Thursday, March 31, 2016

How To - Gradient/Ombre - Ball Method

This one was a lot of fun, but you have to be willing to work with wet yarn to accomplish this look.  The idea for this came from a thread on the What A Kool Way to Dye forum, that was inspired by another post, that was inspired by a video someone had posted of this method.  So, like a lot of the other techniques, I didn't come up with this one... I am just giving you my notes on how to replicate what I did with it.

This method will result in a ball of yarn that fades from one colour to another, and when finished, will give you something that may look sort of like this:

High Level Details
Basically, you are going to wind a loose ball of yarn, dye it one colour, rewind it, and dye it a second colour. I have actually done it where I also rewound the ball into two balls and dyed a third colour in the middle.

What you will need

  • 100g fingering weight yarn - because I am knitting a pair of socks, I divided this into two 50g balls, so I would have matching yarn for each sock
  • A pot tall enough that you can put enough dye stock to cover the balls of yarn
  • A cooling rack that fits in the pot (optional but will help the dye penetrate more evenly)
  • Dye - Wilton Color Right was my dye of choice
  • Acid - I use citric acid powder, but you can use vinegar. For my citric acid, I mix one tablespoon of the powder in one cup of water, and then use that mixture.
  • A stove
  • Tongs long enough to reach into the pot and get your ball of yarn
  • A plate
  • Paper towels
  • Mild dish soap or baby shampoo
  • Towel
  • Niddy Noddy/Swift - Optional but will help the yarn dry faster

Step 1 - Wind your yarn into loose balls
This can be tricky, because too loose and they fall apart, but too tight and your dye does not penetrate.  What I did was wrap the first 1/4 of the ball as I normally would, then for the rest of the ball, I placed three fingers on the ball and wrapped over them 10 times. I then pulled my fingers out, move them and wrapped over them 10 time in a different direction. Repeat until the ball is about one repeat of this from being finished.   With the last section of yarn, wrap it loosely around the ball in all different directions, basically creating a little cage, then tuck the ends in. This will stop the layers of yarn from falling off the ball as it is being dyed. 

Step 2 - Soak the balls of yarn
Soak the yarn in plain water for at least half an hour, but longer may be better. Because the yarn is wound in a ball, it may take longer for the water to penetrate all the way through the ball.
2 50g balls of Bare Opal Sock yarn, soaking in a bowl of warm water

Step 3 - Prepare the dye stock
Put lots of warm water in your pot and add your dye. For this purple in this one, I used 15 drops of pink and one drop of blue.  Mix thoroughly and add the cooling rack, if you are using one.  

Note: Do not add the citric acid at this point

Step 4 - Add your yarn, bring your dye stock up to temperature, and hold it there for what seems like forever....
I am going to say this part at the very beginning, so you are not prepared. In all the times I have done this method, I rarely get the colour to exhaust completely from the dye stock.  If you have loads of time and patience, and want to heat it, let it cool, let it sit overnight, heat it again, etc., you may be able to get all the dye to exhaust. I don't have that kind of patience, so I make a "close enough" call when dyeing this way.

Add your yarn to the pot of dye stock, adding more water if necessary to cover the yarn, then bring the dye stock up to temperature.
Going for a bath in the purple
Once the dye stock has been brought up to temperature, you can start slowly adding your acid. I add one tablespoon at a time, and usually wind up with about 3-4 tablespoons in total.  For this particular yarn, I actually added a full tablespoon of the powdered citric acid to the dye stock before adding the yarn.  That was WAY too much acid... 

Want to see what happens if you add too much to a dyestock that has red# 3 in it?  The colour decides to turn into a sort of a mist, that sticks to the sides of the pots, and hovers at the top of the dyestock, even though you can't see it.... and when you put your hands in the water to retrieve the yarn after it has cooled, you will get a manicure you didn't intend..... 
I guess I should have put all fingers in at the same time to get a more even colour on my unintentional manicure.  It actually took about three days for this to finally wear off

Make sure to move your balls of yarn around fairly often, so there is no one spot sitting on the bottom of the pot or on the same section of the cooling rack for very long. If they are sitting in one spot, that spot will not take up the dye as well. 

I found that this type of dyeing takes quite a long time. This picture is from the yarn being in the dye stock for about 30 to 45 minutes.  You can see by the dye stock in the background that there is still dye that needs to strike. Blue always takes the longest to bond to the yarn. 

This is what the outside looked like after about 30 minutes

I had to take the pot off the stove so I could make supper, so it sat for about half an hour or so while I cooked. I then put it back on and let the yarn go for another 30 minutes. The dye stock was clearer, but it was not completely exhausted. 
When I decided the blue was never going to set, and also decided this was close enough

This became my "close enough" moment, and I removed the yarn, placing it on some paper towel on a plate to let it somewhat cool. 
You can see where the yarn has fallen away that the deep outside colour does not penetrate very deeply
I pushed a bit more out of the way to see how far the colour had penetrated.
It did not go very deep with the purple, but I was seeing a lot of pink and pale pink

Step 5 - Rewrap the yarn for the second colour
This is what a lot of people refer to as the yucky part, since wrapping damp wool is not exactly the most fun process, and your fingers will prune up big time! 

