Get Ready for Dyeing

Get Ready for Dyeing

So you are ready to get dyeing yarn and fiber. It is hands down the most frequently asked question I get at UrbanGypZ. It is also a series of classes that I am working up as an offering. I am so excited to share with you guys.

I also knew that I needed to emphasize the need for some studio safety and some considerations you should have when pulling your supplies together and setting up your space. today I want to touch on some major considerations you should have when setting up your space. And some of the first steps for you to take to get ready


Where will it all go down

This is a big deal. However you do not need some crazy dye kitchen with equipment (one can dream…). Most of us are stuck with the options of a standard kitchen, maybe a garage or carport, and maybe some back yard space. You might have a nice basement space with a utitily sink.

No matter where you decide to play, the absolutely most important thing the space should have is ventilation.


I am talking a way to move steam riddled with dye chemicals out and fresh air in. A stove hood is great, a window with a fan is great. Outdoors is ideal. You will also need water access with a hot water hook up. Like a normal sink. I personally do not like using a utility sink because they are way too deep for my short body frame. When rinsing yarn and fiber, the less I have to bend over to reach the bottom of the sink, the better for my back. Washing and rinsing in smaller batches is way more manageable and will prevent felting. You also do not need a stove in your space, although I will go into techniques you can do with your stove and oven. You will need a heat source, but we will go into the different options as they pertain to each class. You will need room to work (like a big table) and space to hang drying skiens and fiber. I often dry mine outside, in the sun on a laundry rack.

Buy this stuff first

Get a really good comfortable face mask. I use this one. This is super important when it comes to mixing your dyes. The dry dye particles are not something you want to breath in. You also will need some gloves. These are just fine, I like these even better(super cheap and disposable). I also love these. Grab an apron, or some dedicated clothing you’d can wear when dyeing. Get a tube of this stuff. It will scrub the dye off your hands. But honestly anything exfoliating will work. Just not sure if my expensive facial scrub is what I would rather use.

Covering surfaces to protect them. When covering surfaces. You not only want to protect them from the dye, you also want to keep the dye from becoming airborne, staining something you don’t want stained. Or worse yet, once again, becoming something you can breathe in. I would suggest investing in a sturdy shower curtain liner (the plastic is stronger and more flexible than drop cloths). Layer sheets of news paper over the shower curtain liner and wet the newspaper with a spray bottle filled with water. This will keep dye powder from becoming airborne if it hits the surface. It will also prevent dried drops of dye from becoming powder again. You will dispose of the newspaper after each dye session (pro tip: those dye stained newspaper sheets make awesome art journaling papers).

If you are dyeing in your kitchen. You are going to have to be extra careful if you have Formica counters and vinyl flooring. They stain so easily. Consider handling dye powder elsewhere if you do. I would use blue painters tape to tape drop cloths to your base boards to protect your floors.

How to schedule your dye sessions.

I found out the hard way that it is not healthy to dye yarn in long sessions day after day. As vigilant as you may be, you will be exposed to dye chemicals. Your body will need a break in between sessions. So, even though you may feel fine. Give your body an opportunity to reset. Drink lots of water and take walks in the fresh air breathing deeply. Get lots of rest. Aim for no more than twice a week. Once a week is even better. This is really important. Don’t skip this.

Art journaling your adventure

If you follow me at all, you know I am really big on keeping an art journal especially if you are creating a body of work. And no matter how you decide to keep your art journal, you will want it to hold inspirations and or to take notes of what you did with snippets of yarn and fibers for reference. I have to admit I rarely kept dye notes, but did keep dye inspirations and note for working out colorway ideas. In this learning phase either way you will want record of what is and is not working either visually or technically. So go ahead and found that dedicated book. I will talk more in the classes about what you can journal for that class.

