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How to Dye Yarn – All Our Best Tips and Tricks for Flawless Results Every Time

By Gina Rockenwagner on January 3, 2022

So you’ve got your beautiful bare yarn, you’ve got your dyes, now what? You’re probably wondering how to turn that gorgeous undyed yarn into the dyed yarn of your dreams. Or you might be an experienced dyer with a simmering question or a technique you’ve been stumbling over. At KNOMAD, no question is too big or small! We aim to support you at every step of your fiber journey, so today we’re answering some of the most common dyeing questions we receive here at Knomad. If you have a question we didn’t answer, go ahead and ask in the comments!

How to get even color on solid colorways

soak knomad yarn

 

Prism soaking

This is a super frequently asked question here at Knomad! My first tip is to soak your yarn super well. You’ll want to completely and gently submerge your yarn in a solution of a couple gallons of water with a dash of citric acid for at least an hour before you start dyeing. Soaking your yarn opens up the surface of the fibers so they are ready to accept the dye. When you remove the yarn from the soaking solution, gently squeeze the excess water out of the yarn. When you mix your dye solution, make sure to use very hot water to fully dissolve the dye powder. When preparing your dye bath, stir super well and add your dye before adding your yarn. Add your yarn all at once, before heating your dye bath.

Bareyarns in USA

How to dye crisp speckles

magnolia finished

Magnolia dyed with black speckles

Crisp speckles are much easier to obtain when you dye on superwash wool, like Marshmallow worsted and DK, or blends with a lot of superwash wool like Steam and Snowdrift. Superwash wool absorbs dye super quickly. This means the color of the speckle is absorbed before it has a chance to dissolve and disperse in the water. Another tip is to use just a small amount of liquid in your dye pan. Your yarn should be only partially submerged in the liquid. You should be able to see plenty of your yarn above the surface of the water.

Mixing the dye powder with an equal amount of citric acid also helps make speckles crisp. Make sure to mix only what you need for the day’s dyeing session, or store the mix in an airtight container. Since citric acid attracts moisture, the mix can easily become wet and spoil.

If you’re not dyeing with superwash yarn, it’s a good idea to slightly heat your yarn before sprinkling the dye powder and citric acid mix on the yarn.

How to dispose of your exhausted dye bath and excess dye solution

egret in Canada

Dye solution is considered toxic and should not be disposed in your sink. Additionally, most dye suppliers recommend storing mixed dye solution for no longer than five days. This is because the color starts to degrade when stored too long, so results will be different than expected. Check with your dye manufacturer for information relevant to their products.

Since you can’t store dye, what we recommend is using any leftover dye solution to dye single or a couple, one of a kind skeins. When dyed on yarns that are good for single skein projects like sock yarns, knitters tend to enjoy purchasing a one of a kind skein, because it feels special and exciting.

If you can’t find a use for extra dye solution, look for a hazardous waste collection in your area.

For exhausted dye bath, you’ll want to neutralize the PH of the bath using baking soda. Test the ph of the dye bath using ph strips before pouring down the drain.

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Gina Rockenwagner

Gina Fama Röckenwagner (she/her) is a color-obsessed knit designer and textile artist based in Los Angeles, California. Her work has been featured in Vogue Knitting, Pom Pom Quarterly, and Purl Soho’s eponymous blog. She founded her line of soft, comfortable, and size-inclusive clothing, SOFT HAUS, in 2015. When not working on yarn-related endeavors, Gina can be found quilting, biking, baking and watching trashy tv with her cats, Paloma and Blooper.

12 responses to “How to Dye Yarn – All Our Best Tips and Tricks for Flawless Results Every Time”

  1. Stacey Pace says:

    This is great information! Thank you!

  2. I am curious. I never use citric acid. I dye only non super wash animal fibers and only with plant based dyes. I use alum amd other pla t nased natural morsants. I am not opposed to citric acid but am juat wondering-So is your experience with citric acid under these conditions too? I have always read and been told citric acid with plant fiber yarns only.
    Thank you.

