Hand Dyeing Yarn With Food Colouring

hand dyeing woolAbout 6 months ago I started knitting again.

My mother taught me how to knit years ago but I didn’t have the patience or the desire (I was 13 and convinced I was much too cool to knit, I know better now) to really get into it.

But recently I decided to give it another go as I’ve been crocheting for a number of years but wanted to do other projects that weren’t possible with crochet.

So, I bought some needles and starting knitting and I confess that I’ve become somewhat addicted.

As much to the yarn, as to the knitting.

I already have a good stash of yarns to be used for goodness knows what projects but I just keep buying more.

And now I’ve found another reason to grow my stash even morel!

About 2 months ago I discovered the art of hand dyeing yarn. I saw a few posts on Instagram that featured gorgeous, hand-dyed yarns and I got curious about how they were being made.

A few Google searches and a quick visit to the supermarket later and I was dyeing my first batch of wool with $2 bottles of food colouring.

Using food colouring to dye yarn is easy, fun and a great way to get started with hand dyeing yarn without the expense or fuss. There are no toxins or fumes to worry about and you can use items from your kitchen for your dyeing, since food colouring is all totally food safe.

I decided to have a go at hand painting my yarn first, as it seemed easier, instead of immersion dyeing.

Hand painting is exactly what it sounds like, and involves painting (or pouring) dye over sections of yarn to colour it how you want.

Immersion dyeing is done in a pot, cooker or pan of some sort and the yarn is added to a dye solution instead of having the dye applied directly to the yarn.

To start dyeing I first took my balls of wall and wound them into hanks using an upturned chair. There are proper tools for doing this part of the process, like a Niddy Noddy or a Swift, but I don’t have either so I improvised.

dyeing wool(Apologies for the dark pic – it was taken in the evening)

I tied a piece of acrylic yarn at intervals around the hank, to stop it from tangling while dyeing and then I put it in a bowl of warm water with a 1/4 cup of white vinegar to soak for about half an hour. This helps to open up the fibres so that your yarn will take the dye up more efficiently when you start dyeing.

After soaking the wool so it was soaked through I gently squeezed the excess water out and then laid the wool out on a few layers of cling film to hand dye it.

Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of this, or the rest of the process, because I got too excited and completely forgot to capture what I was doing! So, if you’re a visual person, this post will be frustrating to you and you might want to wait for part 2 of this post, which I promise will be better visually documented, but if you’re okay with reading what happens next, then keep reading….

I wanted to paint my yarn with a dark teal and a dark orange so I mixed up 2 plastic cups of dye using 5ml of food colouring to about half a cup of water. I totally guessed this mix and next time wll try other dilutions. That’s one of the fun parts of hand dyeing, there’s no hard and fast rules, just play and see what works.

With my dyes mixed I poured them into squirt top bottles and proceeded to apply 5″ bands of colour around my yarn, alternating between blue and orange. I didn’t try too hard to stop them blending or to make sure I covered every spot perfectly because I wanted my yarn to look hand dyed and to have specs and flecks of white or blended colours.

Once I had applied all the dye I left it to set while I mopped up any extra dye that was left on the cling film.

After about half an hour I wrapped the glad wrap carefully over each side of the hank, and on the ends, making sure that there was cling film covering all parts of the yarn and then folded it on itself and put it in a steamer for another half an hour, to set the dye.

When the dye was set I let the yarn cool a little before unwrapping it and washing it gently with cool water then, again, carefully squeezed the excess water out.

You need to be very careful when working with hot and wet wool as it will felt with too much handling so only handle it as much as you need to and no more.

I hung the hang across an indoor clothes horse and once the hank was dry I balled it up and then couldn’t wait to knit with it and see how it turned out.

hand dyeing yarnI’ve never knitted a hat before so I put my newly dyed wool to use with this cute Swirl Hat by Mandie Harrington for Lil Miss P.

hand-dyeing yarnI love all the little pools of colour and the flecks of white and yellows. I had so much fun knitting this up and watching the colours come in to the piece randomly as I went.

And now I have the dyeing bug. I already have a whole lot of hanks tied, ready to dye and I’ve ordered some acid dyes to try, so watch out for my next post about dyeing with acid dyes.

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