I love self patterning yarns.  Not just self striping, but the lovely sock yarns that make all sorts of fancy designs.  I was working with some, and decided to try and dye my own.  It is a little time consuming, but totally fun and worth the effort.


You need some yarn of your choice and weight, that is ready to dye.  The first thing you need to do, is make a gauge swatch.  Isn't it always?  It should be five inches wide or more for this project, but only needs to be 10 rows or so, since we are making socks, and a small gauge difference shouldn't impact it terribly.  It is wise to knit this in the round, if possible.  I knit to the end, then measure out 4.5 lengths of the cast on measurement, then go back to the beginning and knit another row, that way I knit all the rows like I am knitting in the round.  When I swatch for socks, I like to stretch the gauge a bit so that they will fit well, so if you aren't making socks don't do this!

If you want to dye a self patterning yarn for a large project like a sweater, I suggest you do a large swatch of five by five inches, so that you can really nail down your gauge.  We need to know the gauge, so that we can determine how long the colors and patterns should be to make one round of knitting.  This will also give an idea of how many yards we need for the project, and also how to dye the yarn.  Remember only stretch your swatch a bit, if you are making socks.

unraveling one row 

After knitting the swatch, I measured off 30 stitches, or five inches, and carefully snipped the yarn in the middle of the bar on the outside edge of stitch 1 and stitch 30.  Then I unraveled this length.  This tells me that my stitch gauge was 6 sts to one inch, and that I needed 17.75 inches of yarn for each 30 stitches and 5 inches of knitting.  That means that each stitch uses about .59 inches.  It also means that each inch uses about 3.55 inches of yarn.

The sock I will be making has a few criteria it needs to meet, as requested by its three year old recipient.  
    It must be "rainbow" dyed.
    The ankle it will be worn on is 6.5 inches in circumference.
    The colors should have lots of pink, and orange.

So I decided I would cast on 34 stitches for the socks.  That means that for each round of knitting, I will use just a hair over 20 inches of yarn.  So for one row of stripe or color pattern, I need 20 inches.  It doesn't have to be exact, in fact I was very general in my measuring, and the yarn turned out great.  You can be picky or loose about this as you like.  I also did the math and roughly figured I would need about 70 yards of yarn for the pair of socks.  I will dye 100 yards, just to be safe.

So now, I figured out how large a pattern repeat I wanted.  I decided to go all out and do a 16 yard skein for dying.  You can use smaller skeins, but for this method, you want there to be a small number of strands, so a really long one is best.  I wound off the skein on a cup hook and my bedroom door.  You can see Beau who had oral surgery this week, working on his knitting while he gets better.

wind the skein

Once you wind the skein, you need to tie it off carefully.  With a needle, weave a new yarn through the strands, then in a figure 8 type pattern weave them back down and tie the ends.  You will want to do this about every yard along the skein.  Now you can take your skein down, and get ready to dye.

You need some plastic aquarium tubing to make the white spaces.  Any tubing will work, it just needs to fit on your skein snugly enough to keep the dye out, but loosely enough to slide easily along the skein

Cut off lengths of the tubing in the size desired.  Remember we needed .59 inches for each stitch, so I cut mine around that size.  I didn't measure or anything, I just guessed.  Measuring would be good, but makes me feel like I am working too much.  So I just clipped off pieces that were about 1/2 an inch.  I wish I had made them a bit longer now, because I had to leave more room between them for those areas to take the dye up consistently.  So I ended up with shorter white spaces and longer colored areas in the patterned sections. Now snip along the length of the piece of tubing, so that it may be slipped over the skein.  You can also do this before you snip the pieces off.

putting the tubes on

Once you have some cut, you can place them on the skein, and secure them with a small piece of masking tape.  Arrange them however far apart, or close together as you think you want.  Now you can prepare a dye bath.  I just dyed the yarn dry, but you can also soak each section before you dye it if you wish.

arrange the tubes

I made my dye-bath with Kool Aid, and food colors.  I put the yarn in cold, poked at it a bit to get it nice and wet, then I microwaved on high for 3 minutes.  Let it soak until the yarn is the color you want.  Now you can rinse the dyed section if you want, or spin the excess out in the washer.  Or you can squeeze it out with a towel.  I used the washer, be sure only to use the spin cycle, and keep your un-dyed wool on the opposite side from the wool that was just dyed, or it may bleed some.

dye the sections

Now you can repeat the process, just slide the tubing up the skein to the next section, and dye as desired.  You can even dye a pattern section, then move the tube over the newly dyed area, and redye another color.  Experiment and enjoy yourself.

slide the tubes to the next section

Once you have dyed the whole skein, you have to unwind the tape and remove the tube sections.  This is kind of a pain, and you can snip them off with scissors, but beware, it's easy to get the yarn.

finished skein

Now is a good time to do a really good rinse.  My method has never run, but if you have any concern in this area, do one section at a time, then spin the whole skein out, and hang to dry.

combing the skein

To unwind your skein into a ball place it back on the same place you wound it, being careful that there are no twists.  Snip off all the little woven ties.  Using a wide tooth comb (this one is for horse's manes and costs about $1) place one strand in each space between the teeth, and carefully run the comb along your skien.  The yarn may have started sticking to itself, and this will separate the strands and make winding a ball much easier.  Do the whole skein, and don't forget the ends.  

Now wind into a ball, I did this by walking back and forth with the ball winder in my hand, winding as I walked.


This was a lot of fun, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.  The socks truned out perfect, the Girls loved them.  I think it would have been nice to use more white, in longer stripes, so it would show up more.


I also liked the one section of purple and blue together the best.  The pattern shows up very clearly there.  Experiement, and enjoy, this is a super fun project!