There are only two secrets to dyeing your own threads: The first is, start with 100% cotton or wool threads such as DMC or Anchor brand embroidery floss. The second is, use plain old RIT dye, usually available at your local supermarket or department store!
My method is very simple and lots of fun. I finished an entire batch in no time, and the pictures throughout this tutorial represent my very first try at dyeing my own threads. Be stout of heart, because your own threads will turn out wonderful. So let's get going!
Since I was a true beginner at this type of thing, I started with a single color of tan RIT dye. I'll get into other colors later in this tutorial and tell you how you can manipulate golden yellows and tangerines and scarlet and cranberry into your dyeing process. But for my first attempt at dyeing, I chose to keep it simple and wanted the resulting thread colors to be somewhat vintage and muted, but still very interesting. Here are the materials I used:
- RIT dye (either liquid or powder)
- 100% cotton embroidery floss in several different colors (cheap, readily-available embroidery floss, that is)
- Common table salt
- Very hot water
- A glass bowl or large coffee cup that can be used in the microwave
- Rubber gloves from the grocery store
HERE WE GO!
- Cover your work surface with plastic or some other type of waterproof material so it can't be ruined by the dye.
- Heat 10 or 15 cups of water (this doesn't have to be an accurate measurement--we're just heating some water here). Add a half to three-quarters cup of salt and bring the water to a boil.
- Wearing your rubber gloves, place about a cup of water (more or less) into the bowl or cup you are using for dyeing. Add approximately a tablespoon of the RIT liquid or powder dye, and stir until it is completely mixed and dissolved. It is important that you work with very hot water, so be careful not to burn yourself.
- You can over-dye your floss to be a solid color, but if you want interesting intensity variations like you see in my photos, remove the paper labels and tie a knot in your skeins of floss, like shown in the picture below. This is the same principle used in tie-dyeing shirts: the knot resists the dye and you will get wonderful streaks and deviations in the floss.
- One at a time, dip your skeins in the dye for a short time, usually less than a minute. You can pull it out of the dye to check the intensity and then put it back in if you would like it darker. Be sure you keep your dye and water mixture very hot. You can stick it in the microwave to reheat if necessary. When a skein is dyed to your liking, take it to the sink and run it under cold water until the water runs clear. Lay the floss out to dry and then untie the knot in the middle (it's just plain easier to wait until it's dry!).
There are endless colors, variations and intensities that can result from different dye combinations, how long you immerse the floss in the dye, whether you tie a knot in the skein prior to dyeing and other factors. RIT has a great color chart and interactive recipe picker on its website at http://www.ritdye.com/colorit_color_formula_guide, so be sure to check out all the wonderful combinations you can make when you dye your threads. After I dyed my first batch of threads in RIT tan dye, I was hooked and enjoyed dipping my flosses in first one color and then another, or using an eye-dropper to saturate certain areas of my floss with more color, etc. For instance, I tied a knot in a skein and dyed it in dark cranberry, and then dipped the ends in deep orange--just yummy!
Relax . . .You Can't Make a Mistake!
Remember, if you don't like a result, put the skein aside to re-dye it later. Also, be sure to let your skeins dry thoroughly before you decide you don't like something--they will look completely different when they are dry. Here are some other tips and tricks I think you'll find helpful:
- Keep in mind that dark flosses yield a more subtle color variance and light-colored flosses produce more variations.
- When mixing dyes, start with lighter colors first and then add darker colors a little at a time.
- If you absolutely hate a skein you have dyed, dip it in a bleach/water solution to remove most of the RIT dye. Rinse it well and then re-dye it later.
- Use your microwave to keep your dye pots HOT so the dye will bond to the threads.
- If you choose to tie a knot in the skein prior to dyeing, the knot does not have to been excessively tight--the choice is up to you!
- Try adding tan, brown or black to colors like cranberry, tangerine or denim blue to get a muted, primitive look.
- Use an eye-dropper to deposit more intensity or different colors on a single skein of floss.
- Keep a pot of hot water on the stove so you can change colors quickly (just dump the old and make a new combination).
- If you find a color combination you really love, write it down and be sure to dye enough floss to finish your project.
- Consider dyeing other 100% cotton threads, such as DMC perle cotton thread or cotton or wool yarn.
Consider the possibilities of how you'll use your threads! For instance, I used over-dyed embroidery floss and DMC perle cotton floss to embellish the pillow in my new "Crazy Neighbors" pattern. It was so much fun watching the thread colors mutate and change throughout the pillow!
I also used over-dyed embroidery floss in my punch needle embroidery pattern "Home". The color variations made the background striking and much more interesting than if I had used plain floss . . .
I hope this tutorial opens up the world of over-dyeing your own threads. It's like an endless box of watercolors where nothing you make is a mistake! Now get out your dye pots and let's be Happy Stitchin'! xoxo--Melanie