Dyeing Yarn and Fiber with Acid Dyes
Have you ever been curious about dyeing your own yarns or spinning fibers? The process is simpler than you may think, and can be done without a lot of specialized equipment or supplies, and following some basic safety precautions*.
Using Jacquard Acid Dyes, you can dye any kind of protein fibers: wool, silk, alpaca, cashmere, even feathers, leather, and some nylon. Don't let the name intimidate you- the acid used in the process is just plain white vinegar.
Dyeing wool and other protein fibers requires three main components: Acid Dye, an acidic environment, and heat. Jacquard has good basic instructions on their website for stovetop or washing machine dyeing, and we are happy to include these instructions with your dye order- just ask!
The stovetop and washing machine methods are great for producing relatively uniform solid colors, but we also want to share with you here our favorite method for dyeing multi-colored yarns and rovings in the microwave. Noting a few important safety precautions*, it's fun and easy, and you can create the yarn or roving of your dreams!
You will need:
- Undyed yarn or undyed roving. 4 ounces is a good quantity for a first dye project. Yarn should be in a skein, and tied loosely in several places. Roving should be loose, not wound into a ball. Be sure it is a protein fiber, or this dye process won't work!
- Microwaveable dish with lid, large enough for yarn or roving to spread out not more than a couple inches deep. You will also want the dish to be large enough that you can avoid spilling the dye solution in your microwave.
- Optional: a microwave food-steaming bag or slow-cooker liner to line the dish while microwaving. This is an extra layer of protection for your microwave, but you should still not use the dish for food items after using it for dyes.
- Acid Dyes in two or more colors. One jar of powder will dye 1-2 pounds of material, so you will have plenty of leftovers for future projects.
- White vinegar, about 1 cup (the kind that comes in a gallon jug is just fine)
- Small disposable containers and plastic spoons for mixing each dye color.
- Protective clothing: apron, dust mask, gloves
- And a microwave!**
- In the microwaveable dish, prepare the yarn or fiber by soaking it in a mixture of room-temperature tap water to cover and 1 cup of vinegar. If your fiber is feltable, treat it gently throughout this process. Never squeeze or wring the wet roving or yarn, especially once it is heated. You can gently push it into the water if it is floating on the surface, and then give it some time to become saturated.
- While you are waiting for the yarn to soak, mix the dyes. Start with 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of water per teaspoon of dye as a rough guideline for medium to saturated colors. Use less dye for paler colors. Bring your spirit of experimentation and adventure to this part of the process, but also take notes on your amounts so you have them to refer to for future projects.
- Pour some of the water mixture out of the dish. You want to leave the roving or yarn wet enough that it won't dry out in the microwave, but not have so much water that it dilutes or blends your dyes excessively. Gently arrange your fiber in the dish so that it is uniformly spread, allowing dye to get to all parts.
- Apply the dye to the roving or yarn. Use the disposable spoon, or pour the dye liquid directly onto the fiber. Use the utensil to gently wiggle the fiber to make sure the dye is going to the bottom of the dish. You can leave lots of fiber undyed, or cover it all. You can make it very splotchy or have large swaths of single color. You can keep the colors distinct or let them blend. How you distribute the dye is up to you, and will make the project your own!
- Cover the dish and put it in the microwave. Microwave on high for a couple minutes at a time, checking in between.*** This is the kind of magical part- you will know when it is done because the water around the fiber will be clear, indicating that the dye has been completely absorbed. You can use one of the plastic utensils to gently scoot the fiber aside to see the color of the water, but do your best not to agitate the fiber while it is very hot.
- Here's the hard part! Just leave the dish to rest (in the microwave or on a trivet) until it has fully cooled to room temperature, all the way through. This takes longer than you think, so pick up your weaving/spinning/knitting/crocheting and forget about it for a bit.
- Once it is cool, you can gently rinse your yarn or roving in room-temperature tap water. Avoiding running the water directly on the fiber, fill the dish with clean water, gently swirl the fibers around, and pour the water out. Repeat if necessary, and then gently press excess water out.
- Hang up to drip dry, and admire your creation!
*Important Safety Precautions:
- Dye powder or solution may irritate eyes and sensitive skin. Avoid eye contact and wear rubber gloves.
- Breathing airborne dye powder may be harmful. Measure and transfer dye powder with a utensil, rather than pouring, and consider using a dust mask for extensive dye usage.
- Keep out of reach of children.
- Utensils and containers that have been used for dyeing should not be used in food preparation.
**As long as the dye solution stays in the dish, and you clean any small spills with soap and water, most sources agree that it is okay to use your regular microwave for this process. Some people who do a lot of dyeing will have a separate, dedicated microwave for dyes only, out of an abundance of caution.
***Microwaving wool and vinegar can get a little stinky! If you can open a window or turn on a fan, your domestic companions will thank you.
We would love to see your hand dyed creations!