Thursday, March 13, 2014

Taste the Rainbow

What's the best way to lighten up a dreary grey day here in the Pacific Northwest?  To dye your own rainbow, of course!  I've been wanting to dye some rainbow sock yarn for months... but there was never enough time (or opportunity, with all of the littles underfoot).  So.... I waited for the perfect opportunity (AKA naptime) and went for it.
I decided to try dyeing my "rainbow" two different ways (on separate skeins).  I wanted to do a "self-striping" skein and then a handpainted skein - and contrast the two methods.  So the first order of business was to prepare the yarn. 
I wound the first skein into a center-pull ball, pulled out my "Martha Stewart Craft Loom" that I have never, ever used... and set up the bars and pegs so that I could wind mini-skeins onto it easily.  I wound about 5 times per section, and then moved onto the next section.  I figured this would give me even stripes of all of the rainbow colors (which would then repeat over and over again in the socks).  I tied up all of the mini-skeins separately and put them into a vinegar/water bath to soak. 

For the other skein that I wanted to hand-paint, I just popped the entire skein into the same soaking water, and set about preparing my dyes.  I made sure to do this part while everyone else was busy elsewhere, since I needed a facemask and gloves to protect myself from the powdered dyes.  I measured out 1/2 teaspoon of 3 different PRO Chemical acid dyes (red (magenta 338), yellow (yellow 119), and blue (blue 490) into mason jars, and dissolved the powder in 1 cup of boiling water.  I then drew out 3-4 tablespoons with a syringe of each of these "primary" colors to mix up the secondary colors (orange, green, and purple) to complete my rainbow.
I topped up the jars with more boiling water to give the bath enough volume to dye the yarn more evenly, and then put a portion of each dye into squeeze bottles for the handpainted skein.
By this time, my yarn had soaked for about an hour, and I was ready to commence!  I put each one of the "mini-hanks" from the loom board into a mason jar sitting in a bot of boiling water on the stove, and cranked the heat up to keep the mixture just below boiling.
Then it was time to head outside for the hand-painted skein.  I set up a card table on our deck (carefully covered in plastic trash bags, and a light layer of plastic wrap), and layed out my wetted skein in a large oval shape.

Then it was time to enlist the help of the two older kids (we are homeschoolers - after all.  I mean... this project has "SCIENCE", "ART" and "COLOR THEORY" written all over it!!!)  I helped them get out the plastic gloves to protect their skin, and we squirted, pressed, mixed and squished our dye all in.

We then mopped up all of the leftover dye and water from the table, and wrapped the yarn up in its plastic wrap sheath, and steamed it in a tin foil "boat" over a boiling pan of water for about 20-30 minutes to set the color.  I just love the resulting yarn!

We also removed the self-striping yarn from the mason jars on the stovetop, rinsed it until clear with a little bit of dishwashing soap, re-skeined it and dryed it as well.  Here's the result from that experiment: 

However, as anyone who has ever bought hand-painted yarn can tell you, when it's all wrapped up in a skein straight from the dyepot... the color can be a might deceptive.  You really need to re-skein it to get a better idea of what it will look like in a finished knitted item.  Here's the two yarns after drying and reskeining.
The Self-Striping, Mason Jar yarn:
And the Hand-Painted, Homeschool Friendly Yarn:

The handpainted yarn ended up just a tad lighter than I would have expected, probably because it wasn't exposed to as much dye as the mason jar yarn.  But both look good enough to eat! (Can't you just taste the rainbow?)  And the best part is that the kids were THRILLED with their hand-dyed product!  Each skein is about 450 yards of a superwash, nylon mix and will be just the thing for hand-knitted socks :)
Edited to add:  It's taken me a couple of months, but I now have the kid's handpainted yarn all knit up into socks, using the "Vanilla Latte" pattern on Ravelry.  I love the way the differently dyed yarns ended up looking!  Here is my daughter modeling her socks with an Eye of Partridge heel:

and my son, with his beloved, super bright warm feet:

My older kids (12 & 9) were just the right age for this kind of dyeing.  If you are trying this with littles, I would probably stick with the food-safe dyes (for their skin, and your sanity) - but I think all ages would enjoy a similar project!  I hope this post inspires you to do some dyeing of your very own :)  Enjoy!


  1. Love it! What a fun outdoor day!

  2. So pretty! Are you taking orders? :-)

  3. LOL! It was SOOO much fun... and the resulting socks look like somebody scattered a pack of skittles across the yarn :) I'm about halfway done with the "subtle" rainbow pair.....

  4. What an informative article! I really want to give dyeing a try it looks so fun!!