Doing the Twist

Last Monday, I decided that it had been far too long since I had dyed some yarn as well document the process. So here are all of my notes on how I dyed my yarn.

Standard Disclaimer: This is a rather long, photo-heavy post. You've been warned.


I decided to test out one particular technique I've wanted to try out for quite some time now; I'm not entirely sure the proper term for this method, but it is essentially the same technique that Dale Hwang uses to dye her yarn for Light Brown Hare. If you are into dyeing yarn, it's possible that you've seen her fantastic video Dyepot Confidential on Youtbe. It's 30 minutes long, but well worth watching.

Here's the general idea: By twisting and/or knotting the hank of yarn, you can prevent certain areas from absorbing the dye. Then, after you retwist or reknot the skein and put it in another bath of dye, different areas will be exposed to the dye, some of which absorbed the initial dye, some that didn't. It creates an interesting interplay of colors as the skein is twisted and retwisted for each subsequent bath and the colors build on top of each other.

For my experiment, I didn't try knotting the skein, just retwisting it. I wore plastic gloves to protect my hand from being stained by dyes (the Easter Egg tablets I used are food-safe and non-toxic, I just didn't want rainbow fingers) , but I also found it very to wear them while twisting the skeins; the wet yarn likes to cling to skin and slide on the plastic, making it much easier to get a good twist into the skein.

My plan for colors was to start with yellow and then move on to green and blue tones.


I used Hobby Lobby's I Love This Wool! Naturals in Ivory as my base. It is an undyed or bleach (to the best of my knowledge) 100% wool worsted weight yarn. It is not a superwash wool, so it can felt under the right conditions-- the fact that it isn't superwash becomes important later on, thankfully not to due to its feltibility, though!

I wound it into a 6-foot skein onto my PVC niddy-noddy for two reasons: One, a larger skein can accommodate more twists than a shorter one; and two, I wanted to be able to reskein the yarn into a standard 4-foot skein when I was done.

The yarn was presoaked in water and 3 tablespoons of vinegar.

Food-safe dyes like Kool-aid, Icing Colors and Easter Egg Tablets are all acid dyes: They all need heat and an acid source in order for the yarn to take the color and have it set properly. I used my microwave as the heat source and vinegar as the acid source, just like you would dissolve the tablets in vinegar to dye eggs (Imagine that, using these dyes for their intended purpose!).

The dye tablets are from a Paas Classic kit I got on clearance for maybe 50 cents each. The back of the box recommends dissolving the tablets in 3 tablespoons of vinegar, so while each dye bath was cooling after being heated in the microwave, I prepared my next batch of dye in a separate cup.

There is one big issue with working with Easter Egg tablets; the dyes are so concentrated in their tablet form that it is really hard to tell what color each tablet is just by looking at it. Guessing has gotten me in some major trouble, but I've discovered a nearly fool-proof way to find out the color.


Slightly dampen a paper towel, then take a tablet and rub the edge of it against the towel. Some color should come off on the paper towel, and that's the color of the tablet. Who would have thought that the weird mustard yellow tablet was really Spring Green?

With the preparations complete, it's time to start actually dying!

The First Bath (Yellow)

First off, here's how each dye bath usually goes: I dissolve my dyes in a separate cup; one it is ready, I pour it into the bowl I'm going to using to cook the yarn in to microwave. Then I add the yarn to the bowl, twisted up into a pretty little hank. After making sure that the entire skein is submerged, it goes into the microwave so the dyes can set. Then it comes out to cool on the counter for a while so I can handle it. If all the dye has been absorbed, I might move the yarn from the water into a second container (a gallon ice cream bucket) to cool it even faster.

I didn't quite get to the ice cream bucket for the initial bath. The yellow dye simply did not want to absorb all the way. Even after being heated and set out to cool several times, I still had some very yellow water.


Finally, I just added my next color to the remaining dye and moved onto the next bath.

Before I can move on, though, I need to take care of my yarn. The most important aspect of this method is the twisting and retwisting of the hank. This can be a very messy process, since the action of retwisting a skein is actually the same as wringing it out. I did myself a favor by transferring my yarn into my ice cream bucket (these things are invaluable for handling yarn for dyeing, in my opinion) and carrying it to the bathroom so I could twist the skein over the bathtub.

The Second Bath (Spring Green)

I had the same issues with this as I did with the yellow; even after heating and cooling and drowning the poor thing in vinegar, I still had leftover dye in my bowl.

What in the world is wrong with this dye? I thought.

But it turns out, it wasn't the dye or the yarn. The problem was me! My experiments with immersion dyeing have all used superwash wool and Kool-aid. I've only used non-Superwash and/or Easter Eggs tablets while handpainting, which is quite a different beast than immersion dyeing. Superwash wool happily slurps up Kool-aid like little kids on hot day. It takes a little longer to coax a regualr wool into taking up the dye. I simply wasn't giving my dye enough time! Thus, my morning of dyeing turned into an nearly all-day affair to give my little skein enough time to absorb the dye.

Even though the first two colors are fairly pale and quite similar to each other, you can still see some areas where the yarn is still yellow because the twist prevented the green dye from getting to it. The colors are so pale it was very hard to photogragh properly, but it becomes even more apparent and easy to capture after the next round of dyeing.

The Third Bath (Teal)

The Teal tablet is really a lovely shade of emerald green. It deepened and darkened the Spring Green, making the areas of yellow that still hadn't receive a chance to absorb any dye even more obvious.


The Fourth Bath (Blue)

Now it's time to add the blues! To start, I used the lighter, brighter blue.


The funny thing about blue dye is that it takes longer to bond with the yarn than the other colors. (Combine that with the non-superwash wool and you have one impatient dyer) But I was a good girl and gave it the time it needed to completely exhaust.

The Fifth (And Final) Bath (Denim)

All that was left on my gradient of yellows and blues was the darker, duller blue.


It looks almost exactly like my last photo, doesn't it? The other funny thing about blue dye (at least, that I've observed) is that green tends to overwhelm it. The blues created some pretty teal and bluish undertones, but green is still the dominant color in this yarn.

The Finished Yarn!

And now for the moment we have all been waiting for!

The different shades and variations of colors are easiest to see when it is all laid out:


There are some huge, yet subtle variations among the yellows and green and blues. And believe me when I say that it's even prettier one it's reskeined!


I think I fall in love with the color even more every single time I look at it! I don't have a plan for this particular skein yet, but I also haven't had the chance to do much hunting for the perfect pattern.

This skein was actually a bit of test run for my next shawl; I want to use the same technique to dye the yarn for it, but I wanted to see if I liked the results first. I'm not sure what colors I'm going to do it in, but I think I managed to find the pattern I'm going to use. I was able to get Limerick yesterday (A huge thank you to designers who put up free pattern promotions on Ravelry!) and I love the strong diagonal lines of the lace. It's charted only, which might get a little interesting (While I can read charts, they don't always want to get along with me).

All in all, I consider this experiment a success. All of my dyeing stuff has now been packed away, so I'm a little sad that I won't be able to do any more for a while.

Posted by Haley on
I LOVE that skien too!!! It is awesome and so pretty!!!
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