I have three young friends who have been learning how to knit recently. I wish they could all come over to my house and dye yarn and fleece for a whole day. I love being able to invent exactly the right hues for a particular project, and it makes me so happy to watch children feel free and uninhibited with color.
I have a great dye set up here. Our laundry room is big, with ample storage, and right off the kitchen. But the acid dyes I use require caution, especially in their powder form, and the dyeing must be done with equipment that will never be used for cooking food again… Thankfully, there are food-safe, child-safe alternatives. And since I can’t easily have my young knitting friends over to dye yarn any time soon, I decided to send them everything they need to dye their own yarn in their own kitchens. Rather than writing out the instructions and mailing them along with the yarn, I thought I might post them here to share. So here we go:
How to dye wool yarn with Easter egg colors, for my friends:
A few weeks ago, I needed some blue yarn. It needed to be just the right color blue for a very special sweater. It also needed to be just the right yarn. The right yarn, in the right color, wasn’t in any store, anywhere, so I made it myself.
I thought you might like to try dyeing yarn, too, so I sent you a package this morning with wool yarn and dyes.
You’ll need a few other things. Here’s the whole list, both what I sent and other things you’ll need
- yarn. This yarn needs to be from an animal… like wool from a sheep, or cashmere from a goat, or silk from a silkworm. The dyes we are going to use only stick on fibers made of protein, like wool. They won’t stick to fibers made of cellulose, like cotton or linen. Your yarn needs to be in a hank, not a ball, and needs to be tied in several places so you don’t have to untangle a big mess when you’re done. My children will tell you that I REALLY don’t like untangling messy yarn! If you need to buy yarn, go to http://www.knitpicks.com and get a 100 gram hank of any of their Bare yarns.
- dyes. We are going to use Easter egg dyes. After Easter, when they are 90 % off, I buy LOTS of boxes. If you don’t have Easter egg colors, you could also use Wilton cake decorating colors or even unsweetened Kool-Aid. I like Easter egg colors because they are inexpensive and come in just the right amounts for dyeing.
- white vinegar
- plastic wrap
- a casserole dish or something like that, microwave safe
- a microwave
- three cups or small bowls (I use the paper bowls they give out with Soup for a Group at Panera… they’re the right size and you can just throw them away when you’re done.)
- measuring cups and spoons (not essential… I usually just guess… but that makes some people nervous 🙂
Put your yarn in your dish. Mix up one cup of water and one quarter cup of vinegar. Pour it on the yarn, and squish in into the yarn really well. You can pick up the yarn and turn it over or tilt your pan to make sure the yarn is all damp. Sometimes you have to let it sit for a little while to let the water spread through the yarn. If it seems like you’re NEVER going to get rid of the dry spots, just add more water. No problem, don’t stress about it.
Next you get to mix your dyes. In each cup, put one half cup of water and one tablespoon of vinegar. Then choose your colors. For a 100 gram hank of yarn, three dye tablets is just about right for spring colors. It’s safest if you choose colors that are on the same side of the color wheel, like yellow/orange/red , or red/purple/blue , because they won’t accidentally turn into brown on the underside of your yarn. However, if you really need orange/purple/green yarn, go for it, but remember that you’ll get less acccidental color mixing if you make sure your yarn is just barely damp…
So now you have three colors, all dissolved in vinegar water, and damp yarn, right? Now comes the fun part!
Put your dye on your yarn any way YOU want to. I am not very patient, so I pour my dyes on. You could also brush it on, like paint, or squirt it on with a baster or a syringe. Here’s what mine looked like after I poured my dyes:
Then you have to cook it to make the dyes stick to the wool. This is the dangerous part, because it involves hot steam. In my house, the microwave is very high up, and if you’re not tall enough to reach it all by yourself, you’re not old enough to cook wool all by yourself. In your house, your mom decides.
Cover your dish with plastic wrap, and seal it up securely around the edges if you can. Then put it in the microwave.
Here’s the tricky part. I can’t tell you exactly how long, in your microwave, to cook your yarn to make the colors stick. You sort of have to experiment a bit. I would start by cooking it on high for three minutes, or until the plastic wrap starts to puff up from the steam inside. Then turn off the microwave and let it sit for about five minutes, then cook it for three minutes more. After it cools, your mom can check it. You know it’s done when the water under the yarn (squish the yarn over to see it) is TOTALLY clear. If there is still color in the water, you need to seal it back up and cook it some more.
Then after the yarn is really cooled off, you can rinse it. I rinse mine in the bathtub. I just fill up the bathtub with cold water and dump the yarn in and let it float around for a while. Sometimes if I remember I turn it over or swoosh it around… but after about ten minutes of sitting in the tub, the vinegar should be rinsed off enough. Then pick it up and gently squeeze all the extra water out of it. If you want to, you can put a towel on the floor, spread your yarn out on the towel, put another towel on top of that, and step around on the whole thing. That gets lots of the water out.
Second to last step: hang your yarn up to dry. Admire your colors. My family always thinks it’s kind of silly when I make them come into the bathroom to see all my new yarn, but they put up with it because they love me.
Last step: Wind your totally gorgeous yarn into a ball, remembering that nobody else, anywhere, ever, has yarn exactly like yours. Knit something fun with it. If you can’t figure out what to knit, go to http://www.amazon.com/ and search for any of the “one skein wonders” books.
They have good projects that take just one skein (obviously 🙂 ) , sorted by yarn weight. As soon as I’m done with the socks that my Easter egg dyed yarn is going to be, I’ll post a picture… do you think maybe when you’re done knitting your project you can email me a picture so I can post it here, too? I think it would be fun to see everybody’s projects all together. Good luck!