Monday, March 23, 2009

Tutorial: Mixing Dyes

Here's a fun and easy way to learn the basics of color theory for mixing your own dye colors. I will be using acid dye powder.  It is a 12 step dye triangle. Here's what you'll need:
Dyes in primary colors (I used magenta, turquoise, and yellow here) or you can use red, yellow, blue
12 small pieces of wool 
12 dye cups
3 bottles for making dye solutions (I just use cleaned water bottles)
spoons for mixing
vinegar or citric acid
saran wrap (optional)
steamer or stainless steel pot (make sure you use pots for dye only, they will not be foodsafe after dyeing)

First, soak your wool pieces in some water and a touch of liquid soap/detergent. I use about 5" of combed top...probably about 0.1 oz or less. You can dye as much as you like!

Next step is to mix your primary dye solutions. I don't like working with powder much so I mix all my dyes from stock solutions. I use roughly 1% solution. Use your gloves and a mask when mixing stock solution! To make it just add 1 tsp of dye powder to 250ml hot water. Put in your bottle and shake (or stir). Make the stock solution for all 3 of your primary colors.

Third step is to lay out your triangle with your dye cups. Now arrange remaining cups like in the chart and label each one. Add water to each cup, about 3/4 full.Add your stock dye solutions. I wanted a medium tone so I used a 1/2 tsp measuring spoon of stock solution.  You can use a smaller or larger amount depending on how saturated you want your colors. To add dye just follow the chart. The top cup gets 4 spoonfuls of your yellow stock solution, the cup next to it (right) gets 3 spoonfuls yellow and 1 spoonful red, next cup gets 2 yellow spoonfuls and 2 red spoonfuls and so on....
Add a small amount of acid to each cup. If you're using vinegar just add a tsp or so, add more if you're dying larger amounts of wool. If you're using citric acid you won't need more than 1/4th of a tsp for this small amount of wool.  

Here's what the solutions look like:

  Next step for acid dyes is a heat set.  You can either heat each solution up separately in a pot or use saran and a steam set.  For the stovetop method you just need a stainless steel pot; pour a color in, add wool, and heat gently for 30 minutes or so.  The dye will usually exhaust so the water will be clear.   I use the steam set here.  I got some saran and placed the slightly damp wool piece in center of saran sheet. Pour some dye from a cup onto wool until it has good even coverage. Wrap tightly and place the little bundle in a steamer. Do this for all 12 of the dye cups. You will have 12 little saran bundles in your steamer so make sure you jot down in a note where each color was placed!  

Steam for about 30-45 minutes. Let them cool overnight or to room temperature. Rinse a few times gently in lukewarm water without agitation. Let dry. Now you have a rainbow of colors to play with! I saved a few poofs to make a chart and filed it away for future reference. With the rest I made this colorful handspun yarn. :)


  1. I love the picture of the rainbow of roving . It makes me happy :)

  2. hi!
    your dyings are really beautiful.
    i just started doing this and have so much fun. but there is one colour that makes me furious; it`s brown. i mixed it by using green and orange/red and fixed it in my microwave. but after rinsing - no brown any more, but green. the other colours dont change, brown is the only one that will not stay....that frustrates me!
    i`m writing from germany, i hope my english is not that cruel...
    do you have an idea about that? what can i do???!!

  3. I had the same problem :)
    I use to prepare an equal amount of each of the primary colors to get a brown but it turned out a little different every time. Like 1 part blue, 1 part red, and 1 part yellow...or 1 magenta, 1 turquoise and 1 yellow. I wasn't happy with that either. So I gave in a got a brown dye powder. It made my dyeing a lot easier! I just add primaries to it to get the exact shade I want. For instance if I want golden brown I just add a touch of yellow and red, for chocolate brown I add black...etc. The dyes powders I work with are all the primaries plus brown and black. So if you're not happy with equal amounts of the primaries then I would recommend adding one standard brown dye to your inventory. It's totally worth it!

  4. Hi Laurs!
    Woolbunny here =) Thanks so much for posting such a wonderfully informative post about dyeing.

    You have a great sense of colour which is why I keep coming back to buy stuff from you even though I dye fiber too!

    I can only hope to learn and your blog post is certainly a great place for me to start.