Preparing to Dye Wool Yarn a Solid Color

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Immersion dyeing is traditionally used to dye fibers solid colors. Successful immersion dye baths rely in part on using stock pots (either stainless steel or unchipped enamel) large enough to accommodate the weight of fiber.

Dye pots of adequate size ensure even temperature and dye distribution. In general a 20-quart pot will comfortably dye 8 ounces (227g) of fiber. A 40-quart for will handle 1 pound (454g) of fiber without crowding. Wider pots work better than deeper pots. They allow the fiber to float horizontally, avoiding contact with the bottom of the pot.

Make sure the size of your burner and dye pot are compatible to avoid the danger of a tipping dye pot.

Long-handled spoons, tongs, or dowels are useful for manipulating the fiber in the dye bath.

Prepare your dye solutions in advance. Unless otherwise noted, dye solutions work best when used at room temperature.

When immersion dyeing, you will be working over a simmering pot of hot water. Use an exhaust fan and wear a dual cartridge respirator mask to avoid inhaling the vapors from the dye pot. Safety glasses will protect your eyes from splashes. Wear insulated gloves to protect your hands from steam and hot water.

Always follow the product manufacturer’s usage guidelines.

Many factors come into play in the process of hand-dyeing solid-shade yarn. You must use a pot large enough to allow for sufficient circulation of the dye liquor (the liquid of the dye bath) and even temperature distribution. Careful measuring of materials, continuous monitoring of temperature, and manipulating the fibers in the dye bath throughout the process contribute to reaching an even shade.

To dye 1 pound (454g) of wool yarn using WashFast acid dye, you need the following supplies.

  • 4 four-ounce skeins (454g) of wool yarn prepared for dyeing

  • WashFast dye Teal 495, 2 cups (500ml) of a 1% solution

  • 1 tablespoon (15g) Glauber salt

  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) Synthrapol

  • 1 tablespoon (15g) citric acid crystals or 11 tablespoons (165ml) white vinegar

  • 40-quart stainless steel or enamel stock pot

  • Long-handled spoon or wooden dowel

  • Thermometer

You need at least three figure-8 ties to keep the skeins from tangling. Looping a shoestring leash through the skeins makes handling them easier.

In the beginning, it is easiest to work with skeins that are a manageable size of approximately 250 yards with a 2-yard circumference.

You need a skein winder or an umbrella swift and a yardage counter, if you wish to know the exact yardage of the skein before dyeing. Keep in mind there will be fiber shrinkage during the dye process. A skein may decrease in yardage (but not necessarily in weight) during dyeing. The amount of shrinkage depends on the type of fiber. You will also need scissors and thin cotton string for making ties.

  1. Clamp the skein winder or umbrella swift to one end of a work table. Extend the arms of the winder (or the ribs of the swift) to a circumference of approximately 2 yards.

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  2. Position the yardage counter at least 18 inches away from the winder and clamp it to the table.

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    Placing the cone of yarn on the floor to the right of the yardage counter, feed the yarn through the guides on the counter. Be sure to set the counter to zero before winding.

  3. Tie the yarn to the end of one arm of the skein winder (or fasten to one rib of the swift).

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    When you turn the handle of the winder or spin the swift, the yarn will run through the counter and onto the winder. Stop when you have reached your desired yardage, but stop in a place where both ends of the skein meet.

  4. To secure the skein, take one end and wrap it around the entire bundle of yarn. Then bring the end through the loop you have just created. Do the same with the other end. Then join both ends with a secure knot. When securing both ends of the skein, wrap the skein loosely to prevent forming a resist.

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  5. Take a 6-inch piece of string and, dividing the bundle of yarn in half, wrap the string around the yarn bundle. Crisscross the ends of the string and wrap around the second bundle of yarn. While keeping this figure-8 wrap loose, tie a secure knot.

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    A loose figure-8 tie will allow the dye to flow freely through the yarn strands while keeping the skein in order. Put at least three loose figure-8 ties in the skein.

  6. Soak the skeins for 30 minutes in a sink or basin filled with warm water and 1⁄2 teaspoon Synthrapol.

    This removes any dirt or spinning oil used in the yarn’s processing and opens up the fibers so that the wool will more easily accept the dye molecules.


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