Up coming classes

When I sat down to hammer out this offering, there were so many things I could teach. There are a million different ways to dye yarn and fiber. And there is also a set of basic information that will apply across all methods. The basics are super important as are the safety concerns. And I really want you to have that information no matter what. I am going to give you some super across the board basics. Kind of like my weaving series, it will be enough for you to dive into dyeing on a super basic level. I will offer more in depth techniques and more dye theories that are illustrated by the individual techniques. These lessons will help you dive deeper into observing how dye and fiber react in different ways, really learn how to use those observation to find unique colorways that are an expression of your art and hopefully spark other ways you can adapt that info to your own methods. I think individual techniques classes will let you pick and chose what you want to learn, as well as keep classes as affordable as you need them to be. And honestly it will give me the space to deliver thoughtful thorough information to you.

And of course, If you want to get notice when the dye classes go live, sign up here

Sign Up for the UrbanGypZ Fiber Arts Collective


Natural Dyes vs. Chemical Dyes

I get asked about natural dyes ALL THE TIME. And straight up, I don’t do them. So I usually just do not have a lot of info about natural dyes. Hey I get it. There is something deliciously romantic about going all homesteader, foraging plants, and using them to dye your handspun yarn. And what’s not to love… beautiful natural, organic vs. chemicals.

As you may or may not know I am pulling together some dye classes. And while natural dyeing is one of the most requested techniques. However, It is not one I will be giving instructions for. But I did however want to give a nod to natural dyeing. So today, fiberista, I am going to share with you my 2 big fat reasons why I took natural dyeing out of the picture when I first started to consider dyeing my own yarn and fibers, as well as some resources I would go to if I ever decide to try natural dyeing (because never say never…right?).

Comparing the toxins
Neither chemical or natural dyes are ideal. Chemicals are…well…chemical. it is really possible to have a chemical overload if you dye a lot of fiber over time even if you are meticulous in your safety precautions. It happened to this master dyer. But overall, the chemical dyes are non toxic. I know it seems counterintuitive, but natural dyes are not as mundane. Most of what you can use to dye are actually food stuffs. But then there are some things that are not, like logwood and cochineal. These can be poisonous. And of course these poisonous things produce the most awesome colors….damn you Murphy’s law.

When these chemical dyes are formulated they are regulated and must meet certain safety standards particularly in the case of the heavy metals added to the dye. These metals are called mordants and help the dye stick to the fiber. These same heavy metals are what you add to natural dyes as mordants. But you are handling these mordants in unregulated quantities and at your own risk. For me it is not that taking precautions to do natural dyeing were impossible, but to do so weekly and in the scale needed for a yarn business was not something I wanted to tackle. I know myself to be not terribly meticulous or tidy, so natural dyeing was just risky for me. There is a big responsibility not just to yourself and those in your household, but to the waterways and the environment when using doing home dyeing. Good classes and resources will spend a lot of time going over all the safety risks and precautions. Heed them, without fail, not matter which method you choose.While you may not see the effects of mishandling dye stuffs now, you may years from now and regret it big time.

Comparing the dye results.
I love retina searing color. Colors not found in nature. Straight up I chose chemical dyes because of the color range. Natural dyes however produce some of the loveliest muted shades of colors. You can get some vibrancy with natural dyes, but those dye stuffs and mordants need to be handled with extreme and vigilant care as well as a lot of patience. It takes a while for natural dye colors to deepen. Chemical dyes however are pretty quick. I can easily dye up several batches in the same dye pot within a day.

There are also environmental effects on colors to consider. I had an office mate who took a 2 week natural dye class intensive at the ivy league of craft schools, Penland. She came home with a beautiful binder filled with swatches she had created with her class mates while there, each with meticulous notes and measurements. I poured over the colors as she told stories of her experience. As I turned the last page she said…”and now I have to make this all over again using my own water source.” You see the water source in Penland is totally different that Asheville despite being just up the mountain. Those tiny differences can have a huge effect on the color. As can the source of your dye stuffs, the season the dye stuffs were grown, the pot you use, many things. Now granted, I am all about being at the mercy of what ever your creative efforts produce. Little variations can be like little gifts. So, those variation are not necessarily a bad thing, but if you have a product that relies on predictable results, then you just need to be aware of how these variations will play into what you might possibly get. This is often done with meticulous note taking.

