dye left over) but my yellow mix was all gone. Instead of mixing more dye stock, I just added a pinch of yellow dye power right into the dye bath. Then I turned off the heat and impatiently waited for the yarn and pan to cool. As nifty as this pan is, it is made of some heavy-duty materials and it takes forever to cool down. (I know, I kept checking. Over and over.)
Once it is finally cool, I took the whole pan to my sink. I needed to rinse the yarn but didn’t want to disturb the mini skeins. I added a smidge of clear dish soap to my hands and lightly massaged the yarn in place. I used the sprayer from my sink to rinse the yarn until all the bubbles were gone. Carefully drain the water.
I laid all the soaking wet skeins out on a towel and pressed it as dry as I could. Then I took them into my laundry room and spread them out on a different towel to let them dry overnight. (And be safe from my 10-month-old kitten who REALLY likes yarn.)
In the morning, the mini skeins were mostly dry, but I didn’t want them to sit there much longer because I didn’t want the yarn to get kinky. I loaded all the skeins into a coffee thermos and sat down to begin the unraveling. I wound the yarn around a cutting board to keep things nice and neat. And it will help with the final drying process. (Remember that show you were binge-watching? Go watch it some more!)
This yarn makes me absurdly happy. I put it in cake form so you can see the gorgeous gradient. Then put it back into a regular sized hank so that I could nicely store it in my yarn stash.
Lessons I learned:
- Adjoining dye colors will seep into yellow no matter what, so a pure yellow is difficult to achieve.
- The middle colors were a bit too crowded in the dye pan, so there were some areas where they dye didn’t penetrate. I’m okay with this, its hand-dyed yarn after all!
I am totally obsessed with this yarn. I absolutely can’t wait to start knitting it up. I’m thinking some sort of Fair Isle inspired sweater. And since I know I will need more yarn than just this glorious hank, the commercial equivalent of this yarn is Zitron Feinheit. I’m thinking a charcoal grey would really make the colors sing. I can’t wait to get started!
Tara Warburton is the former graphic designer for Makers' Mercantile® and a fine artist. She specializes in watercolor and colored pencil illustrations. She lives with her two cats, who are not helpful when knitting.