    • Knomad Yarn says:

      Thanks so much for your question! This post was more geared towards dyers who use conventional, ie non natural dyes. We have some great posts on our blog about natural dyeing by Hannah Thiessen, who is an expert natural dyer. Unfortunately I’m not an expert in natural dyeing, so I can’t speak to what ingredients you should or should not use! I do know that natural dyeing is a completely different process that uses its own kit of ingredients to achieve the best results. For conventional dyeing, I prefer to use citric acid to set the dye. I find it to be a little more precise, easier to work with and to store than vinegar. I hope that helps to answer your question and don’t hesitate to write with any other questions! – Gina

  3. Hi there, so I dye with only plant based dyes on non superwash yarn. I never use citric acid. I am not against it, I have just learned I don’t need it. Do you suggest differently? I use alum, and plant based tannins. Thank so much.

  4. These are great tips!! I can’t wait to start dyeing more yarn this year!

  5. Dorothy says:

    I’m a bit confused. You say to add citric acid to an exhausted dye bath before pouring down the drain. I always read that one should put baking soda in a used dye bath to neutralize the acid from the dye bath (from citric acid or white vinegar). Can you please clarify?
    Thank you for this great post!

    • Knomad Yarn says:

      We did mean to say baking soda, not citric acid! Thank you for pointing that out. The post has been corrected. – Gina

  6. If I am dyeing solid colors I do these tricks –
    1. Do NOT soak the yarn in citric acid (add it near the end of processing).
    2. Dissolve dye powder in about a cup of extrememly hot water and add to your pot, pan, whatever you are using.
    3. Before adding the yarn or fiber into the pot, add 2 tablespoons (about 25g) of canning or Glauber’s salt and 1 tsp (about 4-5 g) of Ammonium sulfate (NH₄)₂SO₄ these both act as levelers, which prevents the dye molecule from attaching too quickly (and unevenly) to the fiber.
    4. Start heating the solution, but it still needs to be a low temp (say 110F) when you add the yarn – for solids – bring to heat slowly. Bring up to 180-190F, add citric acid, and simmer until dye is exhausted (can be 10 minutes or an hour depending on the dye molecule).

    Why not soak in citric acid? It gets the yarn “too ready” to accept the dye, which leads to uneven color results. As soon as the dye hits the fiber it strikes. Once those molecules are taken out of solution, it will be more dilute, which menas there are fewer molecules to go around for the rest of the fiber. Don’t get me wrong – I intentionally make that happen when dyeing tonals and speckling.

    Reach out to me via email if you are a newbie and need some advice – Tens of thousands of skeins under my belt.

    PS – I reuse my acidifed water when making some dye solutions or dump it into my steamers to replenish the water. For disposal, use baking soda to neutralize the dye solution – adding CA will only make it more acidic. You need to add a weak base such as baking soda or a bit of ammonia (strong base) to bring it back to a pH 6-8 – btw it will foam like crazy.

  7. Christine Weiss – in terms of using plant based dyes – if you add CA to the mix it will change the color. When I am natural dyeing animal fiber, the citric acid stays on the shelf, unless I’m using it to modify a color. You are correct in mordanting with alum and cream of tartar (which is a very weak acid that can/may brighten the color). Natural dyeing is an entirely different process than using acid dyes. As you may will know, boiling leads to disasterous results of those delicate plant dyes. Keep it at a slow simmer – maybe 180F. Jenny Dean is a natural dyeing expert and has written several excellent books. My go-to resource is Wild Colour.

    • Knomad Yarn says:

      Thank you so much for writing in with these helpful tips! That makes complete sense about not soaking in citric acid. I will definitely adjust my dye routine accordingly. Something great about dyeing is you can always learn more, no matter how experienced you are. Thanks for helping us all improve! – Gina

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