Dyeing Yarn: The Method Behind the Dyer’s Art

A crafter’s mode of making can run the gamut from freeform and slap-dash—throw it together and hope for the best—to measured, methodical, and even scientific. Dyeing yarn is no exception! Even if a handpainted colorway looks spontaneous and playful, it is often the result of forethought and careful planning. How do expert dyers get such great results every time?

In 2010, I took a hand-dyeing class with Sara Lamb and Deb Menz at the Spin Off Autumn Retreat (SOAR) in Delavan, Wisconsin. This dyeing duo gave us two skeins of yarn (one wool and one silk), an array of colorful acid dyes to choose from, and the time and space to play.

dyeing yarn

After dyeing yarn in Sara and Deb’s class, Elizabeth knit a pair of socks from her hand-dyed skein of wool. Photo by Elizabeth Prose

What wasn’t so obvious to us newbie dyers dabbing and sprinkling our favorite shades onto our pristine white skeins were the formulas Sara and Deb used to create our palette. Every little plastic cup contained a dye solution that was tried and tested.

The Professional Dyer’s Secret

How do seasoned dyers do it? Deb says the key is consistency. This includes measuring, keeping steady timing and temperature, and keeping records. In the article “A Simple System for Dyeing Predictable Colors Using Lanaset Dyes on Fibers,” which was featured in Spin Off Winter 1991, Deb explains, “Records save time. For example, say you want to mix a special red and you have trouble achieving it. Once you’ve found it, you don’t want to waste time figuring out how to make it every time you want that color. If you have a dye book, you can find the formula and easily mix it up again.”

Fortunately, dye companies and some professional dyers, including Sara and Deb, offer their dye-sample books for sale to those of us who want to play with color without going through trial and error to find formulas for the perfect shades.

Do you use a swatch book with dyeing formulas? Let us know in the comments!

Happy dyeing!

Featured Image: Deb Menz recommends keeping notebooks filled with your favorite dye formulas so that you can re-create a color. This swatch book is available from W. Cushing & Company. Photo by George Boe

Learn more about color and dyeing yarn form Deb Menz!