Fiber - Textile History from Straw Into Gold

Instructions for Use of Acid Levelling Dyes
(Kiton Type) for dyeing yarn or fiber - wool dyeing

by Susan Druding


These instructions were originally written by Susan Druding for use with Spectrum Dyes and for her dye classes. Spectrum Dyes was the brand name used by Straw Into Gold for its dyes which are no longer sold. This class of dyes, Acid Levelling, are still in use under a variety of names. If the dye is for wool, nylon or protein fibers and calls for heat, acid, and is able to level (ie. spread itself evenly over fibers to reduce streaking) - then chances are it is an acid levelling type.
Note: Straw into Gold no longer sells dyes. Check current issues of various fiber magazines for suppliers of dyes.

These instructions are not to be reprinted in any form, including electronically, except for personal use without permission from the author. Susan Druding copyright 1982 [email cpyinfo at - replace the 'at' with @ for emailing]

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| Using Percent Method | Dyeing Procedure | Dye Safety | Historical Note | Bottom of page |


Short Method

The Short Method is for those who want to dye yarn or fabric without particularly controlling the exact color or intensity for repeatabIe resuIts. They keep everything very simple and are not meant to allow matching colors or keeping detailed records. But, please read the complete instructions under the section Long Method since some dyeing techniques are not repeated here.

  1. Be sure whatever being dyed is clean and wet when it goes into the dyepot.
  2. This recipe is for one pound of fabric, yarn or fiber (dry weight). Adjust additives in proportion to dry weight of what is being dyed. Thus, for one-half pound, add half the indicated amount of dye, acid and water. (Accuracy is not important if the only requirement is "getting some color." "Kitchen funky" methods such as this usually result in deep shades and intense colors.) But using too much dye is not only wasteful of dye, but will result in colors that bleed or crock (rub off) so use this method to estimate quanitites of dye to use.
  3. Put one-fourth to one-third ounce dye powder into a cup or glass and add a small amount of warm water and stir into a paste. Be careful not to make lumps (sort of like making gravy or cocoa from scratch). Add more water to dissolve and thin the paste.
  4. In an enamel or stainless steel pot (do not use aluminum) put about two gallons of lukewarm tap water. Put the dissolved dye paste into this water and stir to distribute it well. (This proportion of 1/4th to 1/3rd gives a medium dark shade with most colors, add even less for lighter shades, slightly more for heavy shades. To get a true black use one ounce dye per pound of fiber.)
  5. Put in the soaking wet, clean items. Press them down into the water with a sturdy stirring rod such as a wooden dowel and leave them soaking for 10 minutes with no added heat. Turn the burner on medium and gradually heat the solution for another 10 minutes. At this stage, don't let the temperature go over 120 to 130 degrees F.
  6. Add two cups white vinegar for each pound of fiber (one cup for one-half pound etc.) OR two ounces (four Tablespoons) 56 per cent acetic acid first diluted in two cups of water. Stir gently for five minutes, then stir gently every four to five minutes for the next 30 to 60 minutes or until desired color is reached. The temperature of the water should reach at least 185 to 190 degrees F or dye uptake will not be good. It is best to have the pot boil or simmer (212 degrees F) as long as the temperature was reached gradually. Wool will not felt if it isn't stirred too hard and temperature changes aren't too sudden.
  7. Dye take up should be complete (the water clear) unless too much dye was used or unless the fibers were removed to keep them from getting too dark. Leftover dye in the pot can be used for other dyeing. See long method instructions.
  8. Let the fibers cool, then wash gently in warm soapy water. These dyes will not stain sinks or pots. Rinsing and washing is easy unless way too much dye was used.

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Long Method - aka : Stock Solution Technique

For best color control and ability to reproduce colors.

Acid Levelling dyes are recommended for all protein fibers such as wool and mohair, plus nylon and acid-dyeable acrylics (often used in wool blends). Acid dyes work on silk, but are not as washfast as they are on wool. For best washfastness on silk, use fiber reactive dyes.

Acid Levelling dyes (Kiton type) are set with either acetic acid or vinegar (five per cent acetic acid). In addition, Glauber Salts (sodium sulfate, a retarder), and commercial levelling agents such as Dispersol are useful in helping to prevent streaks. Acetic acid, available at photo or chemical supply outlets, is the least expensive choice when doing large quantities of dyeing. Vinegar may be any type, but plain white vinegar is cheapest in gallons. Glacial (98 per cent) acetic, should be diluted to half or quarter strength to use. When diluting acid, remember to pour the acid into water NOT water into acid. Glacial acetic is quite safe when handled carefully. Glaubers Salts and other levelling agents are usually available where dyes are sold, ask your dye supplier.

Equipment & Supplies

Before Dyeing

Make sure all yarns are completely wet and clean to allow dye to penetrate evenly with no streaks. All yarns and fabrics need to be washed before dyeing. Liquid dish detergent or Synthrapol cleans and acts as a wetting agent. It's not crucial to completely rinse after using Synthrapol as it is neutral.

Leave yarns soaking in warm water until ready to dye. A little tag of folded over on itself masking tape makes a good label. Write firmly on it with regular ball point pen or washfast pen, making a dark impression. It will last through the dyeing. Remember to weigh the yarns before wetting them. The amount of dye used is determined by the weight of the yarn so it is important to know the dry weight of the yarn. If necessary, the weight of soaking wet yarn divided by four is close to the dry weight.

