Dyeing Adventures

I have a good friend who has given me several hand-dyed warps over the past couple years.  I have woven some of my favorite projects using those warps, and have been interested in learning how to dye myself.  As interesting as it sounds, dyeing is NOT an activity that is very child-friendly, especially the fiber-reactive chemical dyes that work better on cotton.  My friend invited me to come on Labor Day and dye with her, to learn the process, on condition the children didn’t come.  Overall that wasn’t a big issue, except that I had never left my baby (almost 7 months old now) for more than 15 minutes prior to Monday.  It was a HUGE decision on my part, whether or not to go since he couldn’t be there.  In the end, my mother babysat the baby, the other children stayed home with their dad, and I’m VERY glad I went!!!

To start, you have to measure off how much yarn you want to dye, and prepare the fibers.  She recommended I hand-wind a 3 ounce ball of slub yarn.  This is Queen Anne’s Lace from Henry’s Attic, that I inherited when I purchased my first floor loom and hadn’t found a good purpose for yet.


In addition to the hand-wound ball, I wound 400 threads of 8/2 cotton at about 8 yards for a weaving warp, two machine-wound center-pull balls of 8/2 cotton, about 3 ounces each, and two more machine-wound center-pull balls of the Queen Anne’s Lace.

The next step is to scour the yarn, which is accomplished by putting a bit of plain blue Dawn dish soap into a pot of water and boil the yarn for 5 minutes before letting it cool.  This was the very first time I’d ever scoured yarn myself, and used FAR too much Dawn, but even with the rinsing I ended up doing to try to get a lot of the soap out after, it was a good learning experience.


My actual first big mistake was with my weaving warp.  I used 8/4 cotton warp in magenta as my counting tie, cross holder, and choke ties.  And in the scouring that bled and slightly stained my warp.  I was a little nervous what affect that would have on the entire dyeing process, but decided I’d just make sure to include a “pink” into my dye choices and hope for the best.


I didn’t take any pictures during the dyeing process (not my home, supplies, or area of expertise, and really I was trying to soak everything in), but it was still fun.  I personally did NOT mix any of the dyes.  My friend did that and I didn’t pay close attention to the quantities since my goal was to see the process more than the particulars.  I chose a green/turquoise/purple colorway, and it was SO MUCH FUN to go through the process of making sure the yarn was rinsed (she had the most awesome solar dryer that made the process so much easier), applying the color (make sure to wear gloves!!!), and experimenting with the balls and the “extra” dye to see what we could come up with for them.

The next step was to wait 24 hours.  Seriously.  I think the waiting has to be one of the hardest parts!!!  Fortunately for me, I still had to go collect the baby, do our weekly shopping, and go home (3.5 hour drive) to help take the time that afternoon/evening, and Tuesday was a school day so that helped my morning hours.  I ended up not even being able to start rinsing until late in the afternoon, so about 27 hours after we finished applying the color.  The instructions were “rinse twice, then boil.”  Here is where I admit to rinsing a LOT more than twice, because there was so much dye coming off into the wash basin.

I ended up putting the yarn on the stove before putting on dinner, and it was comedic to see my children come to check the stove to see what was for dinner, only to see that pot of yarn.  (They KNOW I bought that pot specifically for yarn dyeing, since chemical dyes do NOT mix with food preparation equipment AT ALL, so that made it more funny.)  When my husband got home, the above picture is what he saw on the stove.  It makes me smile!

This morning I got up early and rinsed the yarn until it ran clear (it did still take a while), then did my best to get rid of the excess liquid.  This is when I was REALLY wishing I had access to my friend’s solar dryer for the spinner!

After doing my best to spin it without a spinner, I decided that it would likely take days for the balls to dry as they were, and recognize the likelihood they’d start to go musty by then, I looked for a different solution.  I’m not a spinner (yet at least) so I don’t have a niddy noddy, but I do have a warping mill.  I decided to wind the balls onto the mill so I could loosely chain them and hang them out to dry.


The added advantage of being able to wind them on the reel was that I got to see how the dye worked through the entire ball at different rates and amounts.  It was really fun to see it come out!

After winding everything (while children read their reading lessons to me, recited spelling words, and did work for their tech classes), I went and hung it on the line to get the added benefit of the evening sun to finish drying.

And here’s the final results:

The weaving warp, which will likely turn into dishtowels.  Originally I intended them for my mother, but I may end up keeping them!


The hand-wound ball of Queen Anne’s Lace.  This is honestly my absolute favorite of the entire set, but I have NO idea what to do with it to do it justice.  This will take some thought and sitting to get “just the right project” for it.


The machine-wound balls, 8/2 on the left and Queen Anne’s Lace on the right. These came out amazing, and when I wound them on the warping reel, I realized I have enough to make a narrow warp.  I’m considering using these as warp with the machine-wound balls of Queen Anne’s Lace as weft for washcloths to use around the house.  I believe cleaning should be pretty!

And my conclusions:

Dyeing with fiber-reactive (chemical) dyes is definitely not something that is extremely child-friendly, so I’ll have to figure out how to do it either at night and/or outside while my children are otherwise occupied, and there will be STRICT rules in place when I’m working with the dyes.

And that tells you the other conclusion, that I will DEFINITELY be dyeing my own yarn now!  The entire experience was a big learning curve but so much fun.  I’m excited at the prospect of being able to choose my own colors (within reason, there’s always the surprise of not knowing EXACTLY how the yarn will take the color, and there’s always so many variables it’s difficult to get EXACTLY what was envisioned), and the concept of being about to dye warps AND weft myself to compliment each other is exciting to me.

Now to tell my husband I want to buy dye materials…