Fiber - Textile History & Techniques from Straw Into Gold


A Simple Method of One-Pot, Multi-Color Dyeing
with Acid Wool Dyes on Protein (Wool, Silk, Nylon) Fibers


  1. To Prepare Stock Solutions:

  2. Measure dye powder into jar. Use 1/2 oz. for a quart jar or 1/4 oz. for a pint.
    Caution: do not inhale dye powders.
  3. Add warm tap water to powder a little at a time, stir carefully to make a smooth paste.
  4. Generally add enough warm water to make up a quart of solution (or pint).
  5. Additional Information: Most stock solutions keep for months, be sure to label bottle and lids with color name and date, show type of dye.

To Dye:

  1. Build up a "head of steam" in the pot.
    1. Fill bottom of pot with 2 inches of water.
    2. Add 1 cup of vinegar or 5 tsp. of Acetic Acid (56%) or 3 tsp's. of Glacial 98% Acetic Acid.
    3. Put rack in pot, cover pot with tightly fitting lid. Add weight on top of lid if necessary to hold lid down tightly (such as a brick).
    4. Heat pot. Caution: Avoid burns by removing lid with care and wearing oven glove.
  2. Mix "pouring colors" in plastic cups. Use 1-3 cups of "pouring colors" per batch.
    1. Basic Recipe:
      1. Fill cup half full of water.
      2. Add 1 to 8 Tblsp's of dye stock solutions (1 Tblsp for pastels, 8 Tblsp's for dark colors).
      3. Add either 3 Tblsp's vinegar or 1 tsp acetic acid to each cup
    2. Single color method: Add different amounts of the same color dye stock to each cup. For example: 1 Tblsp to 1st cup, 4 Tblsp's to 2nd cup, 8 Tblsp's to 3rd cup
    3. Multi-color method: Add different color to each cup. Try using colors equidistant from each other on the color wheel (triads). For example: add scarlet or magenta to 1st cup, yellow to second cup, turquoise or blue to 3rd cup.
    4. Additional information: Stock colors may be mixed to make other pouring colors. Use an eye dropper to add small amounts of black or other colors, to shade, for example: shades of one color by putting the same color in each plastic cup, but add no black to the 1st, 6 drops black to 2nd, 20 drops black to 3rd, and 50 drops black to fourth. This helps keep your finished colors more subtle and less garish/tie-dye looking.
  3. Lay fiber on rack in steaming pot. Drizzle 1 or 2 cups of various pouring colors on top of fiber. Put on lid and let steam. More colors may be added in 5-10 mins. Use different drizzle "patterns": figure-8, Z's, S's, H's.
  4. Cover pot and steam for 10-15 mins. Weigh down yarn with dinner plate if pot is not full of yarn or fiber. If pot is tightly filled let steam extra 5-10 mins. Carefully (wear oven mitt) remove lid and check color. Turn fiber over and drizzle on more colors. Steam another 5-10 mins. or more. If you had yarn twisted for "ikat effect" use dowels to untwist for last few minutes of steaming.
  5. Let fiber cool to hand temperature, then rinse well to remove unfixed colors. Wash in warm soapy water with liquid, dishwashing detergent then rinse if you used deep tone colors. Yarns will look their most fluffy if excess water is removed quickly by spinning in washing machine or squeezing in several bath towels.

    These directions were originally written for use with Kiton Wool Dyes, but any Wool Acid levelling type dye will work similarly.

    by Susan Druding and Susie Hodges
    originally published Textile Artists' Newsletter (TAN) V.III no.2 1982

    MORE on dyeing with Kiton or other Acid Levelling Dyes is HERE.