Into the dyepot, put enough water to comfortably cover the yarn - or use a 20:1 "dye liquor ratio." This means put in 20 times the weight of the material to be dyed in water. A gallon of water weighs eight pounds. A pint weighs 16 ounces (one pound). Thus, one pound of yarn or fiber needs 20 pounds of water to dye it evenly, or two and one-half gallons. The more crowded the material is in the dyepot, the more likely it is to streak. Thus using too little water causes uneven dyeing. If streaking is desired, crowd the pot, using as little water as possible. For tiny samples in saucepans, use a ratio of 30:1 or more to get enough water depth to cover the sample being dyed with water.


Stock Solutions

To make a stock solution, dissolve one-half ounce of dye powder in one quart of tap water. First make the dye into a smooth paste and then add warm water to make one quart. Using a disposable plastic glass allows you to get the powder into paste first with water and then transfer the diluted paste to a quart jar. Label both bottle and lid. Lacking an accurate scale, one ounce of dye can be visually divided by spreading it evenly on creased waxed paper or tin foil and dividing it in half by length. Dye stock solutions keep for weeks or months. No refrigeration is necessary for acid dyes. If dye settles out a little in the jar, just set it in a pan of water and heat slowly. If mold or scum forms (a rare occurrence), simply skim or strain it with a paper towel, but be aware that it may change the strength of the solution. Dry dye powder keeps indefinitely.

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Depth of Color

* Important Concept * Percent of Color *

The intensity of the color of yarn is described as a percent of the weight of the yarn.
A two per cent color means that the amount of dye on the yarn is two percent of its weight. Thus, a 100 gram skein of yarn dyed to a two percent color depth would have two grams of dye on it (i.e. put in the dye pot).

All dyes, not just Acid Wool Dyes, are adjusted so that 0 to 5 % (some up to 6 %) covers the range of possible intensity of color from the palest of shades to the deep shades. By using stock solutions, very tiny amounts of dye, impossible to weigh on even the most expensive of scales or balances, are measureable.

For example, if one-half ounce of dye powder is put in 32 ounces of water (one quart), then every ounce of stock solution taken out (two Tablespoons) contains one-sixty fourth of an ounce of dye (1/32nd X 1/2 oz. = 1/64th oz.). Or, one teaspoon (which is one-sixth of an ounce of liquid) contains one-three hundred eighty-fourth of an ounce of dye (1/6th X 1/64th oz. = 1/384th oz.)

A recommended Stock Solution for developing sample colors is 1/2 ounce of dye in one quart of water. For this strength stock solution the following table may be used for calculating the percent of dye per one ounce of yarn or fiber being dyed. You may want to copy this table onto a 3 x 5" card and put it on the wall near your dye stove.


Percent Color Table

                                                   For One Ounce Yarn

  Percent Color         Appearance               Amt of Stock Solution

                                              (1/2-oz dye per quart water)

     .25 prcent         very pale                         1 tsp

     .50 prcent           pastel                          2 tsp

     1.0 prcent        lt. med. shade                     4 tsp

     2.0 prcent           medium                          8 tsp

     3.0 prcent        medium dark                    12 tsp (4 Tblspoon)

     4.0 prcent        deep shade                     16 tsp (5 Tblspoon)

     Black is an exception. 

     Use 6 % for a full black, i.e. 24 tsp (8 TBLspoons) per ounce of yarn.

Notice that there are variations in strength from color to color.
For example, in the original Spectrum Kiton Wool Dye series the turquoise and magenta were especially strong, the blue and red slightly less so. This means mixing each color with yellow to form greens and oranges will require differing amounts of yellow in proportion. I recommend you always start with yellow and add very small amounts of other colors until the desired shade is reached. Keep good records. Each color has its own "personality" and it will soon become "known."

A good way to begin is to make a set of samples of each color in your set of unmixed Acid Dye colors at .25 through 4.0 percent to allow you to see what each color does by itself. Then do a set of 2ndary colors: green, orange, purple by combining pairs of your primary colors. You need to know the difference between a green mixed with blue and yellow as compared to one mixed with turquoise and yellow.

Start a notebook or set of 5x6" index cards right away, tape a yard of your sample color and note the Percent of Dye used for each color. These are invaluable when you collect them and will help you "aim" at new colors much more accurately.

If you plan to dye nylon or silk, the formulas will not look the same. You need a different set of samples for these fibers. Even mohair (which takes dye more deeply than wool) will have a different color appearance.

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  1. Into the pot, put lukewarm tap water and the calculated amount of dye stock solution.
  2. Add 20 per cent Glauber Salts (according to weight of material). (20 per cent equals one teaspoon of Salts per ounce of yarn.)
  3. Add wetted yarn.
  4. Immediately begin stirring gently while raising temperature gradually to 160 to 170 degrees F.
  5. Add acetic acid. With 56 per cent acetic add 1/2 teaspoon per ounce of yarn. With vinegar add 2 Tablespoons per ounce of yarn.
  6. Stir continually and gently for the next three to four minutes and let the temperature continue to rise slowly to a simmer with occasional stirring.
  7. Hold the material at a true simmer (205 to 212 degrees F.) for 30 to 60 minutes more. Many colors will completely exhaust (leave colorless) the dye pot. Dyes will not totally exhaust when using Gauber Salts or when dyeing very deep colors-(four to six per cent).
  8. Wash and rinse dyed material well in hot soapy water. Roll in towel or spin dry in a washing machine, but don't let the spray cycle spray on them. Avoid drying in direct or hot sunlight.

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