What goes into hand dyed yarn?

What goes into hand dyed yarn?

A few days ago, Ruth had the courtesy of sending me an email reminder about my upcoming blog post (this one). I mentioned I was sparse on ideas, so she suggested I talk about my dyeing process.

This ended up being serendipitous, as yesterday I received a custom order request for a new colourway I launched as part of my new collection. Voilá, I’ve got a blog post!

Now, this isn’t meant as a How To on yarn dyeing, so I shan’t go into too much detail (although, if you’re interested, I’d be happy to write a more in-depth post in the future – let me know in the comments). I will, however, mention a few basic things you definitely need to dye yarn/fibre safely if, like me, you’re using acid dyes:

  • The hardware you use shall be for dyeing only. So don’t use that fancy pot if you’re even thinking of making Sunday roast in it ever again.
  • Always, always wear a respirator mask when handling dyes, especially when in powder form. Dye particles travel far – I’m all for fluorescent green wool but not in one’s lungs.
  • Gloves are a must. You don’t want bright pink fingers for a week (ask me how I know), and you also want to avoid absorbing pigment through your skin.
  • No food or drink near the dyeing station, and you’ll need to clean everything before and after if dyeing in the kitchen.

Ok, so let’s get to the good stuff.

This is the yarn I need to reproduce. It’s called Mossy Moggy (moggies being what we call non-breed specific cats in the UK, do you call them the same in the US?). I needed 3 skeins.

If you want to be able to reproduce colourways in the future, you need good note taking habits. I have a dedicated folder where I keep all my cauldron inventions. If you think you’ll remember how you created something months later, trust me, you won’t.

This is my dye sheet. I leave the space on the upper left corner blank so I can attach a photo of the finished item to jog my memory.

Now on to the dyeing itself. Since I mentioned how important it is to wear a mask, allow me to show you myself in my best Breaking Bad impersonation.

You’ve no idea how hard it was to procure this mask and filters. I needed a new one during the pandemic and everything was sold out. For the life of me, I never thought particulates masks would sell out, but I guess some people want to be extra careful.

There’s plenty of ways to hand dye fibre, and endless techniques. Each will yield different results, and it’s a lot of fun to play around. In this particular case, I’m doing low immersion dyeing: this means I’ll be using just enough water to cover the fibre, on a stovetop.

I’m using a Gastronorm pan, which might look familiar to you if you’ve ever been to a buffet in a restaurant. These are super handy, large enough for up to 6 skeins, sturdy, and fit my electric stove perfectly (over two hobs). There’s several standardised sizes to choose from, this being the largest one.

Mossy Moggy is created by dyeing part of the yarn first, without pre-soaking it first. As it sinks, the first colour gets absorbed gradually and allows for differences in depth. Then I add another colour to the top that has remained undyed, and after it’s all exhausted (meaning all the dye has been taken in by the fibre), it’s time to add sprinkles.

Sprinkling yarn is a favourite activity of mine. Wearing gloves (and donning my respirator), I scatter some dye powder over the yarn here and there. Less is more. The water here is fairly acidic (I use citric acid, you can also use vinegar to get the dye molecules to bind with the fibre) so the sprinkles stay relatively put. I love seeing those little dots of colour.

As I write this, the yarn is cooling down in the pan. I always let the water get cool before I remove the fibre, it allows for more vibrant colours. If I manage to remember to come back to this post before it’s scheduled to publish, I’ll add a photo of the drying skeins.

One interesting thing to remember if you’ve never dyed: colours always look one to two shades deeper whilst wet. If you’re trying to reproduce a certain colour and think it’s spot on in the pot, it’s probably too light.

Once these beauties are done they’ll be heading over to California. I’ll be very excited to see them reach their destination and even more if my client tags me on social media once she starts knitting with them!

Let me know if you have any questions, and if you’d like a more in-depth post on dyeing in the future (and what you’d like to read about the subject). Have a great week.



26 thoughts on “What goes into hand dyed yarn?

  1. Lovely post Leonor! Mossy Moggy is beautiful.

    The pan you use seems better fitted for your skeins than for its original purpose and the colourway you’ve achieved is divine – your client will be delighted with it.

    The ‘sprinkles’ do add a certain something – great idea.

    Your file shows good organisational skill and must prove invaluable.

    1. Thanks, Annie 🙂 Those pans are so so useful, I wonder how I managed without them for so long…

      Ha, the file is a must, I’m so scatterbrained I’d never manage to repeat a colourway if I didn’t keep records!

  2. Thanks for the explanation Leonor. I’m sure another post about dyeing would be appreciated. We do not use Moggie in the US. It’s always interesting to hear the differences of the same language spoken across the pond. Your yarn is gorgeous and I am sure your customer will love it. I haven’t tried the sprinkling technique, I will have to give it a try because it really does add the perfect touch to the colorway.

