So, you want to take the leap and start dyeing yarn on a bigger scale, eh?Or maybe you’ve never tried dyeing yarn, have not dyed much, and are still learning the process?
I have been dyeing yarn since I became a stay at home mom in 2011. I wanted something to do, my oldest son was the easiest baby to take care of in the world, and it was just plain time to take up knitting again. Since then, I’ve played around with different yarn dyes, dye techniques and perfected a few different processes until I launched OMG Yarn about a year later.
Over the years, I’ve refined my process, learned how to be a lot more flexible, and even took time off from dyeing yarn before coming back as OMG Yarn (Balls) last year with my very own unique way of dyeing.
If you’ve just started your fiber arts journey or have even been on this road a while, you know that there are so many ways that dyers do things.
While I won’t share my specific dye recipes, I am always happy to share some of the little tricks of the trade that I’ve acquired over the years that have helped my yarn be my favorite to work with.
So, here are 8 tips that I’m passing on, just for you:
- Knit (or crochet) with your yarn often.
Always make time to work with your yarn. If you do not enjoy working with your own yarn, how will you convince customers to buy your yarn? When I started dyeing yarn, I just dyed hite skeins of yarn I could get my hands on at the time. I wasn’t too terribly happy knitting with it.It was not until I had opened my yarn shop that I had gained some connections with different sales reps to try different yarn bases from different mills until I’d settled on a supplier that had many options to grow my yarn line and that I enjoyed working with.
- If you do not like a color you just tried dyeing, work with it.
Sometimes how you dyed your yarn just does not sit right with you. Whether it’s because the colors did not do what you thought they would, or the yarn itself (or the dye) did not rise to the occasion. Your dye job may still be salvageable. Remember, your personal taste in color may not reflect your customers’ taste in color. Try working up a swatch of the yarn in knit or crochet and see what you think.Better yet, see what other people think. Even if it does not make it to your final repeatable colorway lineup, you will have a couple one of a kind skeins that people will snatch up from your shop or your booth at a show.
- Soak animal based yarn blends in a vinegar (or citric acid) solution prior to dyeing yarn.This kind of goes without saying, but I will reiterate this one. Vinegar or citric acid is very important for dyeing animal based fibers. The acid helps colors strike better on yarn. Some dyers even add the citric acid to their dye when doing speckled colors, because the powder will stay localized with the dye and strike quickly.
- Let yarn cool down before rinsing/washing and then rinse/wash with cool or room temperature water. This is another one that people do not often think of in the yarn dyeing process until they find that their dye is washing out a lot. If you did not use a ton of dye and the color is just not staying in the yarn, the water may just be too hot or you did not give yarn enough time to rest after dyeing. Letting the yarn rest is an important step. It’s almost like the dye keeps setting after you remove its pan from the heat. After cooling down, do what you’re going to do to finalize your dye technique process and let it go hang to dry.
- Wool based yarn a little rough after dyeing? Use vinegar or glycerin (soap) to soften it. This is one I learned recently. I have a yarn base that is very energetically spun (high, tight twist) so it felt a little rough to a handful of people who’ve felt this yarn base. Because I’m a perfectionist, this just would not do for me, so I sat down and did a little online research about softening wool. Now, after I finish dyeing my yarn and doing a final rinse, I let it sit in another bath of vinegar or Hemp Castile soap (a plant based glycerin product). It made all the difference. Even the yarn that I thought was soft and fluffy to begin with felt amazing after drying.
- For faster dry times, spin water out of your yarn in the spin cycle of your washing machine.
My final step before hanging yarn to dry is to always spin water out of the yarn. It was something I started doing just after being commissioned for a 350-skein order. Now, I could’ve gone out and bought three or four more dry racks, but that was not going to work for our house – I had to put dry racks on top of a patio table so our old dog would not pee on or stick his little boogery dog nose onto the yarn – it still would not change the fact that it was taking at least 24 hours for a full rack of yarn to dry. Instead, it meant spinning out as much water as I could during the spin cycle of our washing machine. Dry time went down to about 8 hours or less. Drying was especially quick on a hot, sunny summer day with a good light breeze. I finished that order with time to spare with my three kids being in the house too!
