My first acid dyeing experience

I’ve wanted to try acid dyeing for a long time.. Being the great pre-planner that I am, I bought all the books, read them, imagined myself going through the motions and… froze in panic.

It wasn’t that I likened dyeing to quantum physics, it’s just that there’s always a part of me that believes things to be much more complicated than they really are before I begin, and often dismisses my ability to create nice things when the end results don’t come naturally in my brain. In this case, I was already considering myself a probable failure even before I begun. Great.

I was afraid of the powder dyes, because they are toxic if inhaled, and I have asthma; I needed a mask, but what type, and what if I chose the wrong one? Where would I heat up the wool or yarn, and how about toxic fumes? Would I have to buy another microwave? Could I find a big enough pot for a reasonable price, and could I find more than one type? Where would I keep all this stuff, plus the dye stock? In no time, my creativity was paralysed by fear, sadly most of it having to do with lack of storage space and possibly talent.

Bottom line, I’m a big baby, but one day I just wake up and throw caution to the wind. Took me a few months (gasp!) but I got there. After reading extensively on the subject again. After pestering people who were more experienced than I, and had the patience to put up with my insomnia-ridden silly questions. I just went for it. Sort of. Cautiously and dreading the results.

My dye stock, all ready for use. Only took me like four months to make it.

My dye stock, all ready for use. Only took me around four months of planning to make it.

Deciding on the project I wanted – creating a colour wheel with only three primary colours – I set up making twelve 25-yard mini lace weight skeins to play with. Then, I had to soak them in an acid solution to open up the wool’s scales. This helps the yarn take up dye better, and wet fibres dye more evenly than dry ones.


Whilst the skeins were soaking, I had to prepare the dye stock and calculate how much of it I needed. I confess to being nervous for this step, because it involved the things I dislike: careful planning, maths, and invisible nasty airborne powders. But, with the help of my trusty book, I went ahead and did everything.
I know a lot of you dyers don’t use maths when working, but I wanted repeatable results, so I had to be very precise. I weighed my dry yarn, found out how much dye I needed, and how much water to place in the jar.


Here is a glimpse of my work space, and the primary colours I used. If you want to get technical, I made a 1% stock solution, meaning there’s 1% dye for 99% water; this seems to be the most common dye stock, but if I wanted a darker colour, I might need a 2% or even 4% dye solution (this is especially true for black).


I decided on steam setting the yarn, which means placing the goods inside jars for that. Needless to say, all the items you use for acid dyeing need to be kept solely for that purpose. I only had three, so I could only make three colours at a time. The photo bellow shows some tertiary colours, before they were steamed – the dye hadn’t set on the yarn yet.


Then I placed my jars in the stainless steel pot I bought for this purpose, on top of a rack so they didn’t touch the water on the bottom. I turned the heat to a medium, lowering it slightly once it started to steam, and let it ‘cook’ for 30 minutes. After that, I carefully removed the jars, opened them and let them cool down completely before I messed with any of it (this is safer and also makes the colours brighter, I’m told.)


I’m not sure you can tell bellow, but the water is absolutely clear (‘exhausted’), meaning all the dye has been absorbed by the yarn and there’s no waste of stock, which is great for your wallet and the environment. This is possible if you calculate what you need in advance.
This water is still very acidic, so before I threw it away I added some sodium bicarbonate to make it more alkaline (after I removed the yarn). Again, thinking of the environment.


Then came the drying and waiting to see the final result. I was very happy with the way the colours came out. They weren’t so solid that they resembled commercial yarns, but they weren’t too pastel, either. If I used a 2% dye stock I’m sure I’d get a deeper colour saturation.


Finally, here’s all 12 skeins together. If you know your colour wheel you’ll be able to recognise the positioning of the skeins, with the three primaries having the secondary and tertiary colours in between. All of this with only three colours to begin with!
If you’re interested in the formula, it went something like this: the primaries were 100% the only colour, the secondaries were 50/50 of each primary, the tertiary were 25/75 of a primary and a secondary.



Have you ever tried acid dyeing? What results did you get, and what recommendations do you have for a newbie like me?






