How to make beautiful yarn out of poorly dyed singles

Mistakes in dyeing can be messy... but sometimes there is a happy outcome even when you think it is all going to crap partway through.

I made a measuring error while dyeing a violet/blue yarn and as the dye was already in a jar with water in it, I couldn't easily save it. I wanted to use this large volume of dye so it seemed the right moment to try some overdyeing.

A friend recently gave me quite a lot of lovely churro yarn that was dyed by someone else. The colors weren't quite what she wanted and she asked if I could use it. And not being able to say no to free high-quality yarn even when the colors were a little bold, it came to live in my studio.

The mistakenly measured dye was blue and I did know how much of it I had in the jar. It was a good choice for overdyeing these colors all at once. I was hoping to get a gradation in each of the four main colors. I expected the green to get darker and bluer, the red to get darker and turn purple, the purple to get darker and turn bluer, and the yellow to get darker and turn green. I added enough dye to the pot to add a DOS* of 1.0 to the yarn (DOS=Depth of Shade, see footnote). The DOS marked on the balls was 3.25%, 1.6%, 0.8%, and 0.4%. The violet color to the far left I think was dyed incorrectly perhaps even with a different colored dye. It was marked 3.25% but it clearly isn't and I left it out of this experiment. (In fact all of those purples are a bit dodgy.)

Here are the original colors.

From the formulas my friend included with the yarn, it looks like these were dyed full strength (no toner with straight dye colors) with washfast acid dye. This is a slightly different dye than I use, but it works the same way, with acid and heat for protein fibers.

So I skeined two balls of each of these colors, weighed it all, figured out how much more blue dye I'd need to add a DOS of 1.0 to the existing color, put the yarn into water to soak out overnight, and went to bed without giving it another thought.

When I went to ready the yarn for the dye bath in the morning, I was dismayed to see that the colors had all bled. All the skeins were blotchy with various colors. The whole thing was turning a muddy mess... because what happens after all when you mix red, green, purple, and yellow? Brown.

In my work, I use Sabraset acid wool dyes which require maintaining a boiling temperature for 45 minutes to set the dye. Washfast acid dyes, which this dyer used, require maintaining a boiling temperature for 60 minutes to set the dye. My hypothesis is that the dyer did not maintain this temperature for enough time and thus the dye was not set. Had my friend used this yarn in a tapestry, if it had gotten wet or perhaps even with steaming, the colors would have run together and destroyed her work. Considering she paid a pretty penny to have this yarn dyed, a destroyed tapestry would have been the final insult. I like to think I spared her from this horror.

I put in a skein of undyed Harrisville yarn in the pot as a "control" and it should have come out dyed at DOS 1.0 with pure blue. The skein on the right below was the one in the pot with the other colors. The skein on the left is an example of 100% blue dyed at 2.0 DOS. I was expecting this kind of blue brilliance at a slightly lighter value. This image shows you how much the bleeding washfast acid dye from all the colors in the pot affected the results.

Despite muddled colors before the yarn was even in the dye pot, I went ahead and dyed the yarn. It was ruined anyway, so I might as well see if I could improve it.

I was pleasantly surprised when it came out of the pot the next day. Yes, all the colors were muddied and significantly "variegated", but they are quite lovely. The photos below show the results.

The original colors are in balls, the "control" skein in the center and the resulting dyed yarn next to each original ball color.

In the image below, the churro is the yarn hanging behind the skeins. The yarn is extremely spotty throughout each skein, but the colors blend well. The dulling effect of the blue on top of the original colors along with the muddying quality of mixing all those bright dyes together created a yarn that is quite beautiful and I think will weave up really nicely. I'm almost wondering if I can replicate this with the rest of the yarn!

I made sure to heat set this yarn appropriately and the color did not rinse out though I will definitely be testing it one more time before using it in any tapestries.

The moral of the story in case you didn't get it already, is follow the instructions on the dye you're using. If ProChemical and Dye says keep your bath above 185 degrees F for an hour, you need to do that. The only way to save the remaining balls of this yarn in their current form would be to put each of them back into a pot separately (16 colors!) and heat them up again for an hour. I doubt I'll do that as I don't like the colors. But I may do overdyeing one color at a time in the future... or maybe the whole lot will be destined for this crazy kaleidoscope of variety.

* DOS means Depth of Shade. This is a measure of the percentage of dye used which correlates to how light or dark the final color is. A 4.0 DOS is 4% dye to weight of goods (WOG) and is a very dark value. A DOS of 0.03 is extremely light and might only be a few drops of dye in solution.