Hand-dyed Yarns – the Secrets to Success

Dyeing yarn by hand is a lot of fun and, with a little care, creativity and attention, can yield beautiful results. There are various techniques and practices you can use depending on the effect you are looking for and the fibres you are dyeing.

Follow our handy tips for success and you’ll soon be creating beautiful hand-dyed yarns your customers will love!

Tips for Dyeing Protein Fibres

Hand dyed yarn

Photo: Badcattoo Yarn

Protein fibres (animal fibres and silk) require an acidic environment for the dye molecules to bond. You can use pigments like food colouring, drink mix, and professional grade acid or fibre reactive dyes to achieve a wide range of techniques!

Superwash yarn allows the dye to strike much faster and with more precision, and lends itself well to speckles and hand painted shades. Non-superwash yarns look fantastic with melded variegated shades with hues that melt into one another.

Heat is the main catalyst in dyeing protein fibres. You can use steam, a microwave, a pot, or low-water immersion dyeing in pans. For your acid, you can use acetic acid (like white vinegar) or citric acid (available in bulk from most craft and health food stores).

Tips for Dyeing Plant Fibres

Plant fibres like cotton, bamboo, and linen have a different cellular structure to protein fibres. These can only be dyed using fibre-reactive dyes with its appropriate setting agent; most of the time, it will be soda ash.

While you can use fibre-reactive dyes on protein fibres so long as there is acid and heat, you cannot use acid dyes on plant fibres regardless of mordant.

Plant fibres are typically cold-process, and take at least 12 hours to reach maximum pigment saturation. After 24 hours, no further chemical reaction will take place.

These dyes require rinsing after dyeing as the dye bath will not run clear like an acid dye bath will and, if you find your yarn is bleeding after rinsing, you can try using a few drops of Synthapol to bind with the excess pigment so that it can be flushed from the yarn

Hand dyed yarn wool linen

Photo: Swoon Fibres

Dyeing fibres that can be more challenging

hand dyed yarn

Photo: Forever Taiga Yarns

Non-superwash yarns can take longer to set than superwash yarns. Try starting with a cold dye bath and heating slowly, keeping a consistent temperature below boiling, and allowing to cool to room temperature before handling.

Single-ply yarns can sometimes take dye differently than plied yarns. Try using a bit more dye, and allowing to completely cool before handling to avoid felting.

Textured yarns can be more prone to felting. Never boil, and allow to cool all the way down before handling. Try dyeing one skein per pot to avoid tangles.

Useful tips 

– Use shower rings or reusable zip ties around skeins to help prevent tangling. If drying yarn on the spin cycle of your washing machine to remove excess water, use a net bag to keep the yarn safe.

– When dyeing mini skeins, double up on your shower rings or reusable zip ties to make sure they don’t tangle in the dye bath.

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