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Dying Wool Yarn DIY


October 1, 2012 by Emily

I myself am not a knitter, looking at a knitting or crochet project all I see is colored spaghetti on needles… and while I love tedious and obsessive crafts (I quilt and weave fabric…talk about tedious!!) knitting is not something I ever grasped well.  But, I am tremendously lucky to know amazing and talented friends who not only love to knit but rock at it! They also never tire of making me beautiful hats, gloves and sweaters!

As the seasons change I need to start preparing for the holidays, especially if I plan on hand making most gifts… and what better present for my knitters then beautiful custom dyed yarn?!

While from the outside it seems like you would need loads of materials and maybe scary chemicals the truth of the matter is you only need FOUR things to dye yarn in your kitchen, and it’s totally safe!!


What you will need:

Wool Yarn, White or Cream colors work best**

Food coloring

White Vinegar

Containers for dye

**A note about the yarn, make sure you use pure natural yarns – wool, alpaca, mohair or silk. Cottons and acrylics will not work with this method.

First, if your wool is in balls, you will need to unwind them and form into a skein. Use the arms of a friend or the back of a chair (I suggest the latter…much less complaining)  Tie your skein loosely in two or three places so the yarn does not become a frustrating jumble of threads during the dyeing process.

Next your need to prepare the yarns fibers to take the dye by soaking the yarn in a bowl filled with a mix of water and vinegar, I recommend 1/4 cup of vinegar for every quart of water. Allow the yarn to sit for at least 20 minutes then squeeze out the extra moisture…. you can use this time to prep the dyes!

Seriously….. bowl of wool spaghetti, now do you understand why we tied it up?!

As far as food dye goes I use gel cake decorating food dye, there are a lot of color choices to pick from and the pigment is really concentrated so a little goes a long way and better still… as a baker it’s almost always in my house anyways. Don’t worry if you don’t have gel food dye, the regular liquid kind from the grocery store will work too! Mix the food coloring with water and a glug of vinegar, gel food coloring takes a good stir to mix completely with the water….think about the final effect you want from your yarn as your prepare your dye, pastels will need much less dye, while deep jewel tones will use much much more! I used about 1/2 teaspoon of gel food dye in a pint of liquid to achieve deep and vibrant tones.

Take the yarn out of the vinegar soak and squeeze out the water and you’re ready to add color! You have two options for coloring the yarn. Either pour the dye over the yarn for a mottled variegated appearance or dip the yarn into the dye for a more solid effect.

When you’ve used all your dye or have achieved the effect you’re after, whichever comes first, place your painted yarn in a heavy zip top bag and microwave for 2 minutes on the highest power setting. Let the yarn cool completely then repeat 2 more times for a total of 6 minutes of microwaving…the heat and steam, along with the acid from the vinegar, is what sets the color into the yarn.

Let the yarn cool completely before removing it from the bag.. be careful, it will be super hot for a while and steam an cause bad burns! When the yarn has cooled, rinse it in cool water until the water runs clear. If I’m making the yarn for a present I will swish it in water with a squeeze of shampoo or gentle laundry detergent to get rid of the faint vinegar odor.

Squeeze (don’t wring!) the excess water out and drape the yarn somewhere out of direct sunlight to dry.

twist the loop until it doubles over on itself or wind into a ball and you’re ready to go!

Yarn and knitting not your bag? Never fear, the same techniques can apply to dying wool clothing!

I found a long cardigan in a bag of clothes that my sister was planning on sending to goodwill… one sisters trash is another sisters treasure! But the light gray was a little “blah” to me, so I let it soak for 30 minutes in some berry colored dye and now this gem has been added to my fall wardrobe!


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