- Find a good yarn dye that will work with your particular setup. I spent a lot of time researching yarn dyes and what supplies/”chemicals” were necessary for the dyeing process. I started out with Kool Aid and food coloring dyes, because I still wanted to be able to use the pots and pans in my kitchen to cook meals with (and other dyes require you to use separate pots and pans). Once I found that I could not get certain colors, I researched other dyes and settled on one that had a similar process to dyeing with Kool Aid/food coloring and chose that set of dyes.There really is no specific brand that I’d recommend, but Jacquard and Procion dyes usually are the more widely used. You will also use different ingredients when dyeing cotton, so be aware, dyes do not always work with all yarn.
- Lastly, try multiple dye techniques before deciding on what you will use for your signature dye technique. I always suggest this, mainly because my personal dye technique is a cross between a couple different techniques.I wanted to a quick process like how it was doing solid yarns, but not just rely on solid colors in my line up. I also love the speckle dye trend, so I could always pair a solid color and speckle over the top of the solid color.
You know what process will be best for your setup and the dyes you use.
What do you think?
Let me know if you’ve tried any of these above and how they’ve worked out for you!
Just about 3 years ago now, I launched an Indiegogo campaign to grow OMG Yarn and convert my yarn shop space into a studio. At the time, I was only using one yarn base – a fingering weight, 2-ply yarn that was pretty awesome to work with – and I wanted to expand the line so that I could focus more on yarn dyeing and the aspects of being a yarnie that I loved the most.
Well, being a yarn shop owner turned yarn dyer, I was a bit of a yarn snob in the sense that I only liked working with yarns that had certain characteristics, but mainly I liked yarns that were great for both knitting and crochet AND a variety of project types.
What should you look for in a yarn to dye?
- Fiber content. Yes, I know the industry is saturated with 100% Superwash Merino yarns, but that was the first one I looked at. It’s easy for beginning dyers to work with and you don’t have to worry about the yarn felting while you figure out which dye techniques work best for you.If you want to focus on a specific target market (your tribe) do some research on what that group prefers. The average die hard sock knitter likes to see some nylon or other durable fiber content in their yarn, so a wool/nylon blend or a cotton blend might work best for you to start with.Want to focus on knitters and crocheters who drop big bucks on luxury fibers? Mohair, angora, cashmere, alpaca and the like may be what you want to go for. If you have no experience dyeing yarn, I’d suggest not working with these expensive fibers while you experiment.
- How the yarn takes up dye. Once you’ve found a good source/supplier, figured out a good dye technique, and found a type of dye you like, try a few different yarn bases of similar fiber content to see how they take up the dye.Believe it or not, the two different fingering weight yarn SW Merino bases I’ve worked with took dye differently. Sometimes it has to do with how many plies the yarn has, how tightly spun the yarn is, what dye you’re using, etc. There are so many variables that effect the dye process.
After playing around with samples from my supplier, I actually dropped the original fingering weight yarn base I used and went all in on a more energetically spun 4-ply yarn that was SUPER soft, yet durable enough for socks. Why? The depth at which the yarn took dye compared to others was absolutely spectacular.
- Cost. I am a big fan of maximum quality for the lowest cost. Why spend $20 a ball for ok yarn that doesn’t do what you want it to when you can spend $10 a ball for a more luxurious feeling yarn? Why work with expensive dyes that require costly mordants or extra supplies to protect the environment you’re dyeing in, etc.Having a multi-income stream (diversified) business, I needed to get the most bang for my buck, as I essentially owned two businesses: the yarn dyeing side and the brick and mortar yarn shop side. I also paid cash for EVERYTHING, so managing cash flow was high on the priority list. Can you tell I put my MBA to good use?I was fortunate that my yarn supplier had a bajillion different yarn bases at varying costs, weights, and fiber content, so I had plenty of options to choose from. When you buy more, the bigger discount you get too! My supplier also offers free shipping on everything, and what’s not to love about that? I don’t even want to know what shipping would cost on 100 pounds of yarn (although, with my most recent collaboration for yarn dyeing, I’m about to find out…haha).
