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Mama, wife, knitter, blogger, spinner, wannabe something or other. That's enough, right?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Adventures in Yarn Dyeing: The First Time!

I don't know how may of you remember, but at Stitches West, I took a yarn dyeing class with Jennifer Vancalcar of Holiday Yarns.

This was my masterpiece:

After class, I tottered off to Jennifer's booth and picked up the dye kit for Strandwanderer. Included in the kit were two bare skeins of her FlockSock base, four different basic dyes (ruby red, sun yellow, royal blue, and black), the Strandwanderer pattern, and directions for how to dye yarn for that project. Now, I'll be honest here: Strandwanderer is a lovely pattern but it's just not something I'm going to knit. What I wanted was the dye kit part.

So, that was the end of February. It's now the beginning of April. Over the last six or seven weeks since Stitches West, I've been accumulating items for dyeing. I know, that sounds kind of weird. I mean, I had the dye, I had the yarn...what else could I possibly need?

Turns out that you need quite a few things, but none of them are hugely expensive or difficult to find. It also depends on what kind of dyeing you plan to do. I was perfectly fine doing a form of splatter/speckle dyeing, which is what we did in class. You can achieve the same goal as immersion dyeing (where you stick the entire skein or half a skein in a dye pot and just let it soak it up) but without having things sit in a pot. A few things we had on hand for the project but there were some things that I needed to get.

What I had:
1. Dye
2. Yarn (I had some in my stash that I could use, as well)
3. Plastic bags
4. Saran wrap
5. Hot water
6. Paper towels
7. Shammy (specifically, I had a ShamWow that I cut in half for this project)
8. 5-gal bucket (Home Depot kind)
9. Vinegar or citric acid powder (you can buy the citric acid powder in bulk from a beer supply shop)

What I needed:
1. 2-cup measuring cup (preferably plastic)
2. Small amount measuring spoons (drop, smidgen, pinch, dash, tad)
3. Squeeze bottles
4. Veggie steamer
5. Funnel (helpful but not necessarily a "need" for this)
6. Mason jars (for storage of unused dye)
7. Spoon (metal, plastic, whatever...)
8. Dust mask (especially helpful if you're doing a lot of dye mixing)

Unfortunately, I had difficulty finding a few of these items. I had to order, the measuring cup, measuring spoons, and the funnel (which still hasn't arrived). I could have just bought any funnel but I didn't want to pay $9 for something I might not ever use except this one time. I also didn't want to go out and buy a brand new veggie steamer (they run about $25 new for a basic one, which is all I needed). I took Jennifer's suggestion and trolled Goodwill and St. Vinny's. I found one at Goodwill that would have been great if it had the steamer portion but, alas, it did not. Good thing because I found the perfect one at St. Vinny's (along with my metal spoon). It's an older Oster steamer, double layer so it has two steamer baskets stacked one on top of the other. And I didn't feel bad for paying $15 for it because it was used and I didn't know if I was going to like this adventure or not (hahahaha). I found the squeeze bottles at one of the grocery stores and a few more at Michael's (truth be told, the ones from Michael's kind of suck bozons so I might swing back over to the grocery store and buy more from there - those ones worked really well). I also found the mason jars and the dust masks at Target; I didn't necessarily want a dozen of the jars but that's what I wound up with. Oh well.

In addition to that, I bought a couple books about dyeing: Dyeing to Spin & Knit by Felicia Lo and Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece by Gail Callahan.

Soooooo, I had most of my items and I pulled the trigger (I was missing a few items like the funnel, the measuring cup, and the measuring spoons but I could get away with not having them for this first round....and I did.

I unhanked the two skeins of FlockSock, made sure they were tied well, and put them into the bucket, which had about 2 gallons of water and maybe a gallon of vinegar in it. Maybe not quite that much. I let those soak for a good half-hour, though many dyers will tell you to just soak them overnight. But, I'm impatient.

While those were soaking, I made my dyes. I was going to go for something blue, maybe something green, yellow, and I made black for fun. I wound up making a deep blue, a dark blue-green, a basic yellow, and black.

L to R: yellow, blue, blue-green, black

I had an awful time getting the saran wrap to lay flat on my surface. It kept trying to stick to me. I eventually got enough down to be able to work. I laid out my first skein of yarn, fluffed it out a bit so I could get at the yarn better, and got myself ready to go.

My first skein I did with the blue and the blue-green. I also striped some of the black in for fun. It actually didn't take me that long to do, once I got going. The hardest part was flipping it over to work on the opposite side. I used the shammy to clean up the spills and I used it on top after I had finished dyeing, to soak up more of the excess. 

I laid that one aside and set up for the second skein. I had no idea what I wanted to do with it. I had used up all the blue on the first skein and most of the blue-green. I had plenty of yellow, and probably half of the black. 

I started with the black on this one. I put the yellow in between the black stripes. It was playing right into my Hufflepuff nature but, alas, it didn't stay that way. When I had my class at Stitches, Jennifer mentioned that the black mixed with the yellow would most likely give an avocado green color where they meet. I was not fussed about that. I like green. I also put the remaining blue-green dye in there, as well.

I dipped both skeins in the bucket of vinegar/water (multiple times). I did the second one first because it had the lighter colors. Mostly the black sloughed off, though there was some green in there, too. Then I dipped the first skein several times. That water was good and black when I was finished with that step. 

Then, I folded up my yarn into saran wrap and stuck them in the steamer for an hour. I flipped them at the half-hour mark, just in case. 

I probably should not have done this in the kitchen. It made the house smell like vinegar and wool. The wool part I didn't mind but vinegar....I might have to go with citric acid. That smell is pretty nasty. 

An hour later, I pulled yarn out, let it cool a little (again, impatient), gave them both a swim in the sink, found no dye leakage, and called it good!

There were a few spots that were lighter, but that just adds to it's hand dyed nature.

This one has a lot going on and I'm okay with that. The black faded a bit but I'm not fussed about that, either.

These have both been skeined up and are hanging out in my stash. I'm not sure what they want to be when they grow up but for now, they look pretty.

Now, as expected, I very much enjoyed dyeing yarn. So, there's going to be a second installment as soon as I get photographs taken of finished yarn....which can't happen until the yarn is fully dried. In other words, I'll probably have another post like this one. 

I probably shouldn't tell you that I've been trolling the Dharma Trading website in search of more dye...and dyeable yarn. Or that I've been trolling Etsy looking for sock blanks, preferably double-strand. Nope. Haven't been doing that.

Anyway, I hope you're having a lovely day :) 


  1. How fun and hot damn at all the supplies you gotta get and prep beforehand. I would like to try solar dyeing this summer when it heats up and with Kool-Aid.

  2. this was such a great post! I've been thinking about trying my hand at home dying for age,s but the set up and the materials (as you mentioned, all the stuff you need to get it all going) has held me back. Having a small place means I'm loathe to get more stuff that can only be used for one thing. Your skeins turned out so cool! Love them both. I bet the highly variegated one would make amazing socks!