Dyeing Techniques Overview

Continuing with the previous article’s format of “defining” certain terms, I wanted to give a bit of info on various dyeing techniques and the finished products can be created with them. I know that there are techniques out there that I’m not going to cover, but my goal here is to cover the most commonly used ones. That way as you venture into this colorful world, you can better interpret the ideas you have into colorways you and others will love.

Note: I don’t have photos for every single technique, but I will include photos of what I can. They will all be photos I’ve taken myself, either of my own hand-dyes or others, and I will credit other brands as necessary.

Gradient: a gradual shift between two or more colors. This can be accomplished within a single skein with long color sections or an injection process. You can also create a gradient across multiple skeins, as pictured below. However you decide to divvy up the yarn itself, whether within a single skein or a set of skeins, you create the gradient itself by mixing the dyes in changing ratios that shift the hues from one to the next. If you want a quick color change, use a lower fraction, like 1/3: first cup would be 100% color A, the second cup would be 50% color A and 50% color B, and the third cup would be 100% color B. Then for a more gradual color change, use a higher fraction, like 1/6: first cup is 100% color A, second cup is 80%/20% color A/B, third cup is 60%/40% color A/B, fourth cup is 40%/60% color A/B, fifth cup is 20%/80% color A/B, and the final cup is 100% color B. Lots of math, but if you measure carefully and keep good notes, you’ll be able to create seamlessly flowy gradients–and reproduce them if desired!

Hand-painted: the term used for the process of applying dyes to the yarn by hand in various patterns, color sequences, etc., to create a variegated colorway. You can use a foam brush, you can pour the dye out of a measuring cup, or apply it in other ways as you prefer. You generally use a flat pan of some type and just enough water to heat set the dye, but you intentionally avoid completely submerging the yarn, which gives you a higher degree of control over where the dyes go. This also creates starker color changes for a higher contrast look.

(photo by me of Cameo Yarns colorway Prim)

Injection dyeing: this is a fun process you can use to create a gradient effect within a single skein. First up, wind the hank using a ball-winder instead of leaving it in a loop. Then put it in the pot to make sure it’s completely saturated. Then you use a giant syringe or baster full of dye to inject the color into the center of the skein. It will slowly bleed outward within the ball, creating a dark-to-light transition. You can include a second color by putting dye into the pot around the ball and letting it slowly bleed into the ball. 

Kettle-dyed: this process involves fully submerging the yarn in the dye bath and having extra water in the pot to leave room for the yarn to freely move in the pot and absorb the dye. It can be single-colored (semi-solid/tonal) or multi-colored (variegated) as desired, and it gives a more watercolor effect to the colors than hand-painting generally does.

Ombré: this type of colorway typically involves one very long, gradual transition between a light and mid or dark colorway. It can also be called a gradient technically.

Over-dyed: if you have some yarn you’re not in love with anymore, or maybe your mad science experiment in the dye pots didn’t turn out quite right, you don’t have to toss the yarn! You can over-dye it and revitalize it! It’s the same process as dyeing it up the first time, you’ll just be a touch more limited on what you can do depending on the colors in the yarn that you’re wanting to dye over. Light colors are easy and should be fine with mid-tones. If it’s a mid-tone yarn, you’ll be looking at dyeing it with darker colors unless you want to change the color by “mixing” the new dye with the existing tone. It’s truly an experiment, so you’ll have to see for yourself how the colors play with each other!

Self-striping: when dye is applied in super long color sequences that when knitted, it creates a striped fabric without having to mess with changing colors and carrying yarn or weaving in a bunch of ends. Very popular for socks!

Semi-solid: when the yarn is all the same color, but there are light and dark variations within the hue rather than being completely solid. This occurs when different parts of the hank absorb the dye at different rates, creating places that are more saturated, yielding darker tones, or less saturated, yielding lighter tones.

Solid: an even color application without light and dark variation. 

Speckled: a technique that creates spots of color on the yarn that add a splash of color and fun texture.

Tonal: same product as semi-solid, just a different way to say it.

Variegated: this term is used for colorways with more than one dye color. This can be accomplished via multiple processes as outlined above–hand-painted or kettle dyed.

I think I’ve covered the most common terms and the most widely-used processes in dyeing yarn, but if there’s something I’ve forgotten, definitely leave a comment so I can add to this list! I hope this gives you a strong foundation from which you can truly build a love of this craft and enjoy the work of your hands and imagination!

About Me

My name is Annie, and I’m a knitwear designer and yarn-dyer living south of Atlanta, GA. When I’m not doing yarn-related things, my other hobbies consist of reading, playing ultimate frisbee, photography, and video games.

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