hand dyed yarns, fibers and more

How to dye yarn using your home oven

A while ago I only kettle dyed my yarn but nowadays I also dye “in a tray”, fixing it in the oven.

Here is what I need:

  • wool yarn (or made of other animal fibers)
  • vinegar or citric acid
  • food coloring or professional acid dyes
  • a tray
  • aluminium foil
  • squeeze bottles or little jars
I start with making skeins (skip this part if you buy your yarn in skeins). You can buy a yarn skeiner/swift of course but you have other options to make skeins: e.g. use a chair, or make your own swift. I was lucky to have an old swift (which my dad made for my mum about 40 years ago :-)), it can be taken apart, I like it!
I take a bigger bucket or bowl and add 1 tablespoon citric acid or vinegar and add hot water. I just use the hottest coming out of the tap which is actually not that hot :-) I mix it so that the citric acid dissolves, then I put the skeins in and carefully push them under the water. I leave the skeins to soak for at least half an hour but sometimes I have them in the water for a day.
I prepare the dye stock. Using rubber gloves (this is, when I don’t forget to wear them… If I do, everyone knows what I was doing :-)). I use powdered food coloring which is very concentrated. There is also liquid versions out there, it is up to you which one to use. I make dye stock of the 3 basic colors: yellow, red and blue first. To make the dye stock, I take a smaller squeeze bottle and add 1 tablespoon of food coloring (powder) and mix it with hot water until it dissolves completely. I use the bigger squeeze bottles to mix the colors. In this case (of dyeing in a tray) I also add citric acid to the dye. So I take a bigger squeeze bottle, add 1 tablespoon citric acid, then fill up the bottle with warm water until it is about half full. Then I use the dye stock to add color, starting with a few drops and adding more if needed. For me this method is the easiest, I don’t need to work with the powder all the time and it is easy to mix the colors. If you don’t have squeeze bottles, you can of course use jars or other containers. It is useful if your container has a cap, you might have some leftovers which you can store and use next time.
Let’s do the dyeing part! I put a parchment paper into the tray, then put in the wet skein (it is wet but not dripping any more). If I want to have bigger parts dyed with the same color, then I make a circle, if this is not important, I just put it in as it fits in. Then I use the dye I just mixed in the squeeze bottle (or other jar/container). Using this method it is important to have citric acid or vinegar in your dye! Then I just squeeze some dye on the yarn. If the dye was warm and you don’t forget to add the citric acid to the dye, then the yarn absorbs the dye almost immediately! I love this part :-) If the dye is not warm, then you might have the problem that the dye runs out and the different colors mix in the tray and at the end you will have a nice brown yarn, so I strongly recommend to mix your dye solution with warm or hot water.
If I need different shades of the same color, then I just use some of the dye solution I made, then add more water to the same solution, diluting it. You can of course make it the other way around: mix a color you like (concentrated solution), and add just 1, then 2, then 3… drops/teaspoons to the warm water.
Once I am done with the colors, I cover the tray with aluminium foil and put it in the oven for about half an hour at about 120C. (don’t panic, the 120C won’t hurt anything, since there is quite a bit of water in the tray. The water itself won’t get hotter than 100C, and it keeps the yarn at this temperature too – of course this won’t be true if the tray was in the oven for hours, in this case the water would be all gone…) After half an hour, I shut down the oven and let my tray in there until it is completely cooled.
I rinse the yarn in water a few times, and add some special wool detergent when rinsing for the last time. I rinse this out too, then put the yarn in a laundry mesh and let the spin-dryer do its job (actually, I don’t have an extra spin-dryer but use this program on my washing machine), and let it dry. Once dry, I wind the yarn to a cake and I am done! It is not that complicated as it sounds :-)

P.S. I overdyed the yellow one, kettle dyeing the whole skein, using turquoise. The bits that were darker yellow became green, whereas the areas that hardly had any yellow at all, grew turquoise. You don’t have to use just one method of dyeing, be creative and mix not just the colors but the methods too!

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