Dyeing your own yarn can literally change everything. Instead of hunting for the perfect shade, you can create it with your own two hands. Pretty amazing, right? But before you go all color crazy, there are a few things you should know.
Animals are your friends
First, of all, start with animal fibers. Wool, mohair, alpaca, or any other fiber that comes from an animal will hold the dye best.
Prepping your yarn
Before dyeing, yarn needs to be tied loosely in a skein. This helps make sure the yarn gets dyed evenly and soaks up all the color. If your yarn is wound into a tight ball, the fibers on the outside of the ball will end up super dark and saturated, while the ones tucked in the middle will be pale.
Wash the yarn in a mild soap, rinse it, and let it soak until you're ready to start dyeing. You should also add a bit of vinegar to this wash unless you're dyeing with Kool-Aid, which doesn't require any vinegar.
What to wear
There's no set uniform for this, but I'd suggest wearing an apron and some rubber gloves. There's no way around the fact that this can be a messy business. You may even want to wear an old T-shirt just in case.
Types of dye
You can certainly use the commercial dye you'll find in you local craft store. Or try one of these creative alternatives (yes, they actually work!).
When I was a kid, it was trendy to dye your hair with streaks of Kool-Aid. Turns out it works on sheep's hair too. Sugar-free Kool-Aid is the best type to use, and one package per ounce of yarn should do the trick. (And remember, animal fibers only here.)
2. Food coloring
Food coloring works well for animal fibers too. You can use either drops or gels — just be sure to stir your water-and-coloring mixture until the food coloring is totally dissolved before adding your yarn. The amount of food coloring you use will depend on how many ounces of yarn you have, plus how bold or dark you want your yarn to end up. So you may need to experiment a bit.
You can do this right on your stove top! Just dissolve your dye separately in a small container of water, then add the yarn and the dissolved dye to the kettle. Add enough additional water to cover the skein completely. Remember that the amount of water will not affect the color; the color is dependent on the amount of dye you use.
Turn on your stovetop, heating the water until it's almost boiling. Cover the pot, turn off the heat, and let your yarn sit for about half an hour. You can stir it a few times, which also allows you to check out the color!
When the half-hour is up, rinse the yarn in warm water, moving it around gently. Don't use cold water, and be careful not to agitate the yarn too much — either of these mistakes could cause the yarn to felt.
(And a reminder: unless you use an edible dye like food coloring or Kool-Aid, this kettle is now only for dyeing. No cooking allowed.)
2. Slow cooker
I know. The slow cooker is already amazingly useful in the kitchen. Don't you love it even more now that you know you can dye yarn in it, too? I personally have never tried this method, but I've read plenty of blog posts that use the crock pot successfully for dyeing yarn at home. Follow the same directions as the kettle dyeing but instead of heating the stovetop, just fire up your slow cooker instead. This one may require a little more experimenting with temperature, since some slow cookers get hotter than others.
The biggest secret to success with yarn dyeing is to relax and be flexible, since you can't always predict the results. But that is totally part of the fun! (And, safety first — when using commercial dyes, always read the label for any warnings before you dig in.)