    1. Thanks for the suggestion, Ruth! What do you use in the US instead?

      Sprinkling is so much fun, you really do need to try it. If you want super defined spots of colour, try mixing the dye with a little citric acid first, it keeps the particles in place.

      I might write again about this 🙂

  3. I loved your post. I for one, would love a more detailed post. Do you do roving the same way?
    Being from the US we call these cats “cats”. That being said, my next cat will be named Moggy!

    1. Thanks! I’ll plan for a more detailed post in the future 🙂

      I don’t do roving/wool top the same way, unless it is superwashed fibre. I prefer to hand dye it and steam set the colours.

      Ha, you must have a different name other that just “cat” 😀 Common Cat? Tabby Cat? Not-a-specific-breed Cat?

  4. Wow Leonor thanks so much for your post. I love your colours and reading about your technique. I have all the equipment but have been afraid to take the plunge. I think the more detailed posting will push me to do so.

    I’m imagining a moggy in your chosen colours …. adorable! By the way, your writing style is superb 😊
    Cheers and happy dyeing

    1. Thanks for reading, Hélène!

      I know what you mean, it was ages before I started dyeing, I had the equipment for a really long time but was afraid to try. It was Zed, one of our group members, who helped me 🙂

      Living in Scotland has given me imagination aplenty to see moggies out there blending with our green (and often wet) surroundings 😀

      Now off you go to dip your (gloved!) fingers into the dye pot, and have fun!

  5. A gorgeous mossy moggy (you certainly have a lot of ‘M’s in your life!) complete with vibrant sprinkles.

    And how organised! But then I’d expect nothing less.

    Dyeing, mmmm something I’ve not yet tackled with wool fibre. I used do do silk painting years ago, but that’s totally different. So perhaps a hands on tutorial is on the cards for us?!?….When we finally get back to some normality.

    1. M seems to be the letter of the year (?) for me 😀

      Ha, the organisation isn’t sadly extended to the rest of my life, but hey – at least I got it in my business… some.

      Yes indeed, hands-on dyeing can be in the cards! You’ll have a blast. I’ve taught a few people in the past and it’s super fun seeing what colours they choose. Let’s keep our fingers crossed this pandemic thing goes away soon!

  6. I’m glad it’s not just me who occasionally needs that friendly reminder prod from Ruth! Loving your colour scheme and the equally colourful name! It would be good to see more of this if you do another post about dyeing. I don’t do a lot of it myself but I do burn synthetic fabrics so also spend time looking like an extra from a sci-fi film.

    1. Oh no, Ruth always makes sure to remind me! And a good thing, since I’ve forgotten a couple of times… oops 🙂

      Alright, I think there’s enough interest about dyeing for me to write a new post, maybe I should go to the Forum and ask what specifically people would like to see me explain?

      Ooh, you burn synthetic fabrics? What for, if you don’t mind my asking? Sounds interesting.

    2. I sometimes use synthetic fabrics in my textile art. You can create interesting effects when you burn Tyvek, Lutradur, velour and acrylic felt using a heat gun or soldering iron.

  7. Gorgeous skein and interesting to read about your dyeing process in several steps. Thanks for sharing! ☺️
    In Sweden a moggy is called “bondkatt”, literally meaning a farmers cat.

    1. Thanks for reading! 🙂

      Bondkatt makes me think of a suave feline, ordering a shaken, not stirred, catnip drink, and saying “Bond… Bondkatt” to the ladies. Did I get my imagination get the best of me? 🙂

  8. Love your mossy moggy [we have moggies here in Australia]. I would love to read a post on steam dying wool tops 🙂

    1. Good to know moggies aren’t just in the UK!

      Steam dyeing is super easy, so I can definitely write a blog post about that 😀 Thanks for the suggestion!

  9. I have just started to learn and try out dyeing and am amazed at how many different techniques there are. I love your Mossy Moggie colourway and your write up and look forward to reading more from you about dyeing.

    My long haired black cat Charlie would fit the bill for a Bondkatt (007). I agree with Ruth, it is interesting how different the English language is in different parts of the world. Jandals, thongs, and flip-flops – three words for the same pair of beach shoes!

    1. Welcome to the hand dyeing club! 😀 There’s lots and lots of techniques indeed, and it’s fun to try them out to discover which we prefer.

      Another blog post about dyeing coming up! I might do one on wool top…

      I hope Charlie knows he’s a Bondkatt – he can demand more treats due to his status.

      You get all that language weirdness in Portuguese as well, depending on where you are. I one had an embarrassing moment when I said “You’re joking” in *my* Portuguese, and my Brazilian friend went quite red… turns out I told him he was having an orgasm… oops 🙂

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