How To Dye Self-Patterning Yarn


I collected a few of the leaves blowing around outside to display on my work table along with some colorful yarn I dyed yesterday, now available in my shop. These are identical balls, one for each sock–I just started from opposite ends of the colorway when rolling them. You could dye some yourself, of course; here’s how!

I started with a sock blank from  Two strands of yarn–each 200 yards–are machine-knit at the same time, so when you unravel them, each strand will have the same color pattern.  Here is the sock blank after I dyed it: DSCN0117To do this yourself, soak the blank in water overnight.  The next day, squeeze out most of the water.  Lay it out on plastic wrap.  Mix packets of unsweetened Kool-Aid with water (perhaps 1/3 c. water per packet) and apply with an eye-dropper or just carefully pour it on, pressing it into the yarn.  You could use any food or icing color and a little white vinegar with your water instead:  You always need an acid; Kool-Aid contains citric acid. (I use professional dyes, but honestly, I have worn a pair of socks dyed with icing gel for about a decade and they have not faded.)

Roll it up, lay it on a microwave-safe plate and heat for 4 minutes in the microwave.   I lay a substantial strip of clean, white rag or old-t-shirt or even some paper towels on the yarn before rolling to help prevent the colors from invading other colors during this process.  I roll it the hot-dog way–in this photo, that would be from the bottom to the top (or top to bottom), NOT left to right, because I want like colors to remain together while heating. You may also wish to put a paper towel or other small rag beneath the yarn to absorb excess dye that may leak out while heating.

Allow your sausage to cool for an hour or two and then rinse.  To remove excess moisture, spin it out in the washing machine or roll it up in an old towel and stomp on.

If you knit socks two-at-a-time, just knit directly from the blank after you let the yarn dry.

If you’re not a two-at-a-timer, you will need to reskein.  If you do not have yarn swifts, a niddy noddy, and/or a ball winder, then I recommend you let the yarn dry first, enlist a helper, and each of you roll a ball at the same time. The yarn will unravel easiest from the end with the gray yarn.

I did not have a helper, and I wanted to be able to wet the yarn again to get rid of most of the crinkles; therefore, I wanted two skeins, not balls.  I used my tabletop swift (from Oregon Woodworker) and my ball winder (attached to a the blue stool in the photo).  I kept the knit sock blank in a tub on the floor or in my lap and slowly unraveled and wound the yarn–one thread onto the tabletop swift and the other into a ball with the ball-winder, which I later wound into a skein with my niddy-noddy.


I then dunked the skeins in water, spun them out in the washing machine and hung them to dry overnight.  This morning I wound them into balls, one ball for each sock, as shown in the initlal photo.

Finally, let me caution you that your yarn may not turn out exactly as expected, and you need to be O.K. with that.  In fact, I took this last photo to show potential customers the fact that there was a white spot in the yarn–a place where I did not press down to encourage the dye to move into the yarn.  If you want perfection, consider purchasing yarn made in a factory.  But then you would miss the satisfaction of having made it yourself!


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