- The manufacturer/supplier. Yes, this is important too. Can you rely on your supplier to properly skein and protect your yarn from damage or dirt from the shipping and dye process?With over half a decade of yarn dyeing experience and yarn shop ownership at this point, I’ve definitely hit some speed bumps dealing with manufacturers. I’ve had a mill throw white yarn into a dirty box, then ship it with no bag to protect the yarn from the Wisconsin winter weather once it arrived on the shop doorstep. I was livid.And when I went to dye the yarn, I found out the hard way that the skeins were not properly tied, so I ended up with some really expensive yarn barf that I couldn’t even sell. When I called to complain, NO ONE returned my calls or addressed my concerns. I was DONE (with a capital ‘D’ DONE).No, you can’t possibly prepare for all of the what ifs, but you can significantly cut down on your disappointment or potential loss of income by choosing reputable suppliers (ask around the inter-webs…some dyers may not offer up any secrets, others, like me, are happy to offer some advice).
Check out my other post about how to choose the right yarn for a project, because that’s also a good guide for choosing yarn to dye.
In the end, it’s up to you what yarns you settle on to dye, but I wish all new yarn dyers good luck in their endeavors. It’s not easy, but it is soooooooo much fun. I mean, how else can you mix a little mad scientist work – that’s how I feel when dyeing yarn – with artistry and end up with something that will be beautiful for a lifetime (as long as you take good care of it)?
Want to learn more about dyeing yarn, the fiber arts industry, knit, crochet and other fiber fanaticism? Join my email list and get alerted to new posts, sales on OMG Yarn, and a lot more.
There are tons of different ways that you can get started with knitting. It’s called casting on, which is how you get all of your stitches onto the needle so that you can begin a project.
While there are so many ways that you can get your stitches on the needle, the long-tail cast on is what I teach all of my beginners, because it’s the most versatile and best looking.
Let’s get started with my favorite method of casting on stitches. It’s called the long-tail cast on. Below the embedded video you will see my written out steps on what to do here.
What you’ll need:
- Yarn (of course) – In the video below, I used Vanna’s Choice yarn. It’s 100% acrylic and one of the softer wallet-friendly yarns that I like to use for projects.
- Knitting Needles – Choose the needles suggested by the label on your yarn. For this demonstration, I used US 9 circular needles (beginners, use straight needles – they come in a package of two with nothing connecting the two needles). You will only need one of your two knitting needles.
- Patience – It’ll take some time to learn how to cast on your stitches and usually I took an entire 2-hour class period for teaching my students this method. That way they could practice over and over again and then get their project started before the end of class. Don’t get frustrated, every one takes quite a few tries before they get it.
Here we go!
- Make a slip knot and place this loop on your knitting needle. This counts as one of your cast on stitches. So, for example, if the pattern you’re making says cast on 36 stitches, that slip knot counts as one of those 36 stitches. Woohoo, you’ve already started something!
- Grab your tail. It’s important to remember that for how I teach the long-tail cast on, the tail of your yarn is always looped on your thumb. Thumb and tail both start with the letter ‘T’ and that’s how I remember.
- Wrap the tail around your left thumb. Just as shown on the video, once you grab the tail of your yarn, you’re going to wrap the yarn around your thumb, forming a loop. It’s very important that you start the wrap by bringing your thumb from over the top and loop the thumb around in a counter-clockwise motion.
- Wrap the working yarn around your left index finger. Your index finger is going to come up from underneath the working yarn, the strand that is attached to the ball of yarn. The next step will help form that loop around your index finger.
- Rotate your left hand to get your yarn into position. The video is better at demonstrating this, but you’re left hand is going to rotate so that your palm is face up. That act helps loop the yarn around your index finger and thumb and makes the loops presentable for the act of casting on more stitches.
- Thread the needle through the loop on your thumb from below. Refer to the video for this step. Your needle tip will come from underneath the loop and through said loop.
- Grab the yarn from your index finger with your needle and pull through the thumb loop. Essentially, you’re pulling that top yarn, the index finger yarn, with the needle and pulling it through the loop on your thumb. Keep watching, the magic is about to happen.
- Drop the thumb loop. What?! Yes, I promise. Drop that loop off of your thumb. That will allow the loop you just made to close onto your needle.
You’re going to repeat steps 3-8 for the complete number of stitches that you need to cast on.
Some helpful hints:
- You can use your thumb to tighten the stitches onto the needle, but don’t pull too tight.
- If your cast on stitches are too tight – the stitches should be snug on the needle, but loose enough to move freely once you start your next row – start over and keep playing around with tension.
- Don’t drop the yarn from both fingers every time, just the thumb. The act of re-wrapping the yarn on your thumb can also help tighten your stitches.
Want to know when my next lesson is up? Want to keep an eye out for new knitting techniques? Join my email list!