Over Dyeing Yarn With Acid Dye
Have you ever found yourself in a different country on an accidental yarn crawl surrounded by sales and selection you’re not emotionally equipped to handle so you black out then a few hours later you find yourself being laughed at by border security who can’t believe you spent “How much?!” on yarn and fabric in 36 hours? Oh, yeah.
Not that I regret anything I bought, but I did buy a few skeins without really thinking through their end use. Specifically, 3 skeins of a ‘pink frost’ merino. I chose the colour to branch out from the deeper hues I tend to gravitate towards, I thought “Hey this colour is lovely why don’t I wear it!”. Then I got home and said, “Hey this colour is lovely and I don’t wear it because it makes me look malnourished.” Sigh…
Fast forward to the solution, an Instagram friend suggested I dye it – brilliant! That was 5pm on a Friday. I Googled dyeing methods and called around to local yarn shops for recommendations, settled on acid dyeing and hiked it up to G&S dye before it closed at 7pm. I bought the rest of the supplies on Saturday and did the dying on Sunday! Bam! Once I’m set on an idea patience isn’t really an option for me…
Dyeing isn’t something I’ve ever been interested in but I’ll definitely be doing it again. I’m already eyeing forgotten yarns in my stash that I know I would use after a dye job or two. I’m doing my bestest to clear through a chunk of my existing stash before buying more. Scouts honour!
Acid dye from G&S Dye in #610 New Burgundy and #639 New Black 15gm containers $8.00 each
T.N.A Soap from G&S Dye (generic Synthrapol) 120mL $3.75
Plastic tablecloths from dollar store
Pot to mix dye solution
Measuring teaspoon for dye
Measuring cup for vinegar
*From my understanding the pot you use must be either stainless steel or enamel, not aluminum. It should be pretty tall and must be one you don’t use for food! I went to Value Village (second hand shop) to find one with no luck. If you’re buying second hand make sure you know the difference between stainless steel and aluminum because it won’t always say on the bottom of the pot. Stainless steel is generally brighter, scratches less easily, and is magnetic. Next I checked Walmart and again couldn’t find one tall enough. Finally found this big enamel soup pot on sale at Winners and it worked great! Almost too pretty to use for dyeing though…
Used pot/utensils I don’t use for food.
Covered work surfaces and floor in plastic tablecloths.
Wore rubber gloves.
Wore old clothes and socks.
Ventilation! Kept window and sliding door open.
Mixed dye solution outside on my deck (not sure if this was necessary…).
Removed all normal kitchen food prep stuff from work surface to avoid contamination.
Did not eat during dyeing process or touch my face.
I found a lot of conflicting information regarding dyeing safety online. Some saying it can’t be done in your regular kitchen and you need to be wearing a gas mask, and others doing it in their kitchen very relaxed about handling the dye powder. I went to Instagram for advice and ended up going somewhere in the middle – in my kitchen but careful about ventilation and protecting my skin and all surfaces.
Soaked and cleaned yarn. I soaked yarn in warm water and half a cap(ish) of Synthrapol for about 30 minutes or so to clean it and then rinsed it in warm water.
Put water on stove and turned on heat to get water warm.
Added dye solution. I made a solution of the dye and warm water in a small ceramic pot first then added it to the pot. Not sure if this step is necessary or if you could just add the powder directly to the pot.
Added yarn to pot. Made sure the water in pot was about the same temperature as the water I was soaking the yarn in so I didn’t temperature shock the wool and felt it. I saw many sources saying to have the water hot before adding dye and yarn, unsure what’s best?
Brought to just under a boil.
Added vinegar. I read citric acid was better for black but couldn’t be bothered to go buy some so I used vinegar and it seemed fine for these batches. I used roughly 1/4 cup per skein of yarn.
Left for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until water turned more or less clear.
Turned off heat and let cool. I let the yarn cool down in the pot a bit and then I dumped it in the sink, keeping the water it was already in, to continue to let it cool down. Then I rinsed with cold water. I tried to minimize temperature jumps.
To make the charcoal yarn (over dyeing grey superwash merino yarn with G&S Black #639):
Madelinetosh Tosh DK in colourway Dr. Zhivago’s Sky
1/2 tsp acid dye
1/4 cup vinegar
Note this did not produce black yarn, but dark charcoal with specks of lighter grey which is what I wanted. I don’t see any purple or brown undertones though it seems like a true black dye. I definitely could have put more dye for a darker shade.
To make burgundy yarn (over dyeing pink merino yarn with G&S Burgundy #610):
Malabrigo Worsted in colourway Pink Frost
Just under 1 tsp acid dye
3/4 cup vinegar
Roughly 3/4 tsp burgandy dye and 1/4 tsp back dye
I was not precise with measuring dyes or vinegar.
After the first dye job on the pink yarn I wasn’t totally happy with the colour so I dyed it again. I did not let the yarn totally cool down between the first and second time I dyed the burgundy one, I let it cool from hot to warm and then put it in the pot again with clean warm water. I am very happy with the colour the second time around but the yarn mildly felted (oopsies) I think because it was put in twice. It’s still totally usable, but I wouldn’t want to repeat that, instead I’d put in more dye the first time around.
The superwash merino yarn dyed extremely well and did not felt at all, even though I accidentally had the water boiling at one point (don’t watch good TV while dyeing…). This makes sense of course since it’s superwash, meaning those little scales on wool fibres that normally lock together when put in hot water causing felting have been removed.
The Malabrigo worsted weight merino lightly felted (probably because I dyed it twice) and I’ve since been told that specific yarn felts easily. I’ve since knit a hat with it and washed it in Eucalan wool wash and it’s regained most of its softness and is lovely to wear! (Note I used Eucalan not Soak was because of the lanolin!)
So from my very limited experience I’ve concluded that when it comes to dyeing merino yarn, superwash is easier and the fluffy/softer yarns felt more easily. I think you need to consider things like lanolin in the yarn, if it’s been treated, etc. as that all affects how it takes colour.
Note: Obviously I’m new to this so please don’t take this as professional advice. I’m just sharing my process!