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An introduction to hand dyeing

Hand dyeing is simple and fun, requiring only basic household equipment. Dyes can be food dyes (such as Kool Aid or food colourings), chemical-based (eg: Procion, acid dyes, Dylon) or natural from plants, bugs and fungi (either as raw materials or powdered extracts such as Earthues natural dye extracts). Although the following guide refers to dyeing yarn, our dyes can be used to colour all natural fibres including fleece, tops, felt, fabrics, mawata caps, silk cocoons, even paper and willow!

The dyes

Kool Aid is extremely simple to use, needs no additional chemicals, and is fun to work with. However it can only be used with animal (protein) fibres.

Procion MX dyes are chemical dyes. They produce excellent colours and can be used to dye any natural fibres not just animal fibres.

Earthues and Hue & Dye natural dye extracts offer all the benefits of natural dyeing without needing to grind up bugs and barks! The colours are amazing - if you've ever been put off natural dyes by dingy yellows and murky browns, try Earthues: you'll be pleasantly surprised by how easy and versatile they are!

If you are new to dyeing or looking for a new challenge, our starter kits are great to experiment with. There are kits for each type of dye and they come complete with dyes, fixers and full instructions. Some kits include our specially selected undyed yarns and a pattern - perfect for gifts. All our dyes, fixers and undyed yarns are also available separately.

All of our dyes type can be used for dyeing single colours in a skein, but they are also ideally suited to multi-colour techniques such as rainbow dyeing, yarn painting and making self-striping yarns.

Rainbow dyeing

The yarns, garments and accessories you see on our website have all been produced using a technique called "Rainbow Dyeing". Rainbow dyeing is a broad term which is used to describe any technique in which fibres are dyed using a range of colours or shades applied at random to create a multi-coloured effect.

The beauty of this style of dyeing is that it requires little in the way of accurate measurements and yet the results, whilst they may be somewhat unpredictable, are really exciting and dramatic.

Most of the colour combinations shown on the website have been produced using only three colours. Have a look at our Project Kit pages and the Gallery to see some of the wonderful shades that can be achieved.

Whilst the methods vary slightly for the different types of dye, hand dyeing follows four simple steps:

  • Soaking
  • Applying the dye
  • Fixing the dye
  • Rinsing and drying


First yarn is wound into skeins to allow the dyes to reach all parts of it. Next the yarn is soaked in water to make it ready to absorb the dye. Depending upon the type of dye being used, you may need to add a "fixer" or "mordant" to the soaking solution to make the dye permanent or colourfast.

Applying the dye

Dye may be applied in a variety of ways depending on the look you want to achieve. For single colour dyeing the dye is dissolved in water and the yarn is added to this "dyebath".

For rainbow dyeing, the dye solution is applied directly to the pre-soaked yarn using bottles, pipettes, basters or simply by pouring from a container. Dye can be applied in stripes/spirals or completely at random to achieve different effects. Re-arranging the yarn can also change the overall effect: for example, piling the yarn randomly in a dish or laying it out in a horseshoe shape.

Fixing the dye

Some fibres need heat as well as the fixing chemicals to ensure a good bond between the dye and the yarn. Once the dye has been applied the yarn is "cooked" briefly using either a microwave, hob, oven or steamer to provide the necessary heat. It is then allowed to cool before rinsing.

Plant (cellulose) fibres can be dyed using Procion dyes without heating. The dye is applied and the yarn is left for several hours until the colours become permanent. This is useful for silk and delicate plant fibres which may be damaged by excessive heating.

Rinsing and drying

Once the colour has become permanent you rinse your yarn fibre to remove any excess dye and then allow it to dry. That's it!

For a more detailed look at the dyes we supply please follow the links below

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[All images and text © Debbie Tomkies and Peter Tomkies 2007]