I’ve been wanting to do this tutorial for a while now and FINALLY got around to taking pictures during my process.
If you’ve ever wanted to dye your own embroidery floss or pearl cotton, this is an easy method with great results. I don’t usually dye more than 8 or 10 skeins at a time, so I can control the colors better, but once you get the hang of it, you can probably do a lot more at one time.
Let’s get started!
You will need:
- White, 100% cotton 6-strand embroidery floss or white, 100% cotton pearl cotton (any size). I personally use DMC because I get good results, but feel free to use any brand you want. For this demo, I’ll be using #5 pearl cotton.
- MX/Procion dyes. I use ProChemical mainly, but as long as it’s for cellulose fibers, any brand will work.
- Soda ash. You can get this through any dye seller.
- Synthrapol for rinsing your hand-dyed coton.
- Small plastic containers – one for each color.
- Plastic spoon for mixing – I use plastic baby spoons from the grocery store.
- Measuring spoons – NEVER user dye utensils for food prep!
- Measuring cup – NEVER user dye utensils for food prep!
- Two quart plastic container
- Plastic tray or cardboard box lined with a plastic trash bag
- Old towels
- Cheap acrylic yarn – Honestly, the cheapest stuff you find on the clearance rack is fine.
- Cling wrap
- A couple of cans of vegetables, or two candle sticks, or something that can stand on its own.
- About a yard of tulle. Use a coupon or get it on sale. Any color will do, but make sure it’s tulle and not netting. Also, avoid the kind with glitter on it.
- Sewing machine and thread.
- Apron, rubber/nitrile/dish washing gloves, face mask, eye protection.
AS ALWAYS, WHEN WORKING WITH DRY POWDERS AND CHEMICALS, USE A FACE MASK AND EYE PROTECTION.
Also, I work on an old towel when I dye.
It helps to catch drips and makes clean up WAY easier.
Step 1 – Make a skein.
I just wind a length of pearl cotton around my forearm, kinda like winding a garden hose. How long you need the cotton depends on your project. I usually just count 20-25 revolutions around my forearm, but you can do more or less.You can also wrap your skein around two cans or a knitty noddy if you have one.
Step 2 – Tie off your skein.
Using the acrylic yarn, bind your skein at even intervals around the loop – I usually do four. You don’t want the knots too tight or they will act as a resist and you’ll get white spots without dye – unless that’s what you want, then bind away! Just make them loose enough to slide over the surface of the skein.
Step 3 – Soda soak your cotton
Mix 2 tablespoons of dry soda ash with 1 quart of warm tap water (If you have hard water, use cheap, store-brand distilled water so you don’t have to add a ton of other chemicals) in the 2 quart container. Stir the soda ash until it completely dissolves in the warm water – you’ll know it’s dissolved when the water is slightly milky and you can’t hear any more granules scrape against the bottom of the container. When completely dissolved, place your bound skeins in the solution. Let them soak for at least 15 minutes. SOFTLY agitate them a couple of times during the soaking to make sure they get saturated, but don’t ruin your skein shape.
Step 4 – Make your dye solution
While your skeins are soaking, measure out about 1 cup of tap water into each of your plastic containers (If you have hard water, use store-brand distilled water so you don’t have to add a ton of other chemicals). The number of containers you use will depend on how many colors you want to dye your cotton. Measure out the desired amount of dry dye powder into the containers. If you want a pale color – use about 1/4 teaspoon, for a medium value – use 1/2 teaspoon, for a dark color – use a teaspoon. Please feel free to experiment with the amount you use. These amounts are not in stone and you can get great results just playing with dye amounts. Using the plastic spoons, thoroughly dissolve the dry powder into the water. When all dye solutions are made, set the containers close together.
Step 5 – Dyeing the cotton
Remove one skein from the soda soak and wring it out over the 2 quart container. It needs to be damp, so don’t dry it out. Figure out how you want your dye pattern to run (But seriously, don’t over think this, just have fun!) and place a section of the skein in one of the dye containers. With the other containers close by, dip the remaining sections in the other containers. Let the skein rest on the rims of the containers (If you want a solid color, just drop the entire skein in one color bath). You’ll want to soak the skeins for a few minutes – this allows the color to sink into the fiber and travel up to the rim a little bit. you can manipulate the skein as much as you want to get the color blending you desire.
