Misadventures in Dyeing

Accomplished in 2947 easy steps:

  • Join Project Colorswap.
  • Decide that a fun part of the package would be to do a hand-dyed skein of sock yarn using the month’s colors, orange and yellow, remembering the stash of Knit Picks Color Your Own in the closet.
  • Decide to be ambitious and make the colors fade toward each other from opposite ends of the yarn.
  • Wind a skein of yarn.
  • Hand wind it doubled so the two sock skeins match perfectly and so that one end is safely hidden inside the ball where it will be free from the first color of dye.
  • Soak ball overnight in ziplock bag of vinegar water to make sure it’s all damp and ready.
  • Use some Wilton dye and your husband’s giant beer brewing pot to dye the first color one evening.
  • Let it cool overnight.
  • Rinse and unwind ball and discover that dye only penetrated about 3 layers into the ball and so you have a mostly white yarn with lots of saturated color at one end.
  • Decide that you used too much liquid in the giant pot and that the hand-wound ball wasn’t letting the color get to the inside of the ball.
  • Let yarn dry overnight.
  • Rewind ball with ball winder deciding that if some color gets toward the center and other end of the ball, it will be a neat effect.
  • Soak cake overnight in container of vinegar water.
  • Re-attempt dyeing first color again using husband’s giant beer brewing pot again and much less water.
  • After 4 hours letting dye bath bake on the stove while watching TV, investigate weird noise and discover that dye bath has nearly boiled dry and nearly ruined beer brewing pot.
  • Let yarn cool overnight.
  • Rinse and unwind yarn, discovering better color distribution, mostly white on the “inside”, and no damage from the near accident with the heat and lack of sufficient liquid.
  • Let yarn dry overnight.
  • Rewind yarn into cake with the mostly white parts on the outside and more loosely than before.
  • Buy Crock Pot.
  • Spend one night testing Crock Pot temperatures with just water and rigged contraption to hold candy thermometer in Pot.
  • Learn Crock Pot heats hotter if lid is on.
  • Soak cake overnight in container of vinegar water.
  • Finally use color #2 to dye yarn in Crock Pot for an evening.
  • Learn that dye floats and that you have to turn it over a few times during the dyeing cycle to get even color.
  • Let Crock Pot cool down overnight.
  • Unwind yarn to find decent distribution of colors, but not quite what you were expecting, maybe a little too much of color #2 because the ball was wound more loosely.
  • Set yarn out to dry for a final time.
  • Resolve to get professionally dyed yarn for Colorswap partner.

Lessons learned:

  1. Crock Pots make dyeing better
  2. Spend the extra $10 for the Crock Pot with the white pot so you can see when the dyebath has exhausted.
  3. The special breadstick pan with lots of perforated holes that you haven’t used in 5 years makes a good platform for rinsing and drying dyed yarn.
  4. I’m a perfectionist. Okay, maybe that’s not a new lesson.

Okay, so I guess you want to see it….

Here’s the yarn just after unwinding onto the breadstick pan and a pass over with the water sprayer.

You can see the orange end of the ball in the foreground of the photo and the yellow end of the ball toward the back. In the middle are white-ish sections with bits of yellow and bits of orange. There’s a lot of orange on the yellow ends. Partially because the yellow side got really saturated with the two baths of it and kind of looks orangey.

Here’s a closeup of somewhere in the middle. You can see from the sheen that it’s fully saturated with water. The lightest parts will probably dry more white.

Is a failure? No, it does look very pretty. I’m actually calling it Sunrise. I may warm to it when it dries out. My husband thinks it’s a shame that I spent so much time on it and decided not send it off in the package like I’d planned. I knew that this might be a risk when I started on it. And it was a great learning project. It will probably make some very lovely socks. However, it’s not quite what I was expecting when I set out to do it, so unless she demands it, I’m not sending it to Lynne.

But that’s the only sneak peek she gets!


  1. Sheree:

    I think it looks lovely, and you should send it along just for kicks.

  2. Vicki:

    I never thought of dyeing yarn in balls. I could never make it work as my balls are always too tight (that sounds really weird…) I think it’s nice and I bet it’ll look awesome knit up with that color change.

  3. Wendy:

    Too bad I wasn’t your swap partner, I would take it. I love those colors. I had a dye mishap last week, but mine ended in felt.

  4. Katherine:

    To get the first result you wanted:

    Paint the skein instead of dipping it. It’s really fun and easy–to get the best color penetration I would wind the two skeins separately. Then lay them down side by side on a sheet of saran wrap, apply the dye–you can pour, dab with a sponge, put use a squirt bottle, whatever. Then wrap it up like a sausage, and roll up, keeping the lightest color above the darker to keep the darker color from running. Then you put this on a rack in your pot and steam it. It shouldn’t be immersed. I don’t think a crock pot is the best thing to use for steaming. But your microwave will work. Just be sure to wrap it nice and securely–it will puff up so you want a generous overlap.

  5. Felicia from sweetgeorgia:

    Hi Amy! It sounds like you did a lot of soaking in vinegar water! If you found that a lot of the yarn in the centre was still white and undyed, it could maybe be because there was too much acidity and the dye was striking the yarn so quickly that the dye couldn’t get to the inside of the ball! Maybe check out that book “Yarns to dye for” — they have instructions for a graduated yarn. Basically, the idea is you put the yarn in the dye bath and then every few minutes (10 minute intervals?) pull out a few yards to rinse and wind on a waterproof niddy-noddy. The yarn that stays in the pot for longer will be darker… Good luck!

  6. Sara:

    Wow… I think sunrise is an absolutely fabulous name for it! It’s gorgeous!

  7. Emy:

    The colorway is lovely!

  8. Needles & Hooks » Blog Archive » Stuff I did with my thumb…:

    […] That’s a Swallow Hill beaded necklace. I bought the kit at Stitches West. It was probably going to languish for a while, but a friend of mine asked if I wanted to take a beaded knitted jewelry class with her, and it turns out they were making this kit! So some of those nights when I was playing with dye and waiting for it to get hot or cool or whatever, I also strung 900+ beads onto nylon cord. […]

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