Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dyeing and Hand-Painting Cotton Yarn

Patty asked:

Hi, Your yarn looks great on your dishcloth. Can you share with me what kind of cotton yarn you used and what kind of dye you used? I have a hard time finding colors for my kitchen and would love to try to dye my own.
Thank you so much.

Thanks for the compliments!

Peaches-n-Creme 100% Cotton YarnI use Peaches-n-Creme, Sugar-n-Cream, or Lion Cotton in white, ecru, or natural. They all are pretty much the same yarn - relatively inexpensive worsted cotton. However, any 100% cotton will work, so try different weights, higher quality pima cottons, or the shiny mercerized stuff. White will yield true dye colors, while ecru, natural, or tan will make the dyes look muted. Pastels can be overdyed, though the original color of the dye may look different.

Rainbow Rock Tie-Dye KitI use Rainbow Rock tie-dye kits from the crafts store, since the dyes are pre-measured and come with squirt bottles. They are Procion-MX dyes, which are easy to use and available in bulk as well. Mixed as directed, the colors are vibrant. Less water will result in richer colors, and more water will yield pastels. The dyes look darker in the bottle; so squirt a drop on a white paper towel to test.

The colors are mixable, either in power or liquid form. I'm not very scientific about it, and just experiment until I am pleased. It's much easier to mix in liquid form, like watercolor paints.

Color WheelThe "Classic Colors" kit contains the primary colors of dye: fuchsia, turquoise, and bright yellow. Contrary to what I learned in art class, it is not red, blue, and yellow, as in the "Primary Colors" kit. The blue + red makes a grayish-purple, and the blue + yellow yields an olive green. This is because the red is actually fuchsia + yellow, while the blue is actually turquoise + red, and the golden yellow is bright yellow + red. These kits don’t contain black dye, but it's available separately, and then you can mix almost every color imaginable. Like color ink-jet printers, the thousands of CMYK colors contain different ratios of cyan (turquoise), magenta (fuchsia), yellow, and black.

To prepare the yarn, it must be wound into a hank. Normally I make them about a yard long, or several yards for self-striping yarn. Use a swift or wind the yarn around two heavy chairs. Make loose ties around the hank in several places, so it won't tangle. Acrylic works well for this – it doesn't stain nor absorb the dye and wick it to another area.

Yarn is coated with spinning oils or waxes, so it must be washed for the dye to absorb thoroughly. Fill a sink with hot water and laundry detergent. Swish and soak your hank for several minutes, then rinse without fabric softer. If your hank is tied securely enough, you can place it in a mesh laundry bag and use your washing machine on gentle cycle. Then soak your yarn in the soda ash mixture, as directed by your kit.

Keep a roll of paper towels on hand to soak up dripping dye. Wear rubber gloves to protect your skin, and eye protection is wise. Use a dust mask when mixing dye powders, or at the very least, cover your nose and mouth with a folded handkerchief. Wear old clothes, and secure your pets and small children.

Cover your worktable with plastic trash bags or sheets. To make transferring the yarn easier, place a large, sturdy, flattened cardboard box covered with trash bags on the table, then arrange the hank on that. Squirt the dyes directly from the bottle or try paintbrushes. Lay your hank in a ring and dye it in sections, or lay it in a swirl and dye pie wedges, or just make a messy yarn pile and randomly squirt. For self-striping yarns, you’ll need a large enough work area to separate long sections of your hank. Experimenting is encouraged, but whatever way you choose, you want a relatively thin layer of yarn. With a thick hank, pick up the yarn and check the underside to ensure the dyes penetrate completely.

When satisfied with your painting, cover your work with another trash bag, and seal the edges with masking tape, rocks, or whatever is handy. Find an area where the yarn will be undisturbed for 2 or 3 days. The dyes work best at room temperature or warmer. The minimum is 8 hours, but I've found that 2 to 3 days results in richer colors and prevents fading.

Hand-Dyed Self-Striping Cotton YarnAfter setting, rinse the yarn several times to remove the excess dye, then just hang dry. When drying indoors, place something waterproof underneath. If you're impatient, place the hank in a mesh laundry bag, then into the spin cycle, and finally in the dryer. Wind it in a ball, and knit away....


  1. Hi Meilynne,

    Oh, thank you sooo much for such GREAT directions on how to dye yarn for my dishcloths!

    I'm off this weekend to get my supplies. The only step I'm concerned with is the mixing of the colors to produce my end result colors. I will just continue to play until I get the result I want.

    Your directions are so clear and precise. You did such an excellent and professional job.

    Thank you again.

  2. thanks for posting the directions and supply list! i might have to try this too :)

  3. Thanks from me too. I keep getting back to your blog. Its great and you have good instructions/patterns thanks again:jan

  4. Meilynne,

    Your directions are perfect!!! I have a cone of Heaven Only Knows how many yards of cotton string/thread that I want to dye. I can't wait to get started!!!!

  5. Thank you so much for posting these directions! I have been searching and these are the easiest directions for dying cotton yarn I have found by far. Great tips! I have one question. Do you know if I can do this method if I have a 85% cotton and 15% polyester blend yarn that I am wanting to dye?

  6. How'd you make the rainbow skein? It's gorgeous and I want to make my own? Could you show a tutorial on how you made it as well please. <3

  7. Frenchteas, the tutorial for making the rainbow hank is in the blog post itself.

  8. I think this is a fantastic tutorial! It seems to cover everything (like keeping pets and kids away and preping the area, many dye how-tos don't make a note of those sorts of things,) and it's clear and to the point. I love it! Thank you!

  9. Another thing we dye is white cotton sweaters. You can deconstruct them, dye, then knit straight off the piece of knitwear without unwinding it first. Very cheap and nice results :) Thanks for the dying tips.

  10. Hats off!!! to your amazing blog!!! You have done a great job...thanks for sharing the procedure of dying cotton yarn.

  11. I appreciate to your awesome blog posting! your blog content is very informative. Now, I have added your blog to my favorites and will look forward for more updates. Great Job, Keep it up.

  12. We are producing 100% cotton yarn of several counts ranging from 10/s up to 40/s for knitting and weaving.
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