How to Dye Yarn: easy hand-painting technique with crochet, knit and woven samples [with pictures]

by Pinky Wittingslow June 06, 2018

How to Dye Yarn: easy hand-painting technique with crochet, knit and woven samples [with pictures]

Are you confused about how to dye yarn? Do you have a beautiful piece of wool you would like to put your own spin on? We have popped together an easy step by step tutorial on how to dye yarn using a hand painting technique. In this blog, you will learn what supplies you will need to dye your own wool, the process and be able to confidently transform your wool into a masterpiece for your next creation. Come on this journey with me from inspiration to the end product.

A colour palette inspired by nature.

A picnic in the bush with the family last weekend inspired me to try and capture it in yarn using the Ashford acid dye range. I thought about the unique blueish green of the native foliage, the bright blue sky reflecting off the surface of the babbling creek and the rusty speckles on gum leaves. I used Mackenzie 4ply and Ashford Dye colours: Emerald, Navy and Rust.


Dye project inspiration photos of the bush with chose dye colours


You may note that we are not adding the acid to the dye mix like the usual instructions that come with your dye. In this tutorial, the reason we are adding the acid to our yarn rather than our dye mix is so we can sprinkle dye powder straight onto our yarn later for a special effect.

Image of finished skeins with ashford dyes used

So let’s get started and make some beautiful yarn!

You will need:

  • Wool yarn or other protein based yarn (buy here)
  • Ashford dyes - Navy, Emerald and Rust (buy here)
  • Citric acid or White vinegar
  • Niddy Noddy (buy here)
  • Microwave safe bowl
  • Old spoon
  • Platter
  • Jugs or jars for mixing dye
  • Gloves
  • Old shopping bag
  • old shower curtain rings (Optional but very helpful!)

Equipment needed for dye tutorial


First of all, we need to make sure our yarn is in skeins. Place your ball of yarn in a bowl or container to stop it rolling around then wrap your yarn around your Niddy Noddy to create a skein. Tie your skein off in 4 sections with a figure-of-eight tie, this will stop your yarn getting tangled during the dye process.

Niddy noddy and skiens of yarn ready to dye

After I have created my skein I then add an old shower curtain ring. This gives me a handle so that it is easy to pick up, reduces tangle risk and is super easy to hang up to dry. I buy them from op shops too.

Next, we need to ‘scour’ our yarn which means ‘wash’ and removes any residues or natural oils that may be present on our yarn. This helps the yarn to take up as much dye as possible and evenly. To scour, soak your yarn in a sink of luke-warm water with 1/4 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid for 20 minutes. It is not essential to get a perfect measurement of dish liquid, a squirt will do and is enough to clean 2 to 4 100g skeins.

Skeins going into the sink

Then remove your skein/s from the sink and rinse gently in cool water. Fill the sink up again, or a bucket so you can use your sink for daily tasks, with cool water and add either 1 teaspoon of citric acid per 100g skein. You can use white vinegar instead and in this case, use 2 tablespoons of vinegar per 100g skein. Soak your skeins in this acid water for at least 1 hr, 2 hours is better and overnight is better still. Your colour will set better if your yarn is completely wet through with this mild acid water.

Citric acid and skein soaking in the set

While your yarn is soaking in the acid solution you can start mixing up your first colour. Take your Emerald dye powder and extract a small amount using the end of your spoon, it is approximately 1/8 of a teaspoon. You don’t need a lot. Place the powder in a dedicated dye jug or jar. Add ad dash of hot tap water and stir into a paste then add cool water to the amount of 1cup. Set aside while you prepare your yarn.

mixing emerald dye powder with water

Now gentle squeeze out your yarn so that it is damp but not dripping. Arrange it on your platter.

Yarn laid out on platter ready to dye

You are now ready to start applying your dye solution. Use your spoon or jug to drizzle colour over in random sections, leaving some white space for the second colour. Turn the skein over in sections to make sure you are getting colour on the back too.

Emerald green dye being poured into yarn

Time for the next colour. Mix up a touch of Navy dye powder the same as we did with the Emerald. Spoon this colour in all the white space you have left on your yarn. With a gloved hand, squeeze down the yarn to encourage the dye to gently bleed into one another and cover all white sections.  

Navy Dye mixed weakly and added to yarn with a spoon


Do n’t forget to turn your skein over to check the back for white sections you may have missed.


Yarn with first two colours applied

We can now add that last colour; the colour pop of rust. We apply this directly to the yarn. Scooping out very small amounts of Rust dye powder at a time, hold your loaded spoon handle over a section of yarn and very gently tap your spoon handle repeatedly to dislodge powder particles onto your yarn. This creates a speckled effect. Repeat until you are happy with the how your yarn is looking remember to do a few sections on the underside of your skein by gently turning over in sections with a gloved hand.

Rust dye ready to apply to the yarn

Tapping rust dye powder onto yarn

At this stage, if I am dying more than 1 skein, in the same way, I take a photo so I can copy my dye placement for the next skein.

Rust dye powder applied

Now to set your dye with heat. Take your microwave proof plastic or glass bowl, I found mine at an op shop, and then gently lift up your skein by the curtain ring and place in the bowl. Cover with a plastic shopping bag or a busted shower cap works too; I  like to reuse plastics rather than grabbing the plastic wrap. Place the covered bowl in the microwave for 2 minutes at a time.


Yarn in the microwave bowl and old shopping bag placed over bowl


Remove with heat-proof gloves after each burst, tip to the side to check the water runoff. It is clear, the dye has set properly. 100g skein in my microwave only takes 2 x 2 minutes, time may vary depending on your microwave. Remove the bag and leave undisturbed to cool completely.

Dye water clear in the bottom of the bowl
When the yarn is cool you can rinse it out in cool water. Waiting for it to cool is important as it avoids felting your yarn. You can also add a leave-in wool wash at this stage. Then gently squeeze out excess water and hang to dry.  And there you have it, your own custom dyed yarn ready to knit, crochet or weave.

Finished Hand Dyed Yarn
Pretty colours look great in a skein but how does it look worked up? We have created some samples for you so you can best decide what technique you would like to use for your project.

Smaples of yarn made up in crochet, weaving and knitting

Trying this tutorial yourself? We’d love to see your work! Share via social media with the hashtag #auntjennytextiles. Or come join in the discussion and get extra project help in our community.


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Love Aunt Jenny xo

Pinky Wittingslow
Pinky Wittingslow

Pinky is a serial crafter who has devoted her life to making and teaching all things textiles because she truly believes we can craft ourselves to better health and a better world.

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