Once the yarn has somewhat cooled, you can do a rinse under the tap to get out any excess dye, then squeeze gently to remove excess water, and even wrap in a towel if you like and squeeze more.  Since I am using superwash wool, I squeeze the ever loving crap out of it to get out as much of the water as I can.   

Next, put the yarn in a bowl so it will have something to roll around in while you rewind it. Otherwise you are chasing a ball of wet yarn all around your countertop/floor.  

The neat thing I could see what that each section of the yarn I wrapped seemed to work as a resist for the layer below it.
About 1/4 of the way through
As with the first time, wrap the first 1/4 normally, then use the finger spacing method to wrap the rest of the yarn.  
Completely rewrapped, you can just barely see a hint of pink 
Once the yarn has been rewrapped, you will need to wash and rinse your pot out, to avoid transfer of any residual colour. Even if it doesn't look like there is any in there, look at the picture of my fingers above....that was from this purple dye bath, that looked like it only had a bit of blue left in it.  The top layer of the water and the sides of the pot were covered in a fine pink residue. 

Step 6 - Repeat Steps 3 and 4 - Prepare dye stock and dye the yarn
For the second colour, I decided to go with a teal. I used 12 blue and 3 yellow.  I added the rewound balls of yarn to the dye pot, bought everything up to temperature, and played the "add acid and wait" game. 
Time for teal
After about half an hour, the colour was still really light
Seems more green than teal - you can see that the blue is not striking nearly as fast as the yellow
After another 45 minutes or so, I had a nice deep green on the outside. Took it out of the pot to see how well it had penetrated
Fresh out of the pot, just as I was starting to rewrap it

For this colour, I decided to try something different. To get a deeper penetrations, I re-wrapped the each ball of yarn so it was divided into a 1/4 and a 3/4 ball.
About 1/4 of it wrapped into a separate ball
Once that was done, I added it back into the dye pot
The re-wrapped yarn - more water was added after the second ball was added
Step 7 - Cool, wash, rinse, reskein, wash, rinse, and dry
Once you have gotten to the dye to exhaust, or have gotten to the "close enough" stage, you can either leave the yarn in water to cool, in hopes of exhausting the dye a bit more, or you can take it out and put it on a plate, like you did before. 

For this method, I find that you really do need to take the time to reskein it. Both to make sure you are washing all the extra dye out, and to help with the drying process. Give it a quick wash in some mild dish soap  or baby shampoo, rinse it out, squeeze out as much excess water as you can, then put it in a bowl (like you were doing when rewrapping it) and let it bounce around in that bowl while you reskein it. 

For this particular yarn, I used my swift to reskein it. I don't use that anymore, because it kills my arms. I now use my niddy noddy.
Reskeining on my swift
After reskeining, wash and rinse again. The dye will have gotten trapped inside the ball of yarn, and this is the best way to make sure you have gotten rid of all of the residual dye.

Dry using your preferred method (by now you know that for me it is a shoe rack in the dryer, thanks to my superwash yarn).

Step 8 - Enjoy your yarn!
Twist up your skein, or rewind your yarn, and enjoy
You got to see the skeined yarn above, so here is the wound yarn
My purple to green gradient became these lovely entralac socks
One thing I did notice was that because I don't need a whole 50g skein to make my socks, I missed out on most of the dark green from this skein of yarn. I realized this was going to happen right around when I finished the heel and had picked up the gusset stitches. I contemplated frogging it completely, or even just back to the entrelac and adding more rows of entrelac, but realized the cuff would be too tight to go any higher on the leg, so I just went with it.  Next time I will knit the socks toe up, so I can make them as tall as I need to in order to see all the colours. Or I will dye smaller balls of yarn.  

I was able to use the leftover green for the contrasting colour on a pair of ankle socks, and still have enough left over to do the same thing for at least one more pair of socks.  As you can see, I still have not made it to the dark green. 
Using some of the leftovers for toes and heels

I have since done a couple more gradients this way...
Christmas Ombre

Pink to Blue
And even did one where I dyed three colours. I did the brown first, rewrapped and did the blue, then rewrapped again so each ball was divided in half and did a black in the centre. Once again, I overestimated how much yarn I needed (it was easy to's size 12 and he wanted super tall legs), so I had enough to make his wife a pair of ankle socks.
The wound yarn and the beginning of the sock

The finished socks
Complimentary ankle socks

On the next instalment of The Impatient Dyer...
For my next How-To, I will most likely do immersion dyeing. I don't do this very often, and when I do, I tend to only do it with one colour, but I know a lot people like to do multiple colours and retwist the skeins in between, so I may have to do multiple parts for that one.  I am not sure if I have the images for any of the posts I want to do for that one, so it may be a few days. 

Till then, happy dyeing!


  1. Does this need to be died into a ball rather than a centre pull?

    1. Hi Erin
      Yes, in order to get the gradient/ombré effect, it needs to be loosely wound into a ball. If you dye it in the centre pull cake, you will get a completely different look. Check out my How To post for Skillet Dyeing to see the centre pull ball.