Revival When You Dye


Often, all you need to do to renew your old knitted, crochet or woven items is to dye them. Dyeing will give them a new lease on life. Often a beautiful item that you have found at an op shop will also look better if it’s dyed.

We don’t really know when people started dyeing fabric and yarn. There’s certainly evidence that people dyed their clothes as far back as the Bronze age in Europe.

Dyeing can be done at any stage of the making of an item—fibre, yarn, fabric or the finished item.

If a dye is to take properly and be colourfast, then you have to select the proper dye for the material to be dyed, and select the best method for dyeing the fibre, yarn or fabric. Some dyes also need a mordant—a substance which ‘fixes’ the dye to the fabric.

One of the problems with recycled clothing or yarn is that you don’t always know what the yarn or fabric was made of.

Was it 100% wool?

Did it have some acrylic or silk mixed in there?

When dyeing an item that you’re not sure about, the best thing to do is to think of it as an adventure! The results may surprise you. You may have a beautifully dyed item, but the zips don’t dye. You may end up with a garment where the stitching dyes a different shade from the rest. If this doesn’t matter, then go for it!


Types of dyes


Natural Dyes

There are many types of dyes. The dyes we get from flowers, nuts, berries and other forms of vegetables and plants (as well as from animal and mineral sources) are known as natural dyes. We’ll be looking at natural dyes in future issues of Yarn magazine.

Synthetic Dyes

Other dyes are known as synthetic dyes. These are based on a particular type of chemical composition. The main ones are acid (anionic) dyes, basic (cationic) dyes, direct dyes, vat dyes, reactive dyes, pigment dyes, all-purpose dyes etc. Each variety is suitable for dyeing certain materials using different processes.

You have to pick the right sort of dye for the fabric or yarn that you are dyeing.

The dyes that are readily available will have instructions on them, and will tell you which fabrics and methods of dyeing they are suitable for.


Here’s a guide, as seen in Yarn issue 56, you can print off and keep: Fibre Guide to Dyeing



Check the METHOD of dyeing as well as the type of dye. With some dyes, especially acid dyes, the fabric or yarn must be able to withstand some agitation, and must be able to be washed in warm or hot water. You don’t want the yarn or fabric to shrink or felt.


By Elayne Watson (Yarn issue 56)




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