Chemical dyes can be affected by environmental variations as well, but not as extreme. For the most part chemical dyeing is pretty predictable. I am more of a from the hip kind of girl. I never took notes when I dye yarn, I hated the left brainy-ness of that. And fortunately chemical dyes were more forgiving to my lack of note taking and the way I like to dye.

So , you see, while natural dyeing is super popular right now, it’s just not my thing. That doesn’t mean I am not about you diving in. Hell, maybe one day I will join the natural dying band wagon. But, for now, it is not something I am going to cover in my dye classes. Here are the natural dyeing resources I would recommend.

I found this awesome ebook on ETSY, she seems to have found a great mordant alternative that is not as toxic. If I were to do natural dyes, this is where I would start.

I love me some Ninja Chickens! This podcast shows you how they are doing it!

If you want to really immerse yourself in natural dyeing, you can’t go wrong with these craft school courses

And of course, Dharma Trading has some killer tutorials

If you want to geek out over the chemistry of both natural and chemical dyes here are two good articles, they are also the articles where I sourced much of the info I used here.

Mordants and Natural Dyeing, The Great Debate

And of course, If you want to get notice when the dye classes go live, sign up here

Sign Up for the UrbanGypZ Fiber Arts Collective


Making Fiber Art: It is all in the details

Making Fiber Art: It is all in the details

Check this out. This is my most recent yarn…

It was made from this fiber I dyed a couple of weeks ago. The first in the new dye space.

So this fiber was a miss mash of mill ends, farm wool, angora from my late great bunnies, and sole roving ends. I could not tell you what breeds of wool was in there. This was in a box and I just needed it dealt with as opposed to actually having to sort it into the organized stash. I did not even bother to card it all together. I just dumped it into the dye pot. It was my first run in the new dye space and I just needed to see if my set up needed tweaking. When I spun it up, I just divided the whole batch in half and set about spinning it up into a mindless two ply I could make while watching a movie and using my espinner.

There is something about the mishmash of subtle textures that is just awesome. Look closely, you can see a sheen from a mixed fiber containing silk, some fuzz from the angora, rich colors where the dye strike was deeper in one type of wool compared to another. There was also a good bit of white in this batch. I know so many dyers hate having white in their batches. I think the white provides a much needed separation in some of the colors. The white also affects the range of values for the colors, adding a lot of depth within the yarn.

Check this Superwash BFL dyed and spun similarly. While this is a lovely even yarn, there is something predictable about every inch of the texture. And there is nothing wrong with that. It is interesting how just the subtle difference in the wools of my recent yarn adds so very much interest was. This yarn was also dyed with no white, and a smaller range of colors that were within the same value.

You can see while these yarns are similar, the subtle differences will affect how I use each skein.

While I love this new yarn and I am all about art weaving lately, I have to admit, I do not think this new skien would be best suited for art weaving. I think the texture would get lost against the warp (I am not a big fan of weft face weaving). There is a lot going on within one skien, so there is not much need to add to that visual language with other yarn. I really would like to use this skien in some knitting. But chances are I will need to add come other skiens to stretch the yardage for a project. Those yarns will need to just amplify what is already going on in this skien, be it a color, of texture. That may be as a compliment or a contrast.

The BFL skien however would be great in some art weaving. It has a subtle enough variegation to make a weaving section to work in concert with other sections and a panel as a whole.

So yeah, for me fiber art is not necessarily about high end materials or even the techniques I use, as much as it is finding the the ways to show off the best part of each material and technique in a whole piece. You kind of have to really get down to the details of your work and how each bit contributes to the aesthetic of the whole. It is really not that different from what you may be doing as a hobby knitter/crocheter/weaver, It is really all about being thoughtful and observing how each of your choices affect your project as a whole.

Want to know more about how to take turn your knitting/crocheting/weaving hobby into honest to god fiber art? I am hatching a new offering. Sign up here to get updates and notices for when these lessons go live.