This post includes affiliate links.
This tutorial will teach you how naturally dyed yarn is made easily at home using fruit and vegetable juices, spices and food coloring. The bare yarn that is used is wool, cotton or a wool mixture with nylon from Knit Picks.
I really enjoy looking and feeling hand dyed yarn. And I admire all my amazing crochet friends who either create dyed yarn or show it off on Instagram. Do you know that feeling? It’s Saturday morning, you drink your coffee or tea and sit relaxed in your comfy chair while the sun just rose above the horizon and the sun rays I coming through your window. Your mind drifts while you browse through social media and see all the beautiful pictures of yarn that you wished you had at home?
They are gorgeous, make you feel special when you have them but are so out of your budget, that you feel jealous that others have them.
Now, you finally do not have to feel that way anymore! You can now make your own naturally dyed yarn at home and add them to your yarn stash or use them right away in your next project. You just need some simple ingredients and some bare yarn, which I got graciously from Knit Picks for free to try out this experiment.
I prefer teaching and showing how to create something the easy way. It has taken me weeks to figure everything out before even attempted to try it myself. I was scared to mess it up and it would look awful. Then I reminded myself, that hand-dyed yarn will look beautiful no matter what cause it is made with love.
What Do You Need To Create Dyed Yarn Naturally?
As it is fall season, almost winter actually, that I decided to pick colors that fit perfectly and matched the leaves falling outside. So let’s dive right into the materials I got and used in order to create my own dyed yarn naturally.
- Knit Picks Bare Yarn:
- Large, deep pots or pans (like roasting pans)
- Food Coloring
- Alum (you need 1 Tbs per 100g of wool and 4 Tsp per 100g of cotton yarn)
- Cream of Tartar (you need 1.25 Tsp per 100g of wool yarn)
- Calcium Carbonate (e.g. TUMS, you need 1 Tsp per 100g of cotton yarn)
- cooking thermometer
- spare yarn to tie yarn together
- Grape juice
- Beet juice
- spices (ground mustard seeds, paprika, turmeric)
How To Dye Yarn Naturally with Food
First, before we start to actually dye the yarn, we need to prepare the yarn. In order for all hanks and skeins not to tangle up in the water, they need to be made into big loops and tied up in several spots.
The next step is mordanting the yarn such that it will actually absorb and keep the dyes that we add to them. After doing some research, I read that certain ingredients are used for bare yarn and depend on the fibers they are made of as well as how they will be dyed. My science brain is happy right now. That all makes totally sense.
As all the hanks and skeins were 100g each it was very easy to determine how much alum or cream of tartar (not for cotton) to use (see the material list for the amounts of each). According to Botanical Colors, “cooked” the wool at 180F for about 45 minutes and then the yarn cool down naturally. To give you a better perspective, I had 2-3 skeins per pot during the mordanting process.
Rotate the yarn a bit gently during that process. Be careful with the Preciosa Tonal yarn as it will felt easy. This yarn was not spun before, so it gets felted easily, especially when it is moved fast and during fast temperature changes which is true for all wool yarn, but this one specifically.
For the cotton yarn, I added only alum and “cooked” it for the same amount of time at 110F. As I had trouble making sure the cotton yarn stays inside the water, I added some rocks which prevented the cotton from floating. After 45 minutes I drained the water and added fresh water with broken up TUMS pieces and “cooked” it for about 20 minutes. Again, I let it cool down naturally after that.
I did not rinse any of the yarn after mordanting. I should mention that I used different colored spare yarn to distinguish between the different types of yarn fibers so I will remember later which one is which.
During the cooling process, I prepared my dyeing pots. The two small ones are made with grape juice (half of the bottle in each, please some added water such that the yarn was almost covered). The roasting pan has beet juice and some extra water. I added one of each time of skein to the roasting pan (5 skeins) and added the same skeins (3 to the red pot and 2 to the silver one) to the other pots.
Once the water started boiling (about 180F) I added sprinkles of the spices (paprika, turmeric, mustard) as well as drops of food coloring. I did not stir the yarn around and let it “cook” for about 30 minutes and then took it outside into the sun and let it sit there for about 2 hours.
After that, I watched them all with soapy water (shows you that it is colorfast). Again be careful with the wool so it does not felt (don’t scrub it hard). Then rinse and gently wring the yarn to remove the water and hang it to dry.
Results of Dyeing Yarn with Food
Now that you know how to dye your own yarn with food, I will show you how they look like after I made them into hanks again.
The first picture shows the results of beet juice, spices, and food coloring. You can clearly see the food coloring speckles. But you can also clearly see a big difference between the different skeins of yarn. Remember they were all in the same roasting pan. The Simply Cotton Worsted yarn (far to the right) did not take on much color at all. I assumed that as I had trouble getting it to stay inside the water. Also, the Preciosa Tonal took on most of the pink color of the beet juice as it was the purest yarn of them all. The rest of the wool yarn hanks look very similar. However, the softest yarn is for sure the Swish Worsted and the Felici Worsted.
Now, let’s take a look at the results of the grape juice dyeing experiment. To clarify I added the same amount of food coloring and spices to each of the pots (according to the amount of yarn per pot). As you can see right away, Simply Cotton Worsted took on even less color with the grape juice. Furthermore, the Preciosa Tonal took on a bit less color than the beet juice one. This surprised me. But the rest of the wool yarn skeins look very similar again which does not come as a surprise.
Now that you made the bare worsted weighted yarn into gorgeous looking yarn hanks you can use them to crochet. Check out my free crochet pattern collection where you will properly find one perfect for your hand dyed yarn.
Don’t Judge Me – What here is what I would do differently next time
If I dye my own yarn again, which I will do very likely as it is a lot of fun, I would use beet juice with more food coloring or just food coloring alone. Furthermore, I would try out different natural ingredients such as avocados, beans, flowers etc to get different color combinations.
In addition, I would do more research on how to dye cotton yarn better and have stronger colors. Finally, I would redo the entire process again, but instead of using the above-mentioned mordants, I would try it with vinegar instead and see how the colors would look like then.
I will expand this subject very soon by trying the same yarn dyeing experiment with Koolaid and professional acid dyes. So stay tuned for that. If you sign up for my Newsletter below you will know when the next part is published and available to read and replicate.
If you love this naturally dyed yarn tutorial as much as I do, please use the social media share buttons above or below and share this tutorial link with the world and your friends. They and I will thank you! I promise!