Monday, 7 June 2010

Dyeing yarn with food colouring (on recycled sweater yarn). A journey.

On saturday i decided to do something i'd been dying to do for a long while. I went out charity shop shopping for a wooly jumper. "Que?" i hear you ask. Well, the jumper was not for me to wear. I've been reading all kinds of funky tutorials over the past few months about unraveling jumpers. But why? Well, a charity shop ("thrifted" if you're in the U.S) jumper (sweater) is a reeeeeeaallly cheap source of yarn. You can get maybe 800 yards of yarn out of the right jumper.

If you want a good tutorial on ripping up jumpers for yarn, see here. She explains it way better than i could so i won't even try to tute.

So i found this fairly disgusting jumper for £4.49 with a tag that states it is Pure Lambswool. Well that's gold mine right there. I Hated the colour though, some kind of insipid heathered baby blue. Ew. So i decided that it was my time to dye. This is what i'm going to show you. How i went from this

To This:

What You'll Need:
  • A Bucket
  • White Vinegar (lots)
  • Water
  • Food Colouring of your choice
  • Cling Film
  • Steamer/Microwave
You can also do this with new yarn that you've bought from a shop. Just make sure the yarn is a plain, white or cream yarn. It's worthwhile to mention that the lighter your yarn, the more successful you'll probably be with dying and also the more "clean" your colour will be. The colour i used was Violet, but it came out mauve in areas and purple in others because i dyed over blue yarn.
First step. Skein the yarn, you can find tips on how to do this on Youtube. The longer your skein the longer your colour repeats can be. I used the edge of the table for my skeining. Next, soak the skein in a mixture of white vinegar and tepid water. I'm all kinds of nuts and therefore i have a large stash of white vinegar that i use for cleaning, softening towels in the washing machine and pickling stuff. The first time i dyed, i used about 5 parts water to 2 parts vinegar, but the next time i dye i will use more vinegar. The vinegar helps the food colouring to stick better, opening up the fibers and scales in the wool.

Leave to soak for at least an hour, over night if you can wait that long. After soaking, lift out the skein and squeeze out the vinegary water. If your yarn is superwash you don't need to worry too much about felting, but if you have new yarn that says to handwash only or your yarn is from a jumper that tells you to handwash only, be very careful not to agitate the yarn too much, you don't want it to felt and leave you with a lump of yarn you can no longer separate. So squeeze (don't wring) until damp.

Lay out a load of cling film in a circle and lay your damp yarn on top

Mix up your desired colours. I bought food colouring gels from Hobbycraft (i swear they stay in business because of me) so i diluted them in vinegary water. If you buy the watery ones ready mixed from the supermarket then you probably won't need to dilute them, but stick a couple of drops of vinegar in them for good measure.
I used probably the worst colours for photo purposes EVER. Violet and black. Can you distinguish between them? No. Is the second photo pointless? Yes.
So i decided to do two sections violet...

And two sections black...

Trust me, there were separate colours.

Then i wrapped the whole lot up in a yarn sausage encased in cling film and transferred to my steamer. Now. My steamer is pretty rubbish, so unfortunately placing the yarn sausage in the bottom basket was not ideal because the bubbling water spilled into my sausage and diluted the black dye. This left me with a dye job i was unhappy with, so rather than spend time trying to love the crappy look of the faded black, i decided to just re-dye it violet some more. So i repeated the process again, steaming for an hour this time in the second tier of the steamer. Alternatively, wrap your sausage and whack it in a microwaveable dish on high for 15 secs. Remove it and allow to cool. Blast it for another 15 secs. Repeat once more.

After steaming i took the basket off the heat and left it to cool. Don't run cold water on anything. There is more felting misery to be had by running cold water on hot yarn. When the sausage is cold enough, remove the cling film and rinse in a little cold water. Squeeze the yarn (don't wring!) and hang it somewhere away from cats, kids & dogs to dry.

Once your yarn is dry, twist it into a twisted skein, stand back and admire. Maybe you can even shout "I made that!"

So i'm not 100% overjoyed with the effect i got, but i blame it on the somewhat damaged yarn, the original blue colour and the rubbishness of the steamer. However, tonight i have new, clean white yarn soaking in vinegar ready to be sacrificed for the greater dyeing good. More later this week.


  1. That was fun to read along as you progressed. Was unraveling the jumper easy or difficult? I think the dyed yarn turned out great, but I'm into smeared colors lately. I tried food coloring one time on yarn, and it didn't work. But my yarn wasn't wool.

    Can't wait to see what more you end up with!

  2. @Snowcatcher

    The jumper was fairly easy to unravel. But i found that the yarn was actually three threads that weren't really plyed together so i've ended up with a strange "split" yarn. It'll be ok though i think.

    I think even though i'm not going to post a full tute, i might post some helpful hints i learned the hard way!

    By the way i dyed more yarn last night, the bug has bitten me big time :D


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