While I dye fabric with natural dyes on a weekly basis, I’ve never dyed yarn before and wanted to try my hand at it. My sister is an avid knitter, so I decided to surprise her with some naturally-dyed yarn in a warm, madder root hue.
Dyeing yarn is a little intimidating, but it shouldn’t be. Many people are afraid of accidentally felting wool when dyeing, but this only happens when the yarn is agitated; not by heat contact itself. For this reason, treat your yarn with care when dyeing–stir gently and never let the bath exceed 180 degrees Fahrenheit (in other words, do not boil your yarn!).
– Thread for tying yarn
– Madder root powder
– Cream of tartar
– Five gallon stainless steel pot
– Stainless steel stirring spoon
– Piece of cheesecloth
– Linen (or muslin for binding dyestuff ingredients)
– Kitchen scale (for weighing ingredients)
– Eucalan (for washing).
*All utensils used during dyeing should not be used for food afterwards–they are no longer food safe.*
Yarn spun with natural fibers is best, as there is no telling what colors acrylic or other manmade fibers will yield. For this project, I dyed Cascade 220 wool and Kona Bulky superwash merino wool. I also included a small piece of llama and cotton yarn to test.
1. Unwind yarn from skeins into a hank, loosely tying with string in several places to keep yarn together. Don’t tie too tightly, otherwise you might end up with tie-dyed yarn.
2. Presoak yarn (in a sink or bowl) in a mix of tepid water and one teaspoon of Eucalan per gallon of water. Eucalan doesn’t require a rinse after washing, so no need for that. The yarn should be wet when adding it to the mordant bath.
3. Fill your five gallon pot with enough water that your yarn can move around freely. Add one ounce of cream of tartar and two ounces of alum for every pound of yarn you are dyeing, stir to dissolve. Alum and cream of tartar act as a mordant, thus making the yarn take dye better and stay colorfast.
4. Add wet yarn to the mordant bath and gently simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. After an hour, turn off the heat and allow yarn to cool in mordant bath. Once cool, pour out the mordant bath and yarn into a sink.
5. Fill up your pot again with water, and this time add your madder root dye. I like to use about a 1:2 ratio when dyeing fibers–in other words, eight ounces of madder root for one pound of yarn. If your dyestuff is in large root/leaf pieces rather than ground into a powder, I recommend binding your dye in a piece of cheesecloth or linen (muslin works fine as well). You can either sew it into a loose bag or bind it using rubber bands or string. Try to keep the dyestuff a little loose in the bag, but not so loose that it will come out. Simmer your dye bag in the pot of water for one hour.
6. Add mordanted yarn to dye bath and simmer for one hour, stirring gently every ten minutes. Check the color of your yarn after an hour (remember fibers are darker when wet), and if the desired color is reached, turn off heat and let the yarn cool in dyebath for 6-12 hours for optimum color. If not, simmer for another 30 minutes to an hour.
7. Rinse yarn gently in cool water until water runs clear and give it another Eucalan soak. Lay it out to dry. Once dry, you can wind it into a ball using this handy method.
Lauren (DIY Sew Contributor)
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