Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dye Studio - Dyeing with Acid Dyes

So you're ready to play with acid dyes on protein fibers!  Good for you!   If you want all the same color on your skein, then you need to follow the dye manufacturer's instructions. See yesterday's post for a list of places to get acid dyes.  If you want to paint different colors on your skeins, then here are some instructions.

This is what you need:
Bottom of steam pan with rack
  • Gloves:  thin ones to dye with AND heavy ones to handle very hot fiber with.
  • Apron and dye clothes.
  • Bucket big enough to hold your fiber loosely in water.
  • Fibers:  protein fibers like wool, etc.
  • Acid dyes:  One Shot, Jacquard, Kool-Aid, etc.
  • Acid:  vinegar or citric acid
  • Trash bag to cover your table.
  • Squirt bottles or brushes to put the dye on with.
  • Large pot with lid to boil water in.
  • Rack that fits inside the pot to hold the fibers out of the water while they're steaming.
  • Plenty of old towels or rags.
As I mentioned in the last post, the basic steps for hand painting with acid dyes is this:
1.  Wet out your fibers in hot water with acid in it.
2.  Mix up your dyes into dye solutions
3.  Paint your skeins with the dye
4.  Heat the skeins
5.  Cool the skeins
6.  Rinse and dry. 

But you want more details, right?   I'll take it step by step.

1.  Wet out your fibers in hot water with acid in it.

How much water?   Enough to cover your fiber well.
How hot?   This is going to be heat set - start the heat now.   Use hot water.
How much acid?   1 Tablespoon of citric acid or 2 Tablespoons vinegar per gallon is plenty.   It only has to be a little acid.

Put the acid in the hot water and then the fiber.   Let it sit for 15 minutes or so while you get everything else ready.

2.  Mix up your dyes into dye solutions.    It's a good idea to start heating your steam water now.   By the time you're done with the dyeing, the water will be boiling and ready to go.

How strong should the dye solutions be?   That depends on how dark/bright you want your colors to be.

1% dye solution gives bright/dark colors.
.5% gives nice medium shades. 
0.1% solution gives good pastels. 

Remember:  There are no RULES.   Make things as dark or light as you want!

3.  Paint your skeins with the dye.

When you're done with the top, squeeze the dye through the skein by pressing and squeezing a section at a time along the skein, then flip it over and paint the other side.

Squeeze the dye through one last time.

NOTE:   Gravity will pull the dye through the skein and it will puddle on the bottom.   You'll get darker colors wherever it puddles.    If you can't deal with that, then grab a dry towel and soak up the puddle of dye.

4.  Heat the skeins.
I use 2 large veg pans and a stove rack to steam on.

Gently lift the skein onto the steamer rack.    REMEMBER:  Dye wicks quickly and easily through protein fibers.  The more you move the skein, the more the colors will move.   Magical and beautiful things might happen.   If you don't want color movement, then move things as little as possible.

Put the rack over the steam, cover and let steam for 20-30 minutes.   If you're only doing one skein, then you can get by with 15 minutes.   If you're doing a bunch of skeins, it might take 50 minutes.    Don't skimp on the steam time.

REMEMBER:  Don't let your steamer run dry.   [No fun!  I've done it.   My steamer has the scars to prove it.]

When the steaming is done, turn off the heat.   Lift the lid by opening the side AWAY from you first.    Steam burns are very painful!

One batch cooling while the next steams
5.  Cool the skeins.

Take your fibers out of the rack and let them cool.   Let them cool until you can touch them bare handed.   It'll take longer to cool the center, so spread them out a bit for cooling.

6.  Rinse and dry.

REMEMBER:   You don't want to felt your yarn!  

Fill a bucket with very hot water.  It's fine to use any temp that is warmer than your skeins.   Lay your fibers in the bucket.   If the dye took well, there should be very little bleeding at all, if any.   Let it sit for a minute or so.  Do not agitate!  You don't want felt.

Nylon dries fast!
Dump the bucket and fiber gently into the sink.   Let the water drain off.   Press down on the yarn to get as much water as possible out of the fiber.

Spin out the excess water by putting the yarn in your washing machine and doing a SPIN CYCLE.   NOTE:   Do NOT use a full rinse cycle - that will wet your yarn, then agitate, then spin.   Use only the spin cycle.

OR, you can just roll the yarn in a towel and squeeze hard to get as much water out as you can.

Hang it to dry.


* I followed the directions but all the dye rinsed right out!    

Your yarn wasn't protein.   The dye knows!    And believe me this has happened to all of us!    I just got a batch of yarn that we thought was nylon.    The dye rinsed right out of it.    Surprise!   I tested it with MX dyes and turns out it was a very shiny, clear, rayon.   Oops.   But not a crisis.

*  The dye takes, but a lot of it rinses out!

You need a longer steaming time.   I had a terrible time dyeing alpaca and wensleydale until I doubled the steam time.    Some fibers take their time opening up and taking the dye.   Give them plenty of steam time.

*  The yellows are rinsing out!

It's a weird fact that some fibers don't like certain dye colors.   My issue is yellows.   Yours might be some other color.   Wool generally takes everything just fine.   Alpaca and wensleydale, which is a rare breed wool, don't like my yellows.    I doubled the steam time and that helped a lot.   I still lose some yellow, but I can get it out in a single rinse. 

If you run into other problems, you're welcome to let me know!    Happy dyeing!


  1. I think I'll save my spare time to pursue other hobbies and leave the dyeing to fearless professionals like you!

  2. This makes me so excited to start some dyeing! Thank you :)


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