Friday, September 30, 2016

Dyeing a Sock Blank

I started my dyeing ‘career’ by dyeing a double stranded sock blank with KoolAid.  That was enough to send me over the edge to another addiction.  Wow, how much fun and so very easy.  That was several years ago and I’ve since experimented with several techniques and have switched to using retail acid dyes rather than KoolAid and food grade colors such as food coloring, cake dyes, etc.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with dyeing with the food grade dyes and it led me into yet another craft.  I converted to retail acid dyes because our water apparently doesn’t have the right pH for food grade dyes to retain their brightness and color during laundry.  But don’t let my experiences stop you from the adventures of dyeing with food grade dyes.  Lately I got the urge to do a blank again and I’m very happy with it.  I’ve posted several other articles on my blog about other dyeing projects including blanks, mostly dyed in vertical or horizontal striping sequences, but I did want to expand more on dyeing this blank with diagonal striping.  So here’s what I did last week.
1.  I divided a 100 gram of bare sock yarn into 2 – 50 gram cakes and knit my blank with double strands at tension 7 on my KX350 midgauge machine.  I cast on 100 stitches and knit til I was out of yarn.  If you don’t have a knitting machine, knit with very large needles so the stitches will be loose enough to let the dye penetrate into all the crooks and crannies of the stitch.  I began and ended with about 6 rows of waste yarn.  This makes it easier to lay out and doesn’t have a tighter cast on and off edge for the dye to contend with.
2.  After I knit the blank, I put it to soak in the sink with tepid water and a couple squirts of Dawn dishwashing liquid.  I let the yarn sink into the water naturally and didn’t push it down into the water.  Pushing it down may trap air bubbles inside the yarn and create a resist for the dyes.  I let it sink into the water on its own and the air is released naturally as it sinks.  After the yarn sank into the water, after about 15 minutes I sozzled it around several times and then let it soak in clear water after I rinsed the suds out.  Let it soak for at least 30 minutes or more.  
3.   While my blank is soaking, I mixed up the dyes.  For this particular project, I wanted saturated colors so I mixed ¾ tsp of dye powder with 2 cups of water and 3T of white vinegar.  Citric acid may be used in place of vinegar if you don’t care for the smell of vinegar.  Mix dyes according to manufacturer’s directions and prepare the dyes using a dust mask and rubber gloves, preferably away from eating areas.   While measuring and mixing dyes, I lay down a couple of wet paper towels to catch any powder spills.  The wet towels keep the powder from dispersing into the air.  For this blank, I chose coordinating colors because I knew I would get some bleeding and didn’t want any weird colors in it.  Keep the color wheel in mind when choosing your dye colors.
4.   I prepared my dyeing surface by laying down a plastic painter’s drop cloth over my kitchen bar counter.  This will protect your work surface from puddles, drips and spills.  And trust me, you will have puddles, drips and spills.  I like to paint a blank on an absorbent surface such as an old rug or several layers of old towels.  I’ve found that an old rug absorbs excess water and keeps the color bleeding to a minimum. But if you want the colors to bleed, lay down several strips of plastic wrap large enough to hold the blank and don’t use an absorbent backing.   
5.  After I prepared my work surface, I squeezed out as much water from the yarn blank as I could with my hands.  Then wrapped it up in an old bath towel like a jelly roll and walked on it to remove remaining water.  The blank should be damp but not dry.  Then I laid the blank out on the rug, stretching it a bit in all directions so the stitches would open up nicely.  I prefer to paint with the purl side up but it’s your choice.  
6.  Let the painting begin.  I use little sponge brushes found in the paint or arts and crafts departments.  They are intended to be disposable but I’ve used them for several sessions after a good rinsing and drying.  Some use squeeze bottles like the kind you find ketchup in at eating places but I find I have much better control with a brush.  Paint by dipping the brush into the dye mix and dabbing it onto the yarn, don’t use a brushing motion as it will just fuzz up your yarn and won't get saturated.  Dabbing works best.  Saturate the yarn pretty well so you don’t see white spots anywhere.  Before I go to the next color, I blot up excess liquid with a couple sheets of paper towels.  Lay the paper towels on the dyed section and pat down with your hands.  If you dab with the towel, you’ll run the risk of contaminating other sections with that color.
7.  After you’re happy with your dyeing, flip the blank over and repeat painting on the other side.  I run a couple of long single pointed knitting needles through the waste yarn on one side of the blank, lift up by the needles and carefully lay it down on a clean rug so the colors don’t get contaminated with the others.  You’ll plainly see the areas that need another application of dye mix.  This second coating won’t take as much dye as the first side.  Again, lay paper towels down on your work and blot up the excess water.
8.  Cover the blank with sheets of plastic wrap, seal the seams and roll it up like a jelly roll.  Turn in the ends of the plastic wrap about halfway thru and finish rolling it up.  Wrap it up in another sheet of plastic wrap to make sure all openings are sealed up.  You don't want steam to come in direct contact with the yarn.

9.  I use a stainless steel mesh colander to hold the yarn roll, a hot plate and a pot with a couple inches of water in the bottom to steam the yarn. So I shape the roll into a circle and place it in my colander and onto my kettle.  If you were to use food grade dyes, you could do this in your kitchen or use the microwave to heat set but the retail acid dyes should be heat set in a well ventilated area, and not used with any utensil or appliance that will be used for food.  Bring the water to a boil, cover the pan and let simmer for at least 30-45 minutes.  I’ve been known to forget to set my timer so some of my jobs have steamed for over an hour, no problem.  Extra time gives some of the pesky colors a better opportunity to set.  Blues and reds can be kind of pesky.
10.  After steaming, let your blank cool before handling because it’ll be very hot.  When cool enough to handle, unwrap it and rinse it in the sink with the same temperature water as the yarn and with a couple squirts of Dawn dishwashing liquid.  The rinse water should run clear but if it doesn’t, keep rinsing til it does.  If there is a lot of color left in the rinse water, repeat the Dawn rinse to remove excess dyes and rinse again til clear.  Then hang to dry, unravel, wind into a cone and knit away. 

Painting a sock blank is such an easy way to dye yarn and the possibilities are endless.  I get lots of inspiration from the ‘I Love to Dye’, ‘What a Kool Way to Dye’ and ‘Sock Blank Artists’ groups on  There are many videos on You Tube as well as tutorials on artist’s websites and blogs.  Have fun and let your imagination go wild.


  1. Great post!
    Thank you for sharing this post.I love reading your blog,there will be some new information every time.The article on how to dye a sock was particularly very useful.It looks so simple and easy.

    1. Thank you...and you're very welcome. I like to share what knowledge I have but seems like the time just isn't there to be real attentive to my blog. I keep saying I'll get better with it, but you know how that goes. I love dyeing sock blanks and I'm particularly taken with these diagonal stripes. Just imagine the color possibilities.