26 responses to “My first acid dyeing experience

  1. love the soft shades! what have you got planned for the lace weight yarn now its all scrummy colours? you must believe in your awesome skills more, you have a fantastic talent for working with wool in so many ways, glad you threw caution to the wind! Nikki xxxxx

    • Thanks, Nikki 😊 I’m blushing from all the compliments… These mini skeins will now be my samples, I’ll just keep them as a colour reference so I’ll remember what I get using certain proportions of primaries.

    • Thanks, Ruth! It did take me a while, didn’t it? But I did enjoy it all, so here’s doping I’ll get to play with colours more soon!

  2. Great results Leonor! All that angst for nothing. 🙂 now there’s no stopping you.

    • Thanks! Unfortunately these will remain as they are, a sample of the colours I can get with these particular dye proportions, but I do intend to dye up some more stuff to play with! 😊

  3. I have always wanted to experiment with dyes and never did, also pretty frozen in place, scared I would make a mess, end up dyeing the laundry room and ruin garments. Maybe I will reconsider. Your results are awesome.

    • If you’re anything like me, you’ll need to plan things ahead in your head before you dive in, but it’s really a lot of fun once you begin. Give it a go 😊

  4. I’m the same, Leonor, weeks (or more) or working out what to do, planning, then getting everything out, being meticulous… then I usually discover something like the colour is too weak or I have too much dye left and hunt around trying to find anything to use it up 🙂 I do prefer the acid dyes/dyeing wool and silk etc, less waste 🙂

    • I hope all that planning works well for you (you do get beautiful colours out of your fibres), better than mine! 😃

      • Looking at the mess, I’d say no 🙂 Your colours are great, you mixed them really well, I think the browns and less saturated tones I tend to go for seem to suit a lot of the fibres and show up their sheen.

  5. I’m really impressed by your method and your results – they look gorgeous! I rainbow dye using acid dyes (you can see my results on my blog) – and like you, I worry about inhaling the dust from the acid dyes and the pollution of the environment. Sadly, I always have some colour in my water when I throw the exhaust away – so I am particularly impressed with your maths and your method which results in clean exhaust!

    • Thanks, Katherine! 🙂 It’s really less impressive if you take into account that I followed the formulas to a T, which meant everything should have come out right. I’ve been dyeing a bit more, and lately have just “winged” the amount of dye to add, but I’m happy to say the water is still clear – this means I might not be adding enough dye to completely saturate the fibre, but it’s still coming out quite bright!

      It’s so addictive, isn’t it? I just wish I didn’t have to look like a mad scientist when I’m mixid dye stock 😀

  6. I recently started using acid dyeing to dye my wool before felting and I was also a bit nervous before starting. It turned out that I loved it though – I am a science teacher so it was the perfect combination of science and art! The first few times I did it though, I rushed the step where the wool soaks in the fixer and the dye all came off when I rinsed it. I also use a microwave to ‘cook’ my wool which is very quick, just takes a few minutes. Have you thought about trying that? Also, I didn’t know the point about allowing the wool to cool down completely before rinsing to make the colours brighter – I’ll definitely try that next time!
    Great post, thanks for sharing.
    Shona 🙂

    • Hi, Shona, thanks for commenting! 🙂
      Dyeing wool is such a fun activity, isn’t it? I wonder why isn’t everyone doing it…
      When you say fixer, do you mean the acid, as in citric acid or vinegar?
      I’d love to use a microwave, but unfortunately I live in a very small flat and there’s no more space for an appliance dedicated to just dyeing :/
      Yes, letting it cool down in the water will allow the fibres to soak up more dye, so it comes out much brighter and exhausts the dye much better, too – win win!

      Thanks for reading! 🙂

      • It is so much fun! I’m always amazed how professional and beautiful the wool looks when it is finished. Yeah I meant the citric acid – I was in a hurry and didn’t leave it for long enough. But I’ll know for next time 🙂

        Thanks for the tip about allowing it to cool – I had read that you should allow it to cool in the instructions but assumed that was just a safety point. Ooops. Definitely will try that next time!


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