Long Gradient Dyeing

Long Gradient Hand Dye

Eat, Knit and Dye

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!

Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing
Long Gradient Dyeing

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.

Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing

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.

Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing

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.

Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing

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. 

Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing
Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing
Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing

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.

Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing

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.)

Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing
Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing

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!)

Long Gradient Dyeing
Long Gradient Dyeing

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.

Long Gradient Dyeing
Long Gradient Yarn Dyeing

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!

About Tara
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.

Tara Warburton's Frost Fairy

Fridays with Franklin: From Bun to Blanket


For an introduction to what goes on in this column, click here.

The last time I wrote about granny squares in this column it was to exult over having finally figured out how to do them.

Those who learned to crochet at mama’s knee are welcome to snicker, but they were a tough nut for me to crack. I was brand new to crochet. I knew nothing. And so often, the answers I got from crocheters to whom I appealed for help were, shall we say, opaque.


One authority’s response was, “Granny squares? Oh, they’re easy. Just a ring and then double crochet and make sure to work four corners. You can do more corners or fewer if you want a different shape. Okay? Bye.”

I was reminded of a Victorian knitting pattern in my collection that instructs you to make a baby’s jacket by first casting on “stitches sufficient to reach around the baby.”

In any case, after poring over a pile of crochet books, and going so far as to draw maps for myself,


I did finish six granny squares and assemble them into a multi-purpose accessory for the bath. You can see it here.

But I still hadn’t made myself the sine qua non of granny-based fabrics: a blanket.

Concentric Buns

Since this space is supposed to be the place where I try new stuff while people watch, it made sense to ask Makers’ Mercantile if I could use one of the newer HiKoo yarns, Concentric, for my blanket.

HiKoo Concentric is interesting stuff. It’s spun from 100% Baby Alpaca, so it’s soft and drapey–two qualities highly desirable in a blanket.

The construction is wild. Check this out.

The strand is made up of what are, essentially, four strands of two-ply lace weight. These four strands aren’t twisted together–they just lie next to one another.


There’s more. Every so often, one of the plies in one of the strands changes color.


A bit further along, a second ply changes color.


Then another, then another, and so forth until they have all changed.




The result is a slow gradient yarn, but the shifts from one color to the next are attractively speckled or flecked.

The yarn is put up into a bullseye bun from which you can work without prior winding.


I picked this colorway, Trixie, and planned a simple experiment.

KISS My Buns

Emphasis on simple. I had a boss once who was entirely useless except as a dispenser of clichéd workplace acronyms, of which his favorite was KISS, or Keep It Simple, Stupid. He used to write it all over my project proposals.

I was still feeling a little scarred from my bout with the stenciled warp, and at the top of my notes for this project I scrawled KISS.

So, what do we do with gradients? Well, one of the things we do with gradients is play them off against one another like so:


I thought I’d like to do that, too, but rather than work in stripes, I’d do this:

To join the squares, I considered join-as-you-go (JAYGO); but as is so often is the case, I had to consider portability. A JAYGO blanket very quickly becomes too large to haul around in a carry-on bag, and January through May is the time of year when my teaching schedule keeps me almost constantly away from home.

In Edie Eckman’s excellent book, Connect the Shapes Crochet Motifs, she lays out a method for joining granny squares that gives every square an additional round of double crochet, so the finished effect is side-by-side squares with minimal interruption from the join.

I decided to try it, since I imagined it would allow me to use a new bun of Concentric and run the gradient in the direction opposite the gradient used in the squares.


So Many Squares

How big would this blanket be? I decided that through the highly scientific process of choosing a size of square that seemed reasonable to work while sitting in an airplane seat (three rounds), then working an entire bun to see how many I got.

With a US Size 4 (3.5 mm) hook, I got fifty. I kept them in strict gradient order by slipping them onto a stitch holder as they were finished.

Then I did another bun’s worth, and got fifty-one. Great. I’d do a 100-square blanket. I like easy math.

In another mood, or in another month with less travel, I might have devoted a few hours to figuring out whether to keep the squares in the order they were made, or shuffle them together to make a longer gradient. Perhaps I might thrown them into the air to make them random. But sometimes you just need to make a choice. I decided to keep them in order.

To make the next step as portable as possible, I tied each strip of squares into a separate bundle.

Because I have a brain like a sieve, I also added numbered tags so I’d know in what order I should attach the bundles.


It’s never a waste of time to protect your future self from the silly things it is prone to do.

E Pluribus Unum

Edie’s book is a model of clarity. Still, I was nervous. Even with a couple projects under my belt, I find crochet charts daunting. I asked some of the crochet authorities in my address book for tips, and the replies ranged from “Oh, I never use charts. Just ignore them.” to “You don’t follow them like you do knitting charts. Just sort of look at the chart, and get an idea of what you should do, then go.”

I often wonder if I lack the moxie to crochet.

Happily, Edie offers crystal-clear written instructions. As I compared them to the chart, for the first time the fog began to clear. And the little squares began to become a big square.


After the second strip had been joined, I picked up speed and the process became–dare I say it?–fun.

And then there was one.

Now, I know people who say they don’t block crochet. I do. And I always wet block, because when I think about all the places where these squares were made, the idea of not washing the fabric thoroughly makes me green in the gills.

After blocking, I was almost perfectly happy with the project. There’s a patch where the joining rows and the squares are both the darkest grey, and thats reads to me as a black hole in the work. I’m not sure I like it.

But the fabric is cuddly beyond words.




Aside from that, three buns gave me a lap blanket (the finished dimensions are 33 inches x 33 inches) that is handsome and comforting.

Yet I do have a fourth bun sitting here. A border, perhaps?

Or something to dress up the black hole? I’m gonna go cuddle up under this and think about it.

See you in two weeks…

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

HiKoo Concentric (100% Baby Alpaca; 437 yards per 200 gram cake). Shown in Color 1027 (Trixie).

addi Color-Coded Crochet Hooks

Boye Stitch Holder, Large 3-Inch

Connect the Shapes Crochet Motifs by Edie Eckman

About Franklin

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008). His newest book, I Dream of Yarn: A Knit and Crochet Coloring Book was brought out by Soho Publishing in May 2016 and is in its second printing.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, Squam Arts Workshops, the Taos Wool Festival, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue KnittingYarn Market News, Interweave KnitsInterweave CrochetPieceWorkTwist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Mason-Dixon Knitting, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection/Makers’ Mercantile. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.

He is the longtime proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet (presently on hiatus).

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, four looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Follow Franklin online via Twitter (@franklinhabit), Instagram (@franklin.habit), his Web site (franklinhabit.com) or his Facebook page.