Dyeing yarn is easy, but how you prepare the dye depends on what sort of fiber the yarn is made from: acrylic, animal, or plant. Because cotton yarn is plant-based, you should prepare the dye the same way you would prepare dye for tie dyeing a t-shirt. Once you wrap the yarn and rinse it, you can dye it any color you want.
EditPreparing the Yarn
Choose white, 100% cotton yarn. White will be the best, because it will give you the brightest results. If you want a more dusty, muted color, however, you could try gray instead. Most importantly, make sure that the yarn is made from 100% cotton. Most fabric, yarn, and craft stores will have a special section in their yarn aisle for cotton yarn.
Some cotton yarn is mercerized and has a shiny finish. You can still dye this type of yarn, but be aware that it may take the dye differently from other types of cotton yarn.
Do not get yarn made from mixed materials, such as 50% cotton and 50% acrylic, or it may not dye evenly.
Wind your yarn into a skein. Find the end of your yarn, and begin wrapping it around your hand and elbow; you can also wrap it around the back of a chair instead. Keep wrapping the yarn until you have used up the entire ball.
Wrap the yarn tight enough so that it doesn’t slide off, but loose enough so that it doesn’t stretch or feel uncomfortable.
Do not dye your yarn while it is still in a ball, or it won’t dye evenly.
If your yarn came twisted like a rope, simply untwist the “rope” until you have a loop of yarn instead.
Slip the yarn off your arm and secure it loosely with string. Slip the wrapped yarn off of your arm and set it down on a flat surface. Cut 6 pieces of string, then tie them loosely around the looped yarn to hold the strands together. Work your way around the loop; do not close the loop.
If you want a tie dye effect, then tie the strings tighter.
Soak the yarn for 20 minutes in warm water with some dish soap. Fill a pot or basin with enough warm water to cover your yarn. Add 1 or 2 pumps of liquid dish soap and stir to combine. Add your yarn into the water, and press down on it to submerge it. Leave it there for 20 minutes.
Yarn often contains coatings, such as wax, which can prevent the dye from adhering.
Don’t be alarmed if the water changes color to brown. This is simply the residue from the yarn.
Rinse the yarn until the water runs clear. Lift the yarn out of the pot with a pair of tongs. Rinse the yarn under cool, running water to remove any soap and residue. Keep rinsing the yarn until the water runs clear.
Wiggle your fingers through the strands to help separate them. This will ensure that the fresh water reaches them too.
Do not use the same tongs you’d use for cooking. Reserve these tongs only for dyeing.
Let the yarn dry until it is no longer dripping. Once the water runs clear, gently squeeze the excess water from the yarn. Spread the yarn out on a clean towel and leave it there until it dries partway. You want the yarn to still be somewhat damp.
EditPreparing the Dye
Choose fabric dye meant for cotton fabric. Plain old fabric dye from the fabric store or craft store (i.e. RIT dye) will work the best. It is the same stuff you’d use on t-shirts and other cotton garments.
Do not use dye made for wool or synthetic materials. It won’t react the same way to cotton yarn.
Protect your work space, skin, and clothing. Even through you are working with fabric dye, it can still stain other things, such as counters. Cover your counter with newspaper or a plastic bag. Put an apron or clothing you won’t mind accidentally staining. Lastly, pull on a pair of plastic gloves.
Bring a pot of water to a simmer. Fill your pot with enough water to completely cover the yarn. Bring the water to a simmer over low to medium-low heat. Do not let the water boil.
A crockpot would be an even better idea because the heat is slow and steady.
Do not use the same crockpot or cooking pot that you’d use for food. Reserve these pots for dyeing and crafts only.
Fill your pot with water and dye. How much water and dye you use depends on the brand of the dye and how much yarn you are dyeing. In most cases, you will need 3 quarts (2.8 L) of water and 1/2 cup (120mL) of dye. Refer to the label on the dye for more specific amounts.
Use half the dye you need for a lighter shade. For a darker shade, you may have to add a drop of a darker dye color.
Most dye proportions are based on weight. Check the label that came with your yarn to find out how much you have.
Add some salt and dish soap. Again, how much salt and dish soap you use depends on how much water and yarn you used. In most cases, you will need 1/2 cup (150 g) of salt for every 3 quarts (2.8 L) of water. Add 1 squirt of liquid dish soap, and stir.
Bring the water to a simmer. Turn the heat up on the stove to low or medium-low. Allow the water to come to a simmer. Do not let it boil.
If you are using a crockpot, turn the heat up to high.
EditDyeing the Yarn
Submerge the yarn in the dye bath. Place the yarn into the water. Press it down with a metal spoon, tongs, or wooden chopsticks. Make sure that the yarn is submerged as much as possible.
Do not reuse the spoon, tongs, or chopsticks for cooking. Reserve them for arts and crafts.
If you are using chopsticks, be aware that this will permanently stain them. Consider using disposable ones instead.
Allow the yarn to dye for 30 minutes, stirring it occasionally. Parts of the yarn will float to the surface, so you’ll want to push them down–otherwise, they won’t dye evenly. Every so often, use your metal spoon, tongs, or chopsticks to gently shift the yarn around. A simple prod and stir is all you need.
Do not stir the yarn like you’d stir soup or cake batter, or you’ll risk tangling the yarn.
If you are using a crockpot, cover the pot with a lid, and let it cook. You will still need to stir the yarn.
Take the yarn out and rinse it until the water runs clear. Lift the yarn out with a pair of metal tongs. Rinse the yarn under warm, running water. Keep rinsing the yarn until the water runs clear, slowly lowering the temperature as you do so.
Wiggle the strands between your fingers so ensure that the fresh water reaches them.
Squeeze the yarn in a towel, then set it out to dry. Once the water runs clear, squeeze the excess water from the yarn. Place the yarn on top of an old towel, close to the end. Wrap the towel around the yarn into a tight bundle, then press down on it to soak up any excess water. Unwrap the yarn, then leave it on the towel to dry.
Roll the yarn into a ball. Cut the pieces of string holding the yarn together first. Wrap the yarn around your fingers 25 to 50 times, then slide it off. Wrap the yarn across the loop another 25 to 50 times. Continue wrapping it, switching direction often: top-to-bottom, side-to-side, and diagonally.
Don’t be afraid to mix dye colors to create new ones. Many dye companies post color combinations on their websites.
Try different dyeing techniques, such as speckle.
You can use tie dye kits to tie dye yarn multiple colors.
Do not reuse any pots or utensils for cooking. Reserve these for dyeing and crafts.
EditThings You’ll Need
Pot or basin
EditSources and Citations
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