Kettle Dyeing at Home

My Flaming June is finally done! The knitting’s actually been done for almost a week, but I’ve been putting off dyeing it because I had other projects with deadlines breathing down my neck, not to mention a whole bunch of late nights at the day job. Then I tried a new dyeing technique over the weekend that utterly failed, so I turned to my old standby of kettle dyeing to fix it. It turned out lovely, as kettle dyeing tends to, and there is no evidence of the abomination my sweater was after the first dye job. Want to learn how to kettle dye at home? Read on.


Yes, this is the pre-bad dye job soak. No need to soak twice, in my case.

First, soak your FO or yarn for a few hours in water mixed with 3/4 cup of white vinegar. The vinegar acts as a mordant (any acid that helps dye “stick”) to improve color absorption. If you want more muted colors you can use less mordant than that, but I would be cautious about using more vinegar. Too much can make your pigments (in this case, blue and red) soak in at different rates and create some seriously bizarre looking yarn. Note that if your tap water tends to be high in minerals or have a distinctive smell or flavor, you’ll want to use filtered water as well. Random extra minerals can also do funny things to your color.


While your project is soaking, gather your materials. I don’t have separate dyeing equipment, so I am careful to only use food-safe dyes and mordants – usually food coloring and vinegar. For kettle dyeing I prefer to use a crock pot, but a carefully watched stock pot will also work. It’s just a slightly less lazy process, and I’m all about the lazy. You will also want a large spoon, spatula, or tongs for pulling your hot, dripping mess out of the pot when it’s done dyeing, and a pan or bowl large enough to hold said mess so it doesn’t drip all over your kitchen. I like to use metal and glass because you can clean the color off of them, but since we’re using food-safe chemicals this is optional. Keep in mind that food dye might not be permanent or even long lasting on plant fiber or synthetic yarns, but it is definitely permanent on your wooden spoons and many plastics. You’ll also want to cover as much of your work space and yourself as you can with something you don’t mind getting splattered with dye.


After your yarn or FO has had a good long soak, heat a cup of water to boiling. I’m lazy and do this in the microwave because it’s fast. Add as much dye as you would like to the boiling water (I used about a teaspoon and a half of Wilton’s for this cardigan) and stir. Keep in mind that the color will be much deeper in the pot than it will be on your yarn. Then drain off as much of the water/vinegar mix as possible into your crock. If your yarn isn’t superwash, be careful not to get too aggressive here. Add in the boiling dyed water and as much extra water as needed to fill your pot about halfway. Set your crock pot to low (with the lid on) and wait a few minutes for it to start steaming. Give it one last stir to make sure your dye is well mixed, then add in your project. Make sure it’s spread out as much as possible and that all parts of the project are covered in colored water. Put the lid back on and go away. Seriously, just go do something else for a few hours.


Periodically check on your dye pot. When the water looks clear and there is no more dye in it, you can pull it out of the pot and into the pan or bowl you set out. Let it cool to room temperature and rinse thoroughly with room temperature water. The temperature is extra important if you’re not using superwash. Some colors and dye types will bleed more than others, but the vinegar and prolonged exposure to heat should have set your dyes well enough that not too much color should run off. When the rinse water runs clear, dry your piece as recommended by the yarn manufacturer.


Clean up is pretty simple. Since you’ve used up all the dye in your pot, and you’re carrying your dyed fiber goodies in a pan or bowl, there’s not too much risk of dye winding up on your floor. Hooray! Glass, metal, and crockery should return to their natural color if you clean them with bleach. Be sure to follow with a soap and water cleanse afterward to make sure they’re safe to eat off of! Wash or throw away whatever you used to cover your counters and yourself. That’s it!


4 responses to this post.

  1. I look forward to seeing how it looks now! I have sleeves to go on mine, but I think I am going to rip back all the increasy shapey stuff and knit it straight instead… maybe!


  2. i want to try this too !


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