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An introduction to hand-dyeing

Hand-dyeing of yarn is simple and fun, requiring only basic household equipment. However if you have not used Procion MX dyes before we would recommend that you start by purchasing one of our starter kits which include dyes, fixers for both animal and plant fibres, an accessory pack and instructions. Alternatively try one of our dye-it-yourself project kits which include yarn, three dyes of your choice, fixer, an accessory pack, instructions and a knitting or crochet pattern. For more in-depth information on hand-dyeing techniques we would recommend Debbie's book Hand-dyed Yarn Craft Projects available from our Books section.

Rainbow dyeing

The yarns, garments and accessories you see on the website have all been produced using a technique called "Rainbow Dyeing". Rainbow dyeing is a broad term which is used to describe any technique in which fibres are dyed using a range of colours or shades applied at random to create a multi-coloured effect.

The beauty of this style of dyeing is that it requires little in the way of accurate measurements and yet the results, whilst they may be somewhat unpredictable, are really exciting and dramatic.

Most of the colour combinations shown on the website have been produced using only three of the twelve colours in our dye palette. Have a look at our Project Kit pages and the Gallery to see some of the wonderful shades that can be achieved.

Cotton viscose slub (4 ply) dyed using orange scarlet, royal blue and lemon yellow

Cotton/viscose Chenille (super chunky) dyed using lemon yellow and brilliant emerald dyes

Soaking

First yarn is wound into skeins to allow the dyes to reach all parts of the yarn most easily. The yarn is then soaked in a solution of water, household salt and a fixer. The fixer fixes the dye to the yarn, making it wash fast.

For animal fibres citric acid crystals or white (distilled) vinegar are used as the fixer. For plant fibres sodium carbonate (soda ash) is used as the fixer.

The salt is used as a levelling agent which ensures that the yarn takes the dye evenly. Once it has soaked for an hour or so the yarn is removed and gently squeezed to remove excess water.

Yarn soaking in a bucket of fixer solution

Applying the dye

Dye may be applied to yarn in a wide variety of ways depending on the look you want to achieve. In rainbow dyeing, the dye solution is applied directly to the pre-soaked fibres using bottles, pipettes, basters or simply by pouring from the container.

Dye can be applied in stripes/spirals or completely at random to achieve different effects. Re-arranging the yarn in the container can also change the overall effect, for example, piling the yarn randomly in a dish or laying it out in a horseshoe shape.

Applying dye to yarn using a sports drink bottle

Fixing the dye

The fixer for the dye is applied to the yarn at the soaking stage and no further chemicals need to be added after dyeing your yarn.

For plant fibres the dyed yarn is left for around six hours after application of the dye. After this time the dye is wash fast and the yarn can be rinsed to remove excess dye (known as exhaust).

Animal fibres require heat as well as the fixing chemicals to ensure a good bond between the dye and the yarn. For animal fibres therefore the yarn is "cooked" briefly once the dye has been applied, using either a microwave, hob, oven or steamer to provide the necessary heat. It is then allowed to cool before rinsing.

Dyed wool wrapped in cling film ready for heating in a microwave
If you have any questions about hand-dyeing of yarn or any of the products we sell please contact us  
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[All images and text © Debbie Tomkies and Peter Tomkies 2005]