Saturday, May 4, 2013

Paint Dyeing a Skein for Variegated Yarn

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Today I’m showing how I paint a skein of yarn to achieve a variegated yarn.  In this case, I only wanted 2 shades of the same color with short spans but you can use any amount of colors, in whatever length your pattern calls for.

1.  First off, my yarn came from a cone so I wound the yarn into a skein with my DIY niddy noddy.  I have 3 different shaft lengths to make 3 different length skeins.  Instructions for making your own niddy noddy with PVC pipe can be found at   It works great and doesn’t cost a fortune.  Be sure to tie off the yarn with figure 8’s so it doesn’t get tangled in the dyeing process.  And I tie a long strand of yarn thru and around the skein which comes in handy for lifting the skein when wet and also keeps it from tangling.

2.  Wet the yarn skein by ‘laying’ it on top of lukewarm water in a sink or pail.  Do not force the yarn into the water but let it soak up and submerge by itself.  Depending on the yarn and/or how it’s wound, the air bubbles that could be trapped by forcing it into the water may create resists to prevent the dye from being absorbed evenly.

3.   After the entire skein of yarn has been submerged by itself in the water, add a squirt of Dawn dishsoap or Synthrapol to the water and gently sozzle the yarn.  This releases any oil residue in the yarn.  Gently, rinse with lukewarm water and let soak in fresh water for atleast 30 minutes.

4.   While the yarn is soaking, prepare the dyes according to manufacturer’s directions and prepare the work surface.  I use a painter’s plastic drop cloth to cover my whole working area.  Then I lay down 2 long sheets of plastic wrap over the drop cloth.  When I’m painting with dyes, I add a couple tsp of white vinegar to the dye solution before applying to the yarn.  Certainly follow your manufacturer’s instructions for adding vinegar (acid), but when I’m vat dyeing in my crockpot, I always add the vinegar at the end of the process after the required temperature has been maintained for 30 minutes.

5.   After soaking the yarn for atleast 30 minutes, remove it from the water and gently squeeze (do not wring) to remove the water.  I use an old bath towel to wrap around the skein, lay it on the floor and walk on it.  The more water that can be removed before applying the dyes, the less the dyes will run into each other.  Lay the skein onto the prepared work surface with the seam of the plastic wrap running down thru the middle.  This plastic wrap will be used later to wrap the dyed skein for heating.

6.   Now the fun begins.  Wear rubber gloves!  Apply dye to the yarn in whatever pattern you like.  I prefer to use foam sponges but a squeeze bottle, syringe or anything of the like can be used to apply the dye.  Use your fingers to work in the dye as you work.  From experience, I’ve learned to apply the dark colors first, then fill in with lighter colors.  The colors will run together and if the dark color is already there, the lighter color won’t make much of a difference to it.  But a dark color merging into a lighter color will change the color or intensity of the lighter one.   Also be choosy about the colors you put next to each other.  If you don’t want any green in your yarn, don’t put yellow and blue next to each other.

7.   Carefully turn the skein over to see if the back has been saturated with color.  If not to your liking, turn the whole skein over and apply more dye to that side.  I wanted a tonal quality so I wasn’t real concerned about the backside but I didn’t want any white either, so I did turn my skein over and applied more dye.  If you want a solid color, blot up excess water with paper towels as you work.   Yarn that is  saturated with water won’t take dye real well.

8.   When your dyeing is to your liking, blot up excess water with layers of paper towels.  Check your work.  If you want more color or more even color, blot up as much water as you can and reapply more dye.  Again, blot up excess water before wrapping for heat setting.

9.   Use the 2 sheets of plastic wrap that you’ve been working on to wrap around the yarn skein, wrapping half of the skein with one sheet and the other half with the other.  Don’t wrap it with one sheet of plastic as you don’t want the colors from each section touching each other.  You may need to use another sheet of plastic to wrap the ends.  Yarn should not be directly exposed to steam or heat.

10.  I use a 7 qt crockpot for heat setting. In this case, steam will be used.  I have a little DIY rack that fits in the bottom of my crockpot to elevate the yarn over the water.  Don’t let the yarn sit in water, it’ll dilute the colors.  Put enough warm water in the crockpot to boil, my rack is about 4” tall.   I like using a crockpot because most dye manufacturer's recommend a gradual rise in heat.  I've never had a dye failure using my crockpot.

11.  Turn the crockpot on high and let heat til the water simmers.  Temperature of the yarn should reach about 200 degrees for atleast 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, turn the crockpot off and let the yarn cool on its own to a temperature that will allow handling.  When cool enough to comfortably handle, unwrap the yarn and carefully rinse with the same temperature water as the yarn.  Use a squirt of Dawn dishwashing liquid or Synthrapol to remove any excess dye that hasn’t bonded to the yarn.  Rinse til the water runs clear.  Squeeze, remember not to wring, the yarn and wrap in a towel again, walk on it and hang to dry.

12.  When the yarn is completely dry, wind it into a cake and you’re ready to create and take pleasure in a project made with your own dyed yarn.


  1. NICE JOB! Very thorough explanation. What brand of dye are you using these days?

    very thorough explanation. Nice job!

  2. Thanks, Mar. Gave me a good excuse to use my new cam....I use either Dharma acid dyes or ProChem One Shot. Both are excellent dyes, are mixable and come in lots of colors.