Once you get the idea, you can start adding more dye containers and more skeins to get a little dye factory going.
Have fun blending colors and dye patterns. Once you have your set up, leave the skeins to soak for about 10 minutes. Make sure to get enough dye liquid on the parts that are resting on the rims.
Step 6 – Batch setting your cotton
Once you have the color you want, and they have been soaking for about 10 minutes, carefully transfer each skein to a plastic tray or box with a trash bag lining it. You can slightly squeeze some excess dye liquid out of the skein, but be careful to wipe your glove before moving over to another color of the skein. You can easily transfer color that way.
Lay them down with out them touching each other. When you have all the skeins laid out on the tray, cover the tray with cling wrap. You’ll want the cling wrap to touch the skeins so they don’t dry out. Keeping them moist while the chemical reaction of the dye bonding to the fiber happens is called batch setting. You’ll want to keep them under the cling wrap for an hour, at least. You can keep them batch setting for up to 24 hours if you want, but I never leave them that long. I usually don’t let them batch for longer than 3 hours just because I’m impatient.
Step 7 – First rinse
After the skeins have batch set, your first rinse will be in the sink. You can get a plastic dishpan and fill it with tap water and do a rinse in that, but you’ll need to change the water every so often. Honestly, I just run the tap with a light stream and rinse under that. You are going to run the skeins, one at a time, under the tap and let the water wash off any excess dye. At this point, you just need to get rid of the bulk of the loose dye. Your water will not run clear at this point, but you will notice that the run-off isn’t as dark as it was when you started. Try squeezing the individual color sections, under the water instead of balling up the skein – this will prevent any back staining of dark colors on light colors. You need to get all the skeins rinsed like this and set them on a towel in single file.
Once they are all lined up, roll up the towel tightly to get out the bulk of liquid in the skeins. Really squeeze them to get them just damp dry.
Step 8 – Machine rinse
Lay the tulle on a table. Place a skein on the tulle with some room around it and sandwich in between another layer of tulle. The pictures I have here are just to show you placement, but when you do this, it will be easier to do one at a time. What is happening is that you are making a one time use rinsing bag for the washing machine. The old standard is to use a lingerie bag, but I find that leaves the skein all tangled and matted. This way does use up a little tulle, but ultimately saves you time on rinsing.
You are going to use a long baste on your sewing machine, with any thread you have (this is a great way to use up oddball bobbins). Sew around each skein with just a little wiggle room. You also need to sew down the center of the skein, in the donut hole, so to speak. This prevents the skein from balling up when in the washing machine. This stitching does not have to be pretty, as you can tell in my pictures. You can do individual bags for each color group, but I have never felt the need to. I get great results just lining them up in a row. You can fill up the width of the tulle with as many skeins as you have.
Make sure to sew COMPLETELY around each skein, backstitching at the start/stop AND down the center. If there is a little hole between the skeins, the loose end will find its way through it, BELIEVE me!
Once the skeins are secure in their tulle cells, toss that puppy in the washing machine on hot with some Synthrapol (Follow mfg. instructions on your brand of Synthrapol). I usually run my wash cycle twice, on hot. I also do some yardage fabric dyeing and toss that in as well. The tulle casing can take a beating in the machine.
After your preferred washes (Do at least two for good measure, more if you are selling your floss), you can throw the tulle package in the dryer. If you want, you can also hang the skeins to dry. Again, I’m impatient, so in the dryer they go. I use medium heat for a “regular” drying cycle in my machine.
When they come out of the dryer, cut around the tulle cells, being careful to not cut the pearl cotton in the process.
Step 8 – Winding your floss
Place the skein around the two cans of vegetables, keeping the skein taut.
CAREFULLY cut the acrylic yarn off of the skeins.
Slowly unwind the skein from the cans as you wind it onto a bobbin or empty spool. I have a die cutter, so I use all these fun die shapes instead of traditional bobbins. You can also just leave it in a skein form if you want.
And there you go.
That’s how I dye my floss/pearl cotton.
Let me know if you try this or have any questions.