How do you space-dye sock yarn?

© May 2007, Amelia of
The theory behind dyeing sock yarn is simple: generally speaking, a fingering weight to light DK weight yarn uses about 30 inches to knit 1 round on the leg or foot of the sock. Specifically, on a 60-needle sock machine cylinder, but the 72-needle is pretty darn close too.

Once you have that magic number -- 30 inches -- you can play all sorts of games with color placement. Here are just four examples:

1. Use a skeiner or warping board to make a 60 inch circumference skein. This is great for dyeing slightly ziggy shadow effects:

if you lay your skein out in an oval, and divide it into 8 equal portions, then color each portion like so: A B A B C D C D. Then, C shadows A and D shadows B -- which is to say, you'll get AC stripes/zigs and BD stripes/zigs down your sock.

Now, if 4 colors is just too much to ponder, consider the simpler 3-color layout: A B A B A C A C. Then A stays the same, and C shadows B. Cool. The skein shown for this number was dyed in the 3-color scheme with bronze green for A, mahogany for B, and cherry red for C.

2. If you have access to a circular sock machine, knit a 400 yard tube and dye it. Your dye will have to be the same front-and back due to bleed through. And, I've no idea how this will knit up, but I imagine if you make your tube at a tighter or looser tension than you plan to knit your sock, you will get some shifting of colors.

My tube (shown on the left painted and then on the right, skeined) was knit very tight. Also, some of the color doesn't get into the tightly knit stitches, so my final sock is likely to look marled. All I need is time to knit the socks...

3. Make a gradient where you shift from one color to another. For this you need a warping board. You can set your skein size at 60 inches. 400 yards works out to about 240 wraps, so divide this up into the number of color shifts you want (just remember, this is for TWO socks -- so make two 120 wrap skeins if you want to do the same gradient for each sock!) OK, so if you want 6 color shifts (3 for each sock) you would wind 80 wraps, then tie that off as a skein without breaking the yarn; do this 5 more times, and you will have 6 connected skeins to dye.

The gradient skein I dyed had 5 groups, it started as dark brown yarn and was overdyed green / green and black spaced / black / green and black spaced / green. My thought was to knit 1 sock and then rewind the ball from the other end for the second sock, thus the symmetrical gradiation.

4. Fair isle winding boards ... such as the one shown in the picture. If you wind 6 rounds on the top pair of pegs, then come down and wind 2 in the middle, down again for 6 on the bottom, up to the middle for 2 in the middle, and repeat until you run out of yarn, then you can dye a fair isle pattern.

Typically this is a solid on one large section and dots of color on the other with whatever your base yarn color was underneath. But you can go wild if you want. Note if you cover both large sections with color, the small middle section may need some color too.

With all of these methods it's _very_ important to keep your skeins tidy, and not let them become spaghetti -- so add a ton of figure 8 ties everywhere imaginable and then add some more.

Whew! So far we've covered skein creation and color placement. Look for how to create the dye-liquor, applying and setting the dye in the next installment.

(these are notes from the dye class I taught at Lacey in April 2007)


Anonymous said...

Hi Amelia,
This is Loan from the Lacey retreat. I love your instructions on space-dye sock yarn. I haven't have a chance to knit the yarn we dyed at the workshop but I'll send pictures when the socks are done. I'll definitely try the knitted blanks. They are much easier to unravel than the winding board.


Elysbeth said...

Thank you Miss Amelia. As aways info packed. I finally got to see your book, it was at the Bosworth booth at MS&W.

aija said...

Great collection of dyeing methods, thanks!

N. Maria said...

Thank you, Amelia! I didn't get a chance to take your class as much as I wanted to.
You did a fantastic job in Lacey!
Thank you for teaching.

Amelia, belle of The Bellwether said...

I was asked about the spacing of the pegs on the fair-isle winding board:

The 2 pegs in a row are 15" apart, outside-to-outside measurement. The rows are about 1.5-2" apart.

There are inner pegs for putting the wet skein back on the board after dyeing, they are about 2" in from one end (only one set of inner pegs is needed).

You can also use a warping board for this, if you have 6 pegs and can adjust the measurement.