Saturday, November 21, 2009

Tutorial: Dyeing sock yarn

I was playing with the dyes today, coloring a batch of wool/acrylic sock yarn that I bought off of Ebay. I had some fiber reactive dye left over from last year this time, when I had made a series of warp painted cotton shawls, and I was hoping to use that. Of course, dyes for cellulose fibers don't always work on protein fibers. I spent the last couple of days pouring over my books and various web sites, and came up with a solution. It seems that you can use fiber reactive dyes on wool, if you substitute vinegar for the soda ash in the pre-soak phase, and heat set the dye. So, I decided to try it out. Here's what I did:

wool/acrylic sock yarn
Dharma fiber reactive dye (from Dharma Trading Company)
white vinegar

Tools (NOTE: do not use your dye tools for food prep ever again!)
measuring cups and spoons
plastic spoons
small tupperware tubs
saran wrap
plastic bags
sponge brushes
drying rack
breathing mask
rubber gloves

First off, I put my yarn in a bucket and covered it with water. Then I put the lid on the bucket so the dogs wouldn't drink the nice wool soup, and went out to lunch. When I got back, I pulled the yarn out for a moment, and added 4 cups of white vinegar and about a 1/3 cup of Synthropol to the water, and put the yarn back in. The vinegar makes the water acidic, so the protein fiber will take the dye. If I was working on cellulose fibers, I would use soda ash instead at this step. The Synthropol helps the fibers take the dye.

While the yarn was soaking in the vinegar water, I cleared away the remnants of the Epic Nerf War from my working surface, and convinced the various cats that they didn't really want to help. Really.

I covered my working surface with plastic garbage bags, then a couple of layers of newspaper.

Next, I had to mix up the dyes. At this point, I put on my breathing mask and rubber gloves, for safety's sake. Then I made a batch of chemical water, using 2 quarts of warm water and 1 1/2 cups urea pellets.

I put a cup of the chemical water into a little tupperware tub, and added two teaspoons of dye powder. A layer of saran wrap went down onto the table, and the yarn went on top of that. I used the sponge brushes to directly paint color onto the yarn.

Then I folded in the edges of the saran wrap, sealing in the yarn, and rolled up my skein into a big funny looking cinnamon roll.

The rolls went into my steamer, and simmered for 1/2 hour. While the last one was simmering, I cleaned up my work station and then took off the breathing mask.

After the rolls had steamed, I put them out on the counter, still in their wrappings. They sat for several hours, until they were cool to the touch.

I unwrapped the bundles one at a time (gloves back on for this stage!). I filled the sink with cool water, and gently put the yarn in. The unused dye leached out into the water, at which point I would pick up the yarn, drain and refill the sink, and repeat. After three or four repeats, the water ran clear and all the unused dye was removed from the yarn.

The yarn is hung to dry.

The yarn seemed to take the dye quite well, actually. I am really looking forward to putting some of these skeins through the sock machine, to see what I come up with. But as it is, I'll call this dyeing experiment a success.


  1. What a timely post for me!! Thanks for sharing it.

    I just received some dye that's mixed and ready to today I'm making skeins and tomorrow I'm dyeing.

    Thanks so much for sharing how you do it! I was thinking I'd have to stick with solid colors, but seeing how you painted the skeins was super helpful.

    Thank you!


  2. The colors run and blend into each other when you do it this way, so I'd be sure you put colors next to each other that play nicely together. I know there is a thickening agent available to cut down on that, but I haven't worked with it yet.

    Have fun with your color!