Hey! You may have seen on my Instagram over the past month I’ve dived deep into the dyeing pot and I’m actually a bit obsessed! So much so I’ve opened up my own Etsy shop! (shameless plug! 🤭)
I thought I’d write out a few things I’ve learnt so far! I know many indie dyers are slightly guarded about their processes but to be honest… I’m an open book about everything soooo I’m going to share.
So here are some of the things I’ve learnt in the past month. This is not all you’ll ever need to know as I am no expert! But it’s some bits I find useful to know.
There are two main types of different yarn fibres; Cellulose (plant fibres like cotton, linen, hemp etc.) and Protein (animal fibres such as wools). These two types of yarns need different types of love.
No one dye suits all. So there’s a TON of different types of dyes out there. Procion is the type I use currently, but you can use acid dyes, food colouring, natural dyes, liquid tie dye stuff… the list is endless. There’s honestly so many varieties it can be a bit overwhelming!
I’d say choose the type of yarn you want to dye before you choose the dye as it will eliminate some options and help you find the type you need.
Dye kit… You need a fair amount of stuff if you want to go all out. Dedicated equipment for dyeing only as the dyes and other chemicals can be caustic. I mean would you eat your lunch off a petri dish?! Eww.
A pot, tongs, gloves, washing up bowl, mask, measuring spoons and jugs, cups or bowls, bottles, spoons, zip/cable ties, kitchen roll, cling film/plastic wrap. I could go on but basically choose the type of dyeing you want to do next. If you just want dip dye then you will need less than if you want to speckle. But anything you use shouldn’t be used for food after. Excuse for some new kitchen gear?!
To heat or not to heat?! Well, it boils down (aha!) to what fibre you are using. Plants don’t need heat they need time (but heat can be applied), animal proteins do need heat to set the colours or the first time you go to wash it all of your efforts will end up down the plug hole. Which is a sad, sad thing.
Be prepared for the dyepot to not always go the way you want. Also be prepared to love it anyway! To be honest, it’s all experience and an experiment at the end of the day. Hand dyed is not perfect, but its those imperfections and subtle differences to mass produced yarn that makes hand dyed yarn so special.
When working with powder wear a mask, once the powder is dissolved you don’t have to wear a mask. I do however always wear gloves. It’s chemicals… and it stains too…
Wash it. Wash it before (with clear dish soap) wash it after. Rinse it. Lots.
Be gentle! Especially with animal fibres. You don’t want them to be agitated too much or they’ll felt! So during the dyeing swish or shimmy the fabric but don’t stir the pot. When washing press the fabric don’t wring it. This also applies to when heating the yarn, don’t let it have a rolling boil. With some wool that’s enough agitation to felt 😱.
Water. A lot of water can make a big difference. If you want the fibre to be able to move then have more water. The dye will then be able to move too. This is good for more semi solid colours or tonal colours. If you have a shallow pot the dye will not be able to move around much and so will attach to a smaller amount of the yarn but in a more concentrated colour.
Similarly, to speckle you would use damp wool that’s not in a pot as the lack of extra water stops the dye spreading.
So essentially the less liquid you have the less movement of dye.
Learn about the colour wheel. Or you may end up with a lot of sludgy yarn…
Last but not least… the order of dye, yarn and fixer. These differ from method to method depending on what result you want. The couple of examples below are for animal protein yarn.
For semi solid I’d wash and soak the yarn, add water to the pot, add dye then add yarn. Then heat and add the fixer like acid. Take out and let cool and wash and rinse.
For super tonal I’d wash and soak the yarn, add water to the pot add fixer and yarn and heat. Then add dye (as the wool has then had fixer first the colour will strike faster and some yarn will have less colour than other parts). Take out and let cool and wash and rinse.
For dip dyed I’d wash and soak the yarn. Add water to the dye pot with the dye and the fixer. Heat it and then slowly lower some of the yarn dipping it in and out and letting a little bit more yarn go into the pot each dip. This will give it a gradual colour. Some may even break into different colours. Then once all of the yarn is in the pot leave for 10 minutes on a simmer until the colour has all been absorbed. Take out to cool, wash and rinse.
For speckled I’d wash, and then soak with the fixer. Squish to take out lots of the water. Lay it out (I spread it out a bit) on cling film (saves the surface but also for wrapping it later) put on mask, sprinkle dry powder gently over the yarn and let it sit for a bit (if you wrap it straight away the colours may squish and it won’t be speckled). Wrap it and then heat it in either a microwave for 3 mins (in the cling film on a plate/bowl) or in a steamer on the hob/stove. Let cool, wash and rinse.
Some useful terms…
Strike – when the dye hits the fibre, it can strike quickly or slowly.
Exhaust – when all the dye has been absorbed the dye pot will have exhausted.
Fixed – when the dye has been set with heat or acid etc.
Low/high immersion – the amount of water can be high or low.
Dye stock – a solution of dye powder and water. They can be kept in sealed containers for a while but some may need a stir if colours settle.
I feel like this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. I have so much more to learn and I can’t wait!
Have you given it a go? I’d love to hear from you and your experiences!
Or head over to Etsy and treat yourself to some of my lovingly crafted yarn here.