Dyeing Yarn – How I created this beautiful yarn

I decided I wanted to learn about dyeing yarn using the immersion dyeing method.  I’d seen a technique for adding different colours to get semi-solid shades.

Tying up mini-hanks for practice dyeing yarn

Because I was experimenting with dyeing yarn and thought it might go wrong!  I decided to wind one hank into three smaller hanks.

I did this using the trusty dining room chairs.  I measured out 2m of yarn, wrapped that around the chairs so that once around was 2m.


I then estimated that 37 “wraps” of the chairs would be about 1/3 of the hank…..and so set about winding, tying and making three hanks of yarn.winding-hanks

Make sure you tie the hanks in lots of places using a figure of 8 knot.

Tips for tying yarn  

My BIG learning at this stage would be to use cotton ties to tie the yarn, I wasted a LOT of time trying to find the ties when they were in the pan, I tried again when I was making my “Twilight Waterfall” yarn using cotton and because the dye doesn’t stick in the same way to cotton, they were much easier to see!!figure-of-8-tyes

Ta-dah! – three hanks from one, ready to get on with dyeing yarn!


Tools for Dyeing Yarn

If you’re interested in what I learned about dyeing when I dyed my first skein, see my tips here….

So these are the tools I used for dyeing yarn using the immersion method.

I tried using food colouring instead of acid dye too and had some good results!

  • Yarn (tied as described above)
  • Large stainless steel pan (and kettle to boil the water to go in here)
  • Glass Jug (for adding dye)
  • Plastic spoon (for moving the yarn in the pot)
  • Gloves (for protecting your hands)
  • Dye (either Acid Dye or food colouring)
  • Mask (if you’re using acid dye)
  • Measuring spoon (to measure dye)
  • Citric Acid (to “set” the yarn)
  • Colander (for cooling and draining the yarn at the end)
  • Sink for rinsing the yarn and some kind of wool wash / soap to clean the citric acid out


Instructions for Dyeing Yarn

Step 1 – Mix Citric Acid

I used 1 tbsp to 1l of water.  Add a small amount of boiling water to dissolve the acid, then top up with cold water.








Step 2 – Boil some water in a large stainless steel stock-pot

Make sure there is enough room for the yarn to move around in the stock-pot.  Because I was only using a mini-hank, I didn’t need much water!

Step 3 – Prepare your work area

Whilst you are waiting for your water to come to the boil, prepare your area for dyeing yarn.

Because you are going to be dipping in and out of the pot of water, you will end up with dye on your work surfaces, so make sure they are well covered down.  If you only have one jug, find something else to put your citric acid mixture in.  I used an old milk-bottle as you can see from the picture below.


Step 4 – Add your yarn to the water

Once it has boiled, turn the heat off and add your yarn to the stock pot.  Leave for a few moments to allow it to soak.  You can pre-soak the yarn in citric acid if you want but it will speed up the rate that the yarn absorbs the dye so if you want a semi-solid look, best to add it dry.


Step 5 – Pull about 500m of water from the pan

Gently push your yarn to one side and carefully remove about 500ml of water from the pan to mix your dye into.


Step 6 – Mix your first dye

If you are using acid dye, make sure you have your mask on when you are mixing the dye as the particles shouldn’t be inhaled.  Mix your dye into the water and use the whisk to make sure that it is all dissolved.

Tips for mixing colours for dyeing yarn

  • For my acid dyes – I used about 1/4tsp of my first and second colour and 1/8 teaspoon of my third colour.  I started with the lightest “base” colour.  You can see where I tested out my colours on some paper first.  This is the turquoise one going in (1/4tsp).  I added teal (1/4tsp) next and finally the dark blue (1/8tsp because it was darker and I didnt’ want it to “kill” all my other colours)
  • For food colouring – I tried the same later with food colouring, using this same method and the same ratios of as for the acid dye.  It worked out just as well and is something I’m going to experiment more with!


Step 7 – Add first dye to pot

Pull the yarn over to one side and gently pour in 1/3of the dye to the other side of the pot (ie not on-top of the yarn). Gently push the yarn through the dye to get an even coverage.

Pull the yarn to another side of the pot, pour and push as before.  Do this twice more for the last 2/3rd of the dye.

How to manipulate yarn in the dye pot

  • When the yarn is in the pot, try not to “stir” if you can, the yarn will get tangled and if you aren’t using superwash then you run the risk of felting the yarn.  To manipulate the yarn, take your spoon and gently pull the yarn to the surface of the water until you see a yarn-tie.  lift the yarn and tie out of the water.  Leave a few seconds for it to cool down a bit and then gently pick the yarn up by the tie.
  • Be gentle though, don’t forget that this is boiling water, the yarn will be SUPER hot!

Finding the yarn ties gently pull the yarn up and down in the pot, out of the water and back in.


(note my earlier tip of using cotton ties, it makes them MUCH easier to find)  Here is a picture of the cotton ties on my “Twilight waterfall” yarn…in cotton…after they have been through two dye stages…


Below you can see the yarn ties, using the same yarn, they are predictably the same colour as the yarn and really hard to find!


Step 8 – Add your acid

You can add this at any stage.  When you’re dyeing yarn, you need acid to make the dye “stick”,  Once you add your acid, the dye will stick more to the yarn so experiment with when you add this.  When I used the food colouring, I added it after the second colour instead of now after the first and I liked the marbled effect that gave me.  It’s up to you though, as long as you add it before the end you’ll be fine!

I added about 350ml of acid but you may need to add more or less depending on your water.  Don’t worry you can add more later, depending on how “clear” your water is getting.  I’ll explain that later!!

Step 9 – Repeat steps 5, 6 and 7

Repeat steps 5, 6 and 7 for your other dye colours, I used two more colours so repeated twice,  You don’t have to repeat three times, twice will be fine or maybe more, entirely up to you, that’s the fun of dying yarn!

Step 10 – Clear the pot

Once you have finished dyeing yarn, bring the pot back to a gentle simmer and simmer until the water has gone clear and the dye has all been absorbed into the yarn.  It might have a slight tinge to it but should be significantly clearer than when you first added the dye.  If you can’t get it to clear, add a little more acid and continue to simmer.  Don’t keep doing over and over though as too much acid can make the yarn feel really rough.

Step 11 – Allow to cool in the pot

Once the water is clear or mostly clear, turn off the heat and leave the yarn to cool in the pot for 30-60 minutes (you could leave it longer if you want!).

Once cool, pull out and put into a colander to drain and cool completely


Step 12 – Rinse Yarn

Rinse yarn in a cool water bath.  Use some kind of soap for the first rinse to get the citric acid out, otherwise it can make the yarn feel a bit rough.

Don’t worry if there is a bit of dye in the water in the first wash, it should be gone by the second wash!

dyeing yarn - rinse

Step 13 – Leave to dry

Find somewhere to leave the yarn to dry and then once completely dry, wind into a hank for storage.

These are the three hanks that I dyed.  The two on the right are using food colouring and the one on the left uses acid dye.  As you can see, the food colouring ones are just as good and less “faff” with the whole having to wear a mask thing!

Unfortunately – Try as I might, I can’t get the variation to show up very well on the picture!!!


Have fun if you have a go at dyeing yarn!!



10 Responses

  1. Liz Woodcock

    Wow Jo, that’s great! Thanks for a very informative tutorial. Just one question, how do you make the dye colourfast?

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