To dye for


In an effort to find the perfect shade of aubergine to knit Cookie A’s ‘Marlene’ socks, I thought I’d have a go at hand dyeing yarn with food colouring. Although it hasn’t turned out as I envisaged (I’d prefer less colour variation) the result is quite pretty, even if it does rather remind me of a massive bruise!

Here’s what I did:

1. I used 2 balls of ivory Cleckheaton Cocoon (70% merino, 30% nylon). Wind them into loose hanks, knot the ends together, and using contrasting yarn tie loosely in several places to avoid tangling. Soak in water for 30 minutes to ensure even dye uptake.

2. Now have fun mixing your pottles of dye – some colour theory helps here. To get a semi-solid dye effect, I mixed 4 different colours in 1/2 cup of water, using different proportions of red and blue food colouring (2:1, 1:1, 1:2, 1:3). I also mixed a diluted black in case I wished to tone down any garish brightness that might eventuate. If you want a solid effect, simply mix one colour.

3. Get your biggest pot and fill with water to cover the yarn well and bring to ‘almost boiling’ point. Put in 1 tablespoon of citric acid, then the yarn. I poured the different coloured dye pottles in different areas of the pot, and gently mixed to ensure all yarn was in contact and took up the dye. For more of a rainbow effect you might not want to mix it at all.

4. I found the red took up quickly, leaving blue/cyan remaining in the water for longer. My unexpected turquoise colour is probably due to the red ‘taking up’ before it even reached the innermost part of my hanks (which were probably a bit tight), and these parts absorbed only cyan. I mixed another 2 red:1 blue and sploshed this into these areas so it would take up some red.

5. Simmer just below boiling point (boiling will felt the wool) for about 30 minutes, or until all the dye has been taken up from the water. Rinse, hang to dry and carefully wind into a ball. Don’t do what I did and end up in knots!

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I'm a designer/patternmaker who loves to share my sewing knowledge with others! Follow me as I sew my personal projects, sharing my favourite tricks of the trade along the way.

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