With the recent growth of interest in knitting and spinning, DIY-ness has grown, particularly among young women. These new knitters often have low amounts of money, but high amounts of interest, and a desire to produce something unique. They may also be averse to chemical dyes that require a lot of space or time, and pollute the environment. Dyeing yarns with common, non-toxic kitchen supplies is an answer to this. Many people have begun to dye their own yarn and roving to create a truly unique yarn.
This article will cover how to dye natural fibers using Wilton’s Cake Dye, which is available in many grocery and craft stores in a wide variety of colors. It’s surprisingly easy to dye yarn with only a hotpot, or a a stove and pan.
A word about dyepots – I have a dedicated pot that I use only to dye yarn and fiber (thanks former roommate!), but as Wilton’s is nontoxic, you can use your cooking pans to dye yarn.
My process varies in length, but needs very little actual attendance. Wilton’s will dye any natural animal fiber, and many manmade fibers as well – I have easily dyed silk, wool, nylon and mohair with it. Begin by filling a pot with water, and setting it to boil. Prepare your yarn for dyeing by winding it into a skein small enough to easily fit into the pot. I store my roving wound into balls, but do not recommend this method for dyeing, unless you want uneven color saturation. To dye roving, I usually unwind it and coil it into the pot.
When the water is boiling, slowly start adding the gel-like dye. I find if I dip a knife in so that 1/4 to 1/2 half of the blade is just covered, that is enough to dye a good-sized hank of yarn or roving. Turn the heat off for a moment, and swirl the knife around in the steaming water – you can get an idea of the intensity of color, and add more if you wish. Then put the yarn or roving into the dye bath, gently patting it down until it is entirely under water. You can add salt and vinegar at this point, but I find I achieve colors just fine without them. Bring the dyebath back up to a boil for just a few moments, and then remove the pot from the heat.
Here is where you can take as long or short as you want. For rich colors, I leave my fiber in the dyebath overnight, until the water it sits in is clear. For lighter colors, of course, you would take the yarn out earlier. I then lay the skeins or roving out to dry on a towel.
A word on purple: For whatever reason, purple dye just does not take very well. The fiber will absorb the red elements in the dye, but not the blue, leaving you with a weird pinkish-lavender color that, I am convinced, goes with nothing. I have been able to achieve purple yarn by mixing blue and red dyes, and leaving the yarn in the dyebath for at least 12 hours, often longer. You have to fiddle with it a bit, but it’s worth it!
It is surprisingly easy to dye yarn and roving with common, non-toxic ingredients. While it is true that the deepest, richest colors can be achieved with chemical dyes, I have gotten very satisfactory results using food coloring – and the occasional pleasant surprise, as the yarn takes on a color I didn’t plan, but is perfect. That, I believe, is the best part of DIY yarn and roving – you don’t have complete control over the outcome, and there is beauty to be found in that chaos.