Hand-dyeing yarn

I have been knitting for well over twelve years, and recently I started to get the desire to begin dyeing yarn. I’m a fan of gradient sets and other types of gradient yarns, so my initial goal is to learn how to create my own sets. Not only will I save money in the entire process, I will also get to choose my own colors and also have the satisfaction of knowing I added another handmade step to the knitting process.

I’ve been watching dozens of videos on YouTube to get as much information as possible before committing to the process, and ultimately decided on a slow-cooker process. I currently live in a very small apartment and thought it would help with consistency. Also, because I’m using acid dyes, I would have needed to purchase separate pans specifically for dyeing, so I opted for a slow cooker. Here’s the equipment I used on my first attempts:

  • Slow cooker
  • Knitpicks Bare Swish DK yarn
  • Jacquard Acid Dyes
  • Citric Acid
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Dishpan (for soaking and washing yarn)
  • Large sheet pan (I use this to set my materials on, keeps them organized and prevents messes on my counter)
  • Plastic spoon for mixing yarn with the dye (I’m using one that came with my InstantPot)
  • Chopsticks (for general moving and lifting the hank out of the crockpot when the water is hot)
  • Gloves
  • Dust mask (for mixing dry acid dyes)
  • Mason jars (for dye solution)
  • Cotton yarn (for tying the hanks of yarn)
  • Zip ties (to easily locate and lift the yarn out of the slow cooker)
  • Eucalan no-rinse wash
This is my initial setup for hand-dyeing yarn (it does not show all of the materials I use but has many of the basics).

My first attempt worked, but not exactly as I would have hoped. You can learn a lot from videos, but there are nuances and general details that don’t always get conveyed from someone showing their specific process. For example, my original goal was to create a solid yarn, and even though I thought I was following the correct method, I ended up with a tonal yarn where some of the dye did not fully strike some areas of the yarn, so there ended up being some white spots in the hank.

I did some more research to troubleshoot my error and learned quickly that the timing of when the acid is added to the slow cooker can make a very big difference in how well the color covers each strand. I was adding it to the slow cooker at the very beginning, along with the dye (before the yarn was added), so the dye was setting too quickly on the yarn for it to get to all areas of the hank. I also learned that I needed to untie each of the original strings in the hank and add my own so that those areas are not too tightly wound, which should help with getting the dye to every part of the hank as well.

After unintentionally making three hanks of tonal yarn, I finally figured out the solid dye process and ended up making the gradient set I was trying to achieve. They are not perfectly solid, but I’m very happy with how they turned out. Each of these used the same dye color, but with different amounts of dye solution.

The amount of Teal Jacuqard dye solution used, from left to right: 1 tsp, 5 tsp, and 10 tsp

If you’re interested in hand-dyeing your own yarn, below are some of the video tutorials I found very useful. And if you can access any of Sarah Eyre’s videos on yarn dyeing, those are definitely some of the best out there.

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