Rainbows and Unicorns! (Or, How to Dye Yarn)

Woohoo! Yarn! Soft, squishy, bright, colorful, lovely yarn! Rainbows! Unicorns!

Okay, that’s out of my system now. I like yarn. A lot. Probably because I crochet and well, you can never have enough yarn in your stash in case inspiration strikes. I also really love rainbows.

While having solid color yarn is awesome, and variegated is great too, sometimes you need just the right colorway to make a project shine. Sometimes it’s just not available. Or sometimes you have $5 and not $30 for custom dyed yarn.

So ya know what you do? Dye your own!

I am going to show you how to make a lovely yarn with a simple rainbow color section, leaving the rest white. This can give a project a punch of color and fun without making it look like you dropped a crate of paint on yourself. (Though to be fair, I love the “crate of paint” look!)

I have dyed a few skeins of yarn already before this project I am going to show you. I read a lot of tutorials and asked a lot of yarny friends for tips and tricks. This yarn is a compilation of things I read and things I learned from those fiber friends. I got a lot of tips for this dye job HERE, but I didn’t use the dye recipes and what not.

First you want to gather supplies. You will need one skein of 100% wool yarn (or yarn that is almost totally wool), food colors / kool-aid, white vinegar, water, plastic wrap, newspaper, 6 plastic cups, and a medicine dropper.

Your first step is take that lovely skein/ball of yarn and unwind it. Really a yarn swift is preferable but I don’t have one, so I use two chairs like so:

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The further apart the chairs, the larger your loop of yarn. And for this dye job, the larger your loop, the further apart your color repeat. Start by tieing your yarn end loosely to the chair top, then start winding around and around. Not too tight! This takes a minute, and if you have toddlers or cats you might be fighting off Yarn-barf-makers. Persevere.

Then when it is all done, tie the start and end of the yarn loosely together and tie the hank with some figure eight ties in a few places. Make sure to leave the area you want to dye without ties. I also made sure to do my dying on the opposite side from the end/knot of the yarn.

Then soak your yarn in a bowl of room temp water and a “glug” or two of vinegar. This alters the pH and allows the dye to stick. Push the yarn down gently to get it all wet. Let it sit while you prepare your space.

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Lay down newspaper all over the counter. This keeps you from having a rainbow counter. (Trust me, the food coloring really is a pain to remove). Then lay down four pieces of plastic wrap, in a square. Long piece at top and bottom and two shorter pieces at the sides.

Then mix your dyes. I used food coloring for all but one color (green). I don’t have a formula because different brands are different strengths. In my experience gel colors take less than the drop colors. For the green kool aid I used roughly 1/2 cup water and half a packet of Green Apple. I really like the Green Apple color!

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Take your yarn out of the water and gently squeeze out the extra water. Don’t tangle the yarn. Lay down the yarn on your plastic wrap. The top of the loop is the part you will dye, so make it straight and nice. The rest of the loop gets laid down and then folded over with the plastic wrap. This keeps that yarn white and protected from splashes of dye.

**I didn’t get a pic of that, whoops**

Then you start the fun part! Start with the yellow dye, slightly off center from the middle of the section to be dyed. Use the dropper and squirt it slowly and close to the yarn. Then wait. Squish the yarn a bit with a butter knife or spoon and let the dye settle in. Then add more if you need to, a little at a time. If you get too crazy soak up the extra with a paper towel. Once the section is done (move around the yarn to check for white spots) you can move to the next color. Follow the same procedure for each color. Between colors, rinse your dropper, spoon/knife, and fingers. The key here is to go slow and be careful so you get a neat and tidy rainbow.

With most purples, you will see that the color separates a bit and that is normal. I just carefully add a bit more dye until it settles into purple and not blue/pink.

Now take a Paper towel or two and gently lay it on the yarn. Don’t squish it, just gently pat and let it get up some of the extra dye. This lowers the chance it will run too much during heating.

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Then carefully fold the plastic wrap over the yarn, and fold it onto itself.

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Your yarn should all be covered in plastic wrap; if it isn’t get a couple more pieces and cover the exposed parts. This keeps the heat in while microwaving the yarn to set the color and it keeps the yarn from drying out and catching on fire. So yeah, cover that $hit.

Then carefully move the yarn to a pan or bowl. I used a glass square pan that can go in the microwave. The flat bottom lowers the chance of dye moving around. I piled the white section outside the dish.

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Move it all to the microwave and cook for 1 minute. Let it sit a few minutes, then do it for 1 more minute. Then just leave it. No touch. No unwrapping. Walk away. Personally, I took a nap with my two year old.

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Once it is cool, move the yarn to a strainer in the sink. Leave the white part covered and out of the way. Unwrap the Rainbow section and start to rinse in room temp water. Rinse until you see no more dye come away. Generally I don’t see any come off at all. Then put a drop of soap and some room temp water in your bowl and let the whole hank of yarn soak for a bit. It gets off the vinegar a bit.

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Admire the Rainbow in the clouds sort of thing going on.

Then rinse the yarn and gently squeeze out the extra water.

Now hang it to dry and wait. And wait. And wait. It takes a while. Sunshine or a fan helps speed it up. Then once it is totally dry you can twist it into a pretty skein or wind it into a ball to use it!

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You can see where the purple split a bit here. It does this because red and blue pigments set differently and sometimes one color gets sucked up before the other. Overall, I’m okay with it since it won’t be noticable once it’s crocheted up.

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This colorway is made by many yarn shops out there. I do absolutely encourage everyone to buy from indie dyers any time you can! But for those of us on a limited budget or who just love to make things on our own, I hope this helps! I found this ball of yarn (210 yards) for less than $4 on clearance!

Some tips:

*Go slow. Really. Slow and steady and careful. Use the dropper and be gentle. Sometimes the dye beads on the top for a second and it can run away from you.

*You can do this type of dye job with any colors – how about a section of Christmas colors? You can also dye the white area any color, just process it in its own bowl of color after the Rainbow is laid out and covered.

*I personally would not use Grape Kool-Aid for the purple. Its not a pretty purple. The other colors can be subbed for kool-aid if you wish.

*You can do the same process with cotton yarn and professional dyes (tulip, dharma, etc). You just have to let the color sit overnight.

*DO NOT use Rit dyes. Just don’t. They run and fade, and they are not very safe for baby items (because they run = coming off in baby’s mouth).

*If you need more yardage for a project, dye all skeins at the same time. Lay them next to each other (or wrap it all into the same hank) so you get the same repeat and same dye strength.

*If your color is not strong enough after the first couple of squirts of the dropper, just stop and add more color to the cup. Then continue.

*Keep paper towels handy to soak up extra dye. Too much dye means your colors will run and your rainbow will meld together too much.

*Have fun! Dying anything is a bit of an adventure. Just try again if you don’t like the outcome. You can always overdye mistake skeins later on.

As soon as I get my project all done with this yarn I will be sure to share it! I can’t wait to use this yarn. 🌈

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From the Desk of MamaBice_Makes

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3 thoughts on “Rainbows and Unicorns! (Or, How to Dye Yarn)

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