Wednesday, March 30, 2016

How To - Skillet Cake Dyeing

I know the title makes this sound like you are going to wind up with yummy pink pancakes, but, sadly, there are no breakfast goods involved with this method.  Although you may wind up with yummy pink and yellow socks like these:
My Pink Lemonade Socks with funky wood grain pooling

This was one of those cases of me looking at a cake of yarn and thinking "I wonder what would happen if I dyed my yarn in a cake, but rather than rewinding the cake, I just dyed one half of it in one colour, the flipped it over and dyed the other half in another colour?"  For some of you, that is probably all the info you will need, and you may not even bother to read the rest of the post.  I will say there are some tips in here, so it is worth reading, but if you are the adventurous type and want to just go for it, have at it!

Now this How-To is a bit out of order, because normally I would put the baseline immersion dyeing technique first, then the gradient cake dyeing technique, and then this variant of the gradient cake dyeing technique, but I love this method so much, I am going to skip over the other ones for now.  I will write those up later, and they will appear on the handy little "How To" box on the right hand side of your screen, but for now, let's play with skillet dyeing!

What you will need
  • 100g bare yarn, wound into two 50g cakes (see Step 1)
  • A skillet that is tall enough to put enough dyestock to cover half the cake
    • can be done in a pot, but I find it easier in a skillet, since it is easier to see
  • Dye 
    • I used Wilton Color Right for this one
  • Non-iodized salt
    • I use sea salt, because that is what I happen to have on hand
  • Acid - I used my citric acid and water solution
    • 1 Tbsp citric acid powder in 1 cup of water
  • A stove
  • Tongs big enough to let you pick up the a cake of yarn
  • Mild dish soap/baby shampoo/wool wash
  • Towel
  • Niddy Noddy (Optional)
    • You can let your yarn dry in the cake, but it will take much longer. Being able to reskein it helps it dry faster
Step 1 - Cake your yarn
So the theory behind this is that I am using this yarn to make socks, and I want both socks to match, so I need to dye two matching cakes of yarn. 

You will want to wind the cakes loose, but not too loose. If they are too loose, they may somewhat fall apart, and you may also get way too much dye penetration, which can result in the two colours mixing and you getting something completely different than what you were going for in the first place.   If you wind them too tight, the colour won't penetrate all the way through.  That can give you some really cool designs, but can also give you lots of bare yarn.  

Step 2 - Determine how much dye stock you will need
Place the dry cakes of yarn in the dry skillet. Determine where your dye stock needs to come up to in order to cover half of the cake.  Remove the dry cakes and put them aside. 

Step 3 - Prepare your first dye stock
The first couple of times I did this, I went from dark to light, thinking that if I did the light first, then the whole cake would be wet and the darker colour would wick up into the already dyed yarn.  For some colours this will work (this pink and yellow combination), but for other (brown and pink), this does not work so well.  So I would say it is probably better, as with most times you are working with multiple shades, to work from light to dark. 

Add enough water to the pan to reach the half way mark of the cake, and add the dye. 

Step 4 - Bring your dye stock up to temperature 
You are aiming for 170-180 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you reach that temperature, reduce the heat to a simmer. You want to keep the temperature but lose the bubbles. By doing this, you can avoid the dye bubbling up in the middle of the cake (see next picture). You also give the dye less time to wick up into the other half of the cake.  At this time, you can also add about 1/4 teaspoon of non-iodize salt. The salt should help slow the absorption of the dye and help you get a more even colour.  

Step 5 - Add your cakes of yarn to the dye stock
I like to add my caked of yarn when they are dry. If they are wet, there is more of a chance of the first colour wicking up into the yarn. It will still wick into the dry yarn, but it won't wick as fast. This may give you more a heathered look to your yarn, but I kind of like that. 
I have a Rachael Ray Oval Skillet (much like my Oval Pasta Pot)
I also like to use my stainless steel skillet so I can see the colour of the dyestock better
Make sure you add them both at the same time, and hold your hands over the tops of them so they don't flip over. The goal is to get them to slowly submerge in the dye stock, so the colour gets evenly distributed.

Because the cakes are going to be sitting on the bottom of the skillet, you will not get as much colour if you just let them sit there. Using your tongs, carefully lift them just high enough for the dye stock to circulate under them. Repeat this a few times throughout the process, being careful when you put the yarn back in that you do not splash.  

The other option is, if you have a round cooling rack that will fit inside your skillet, you can use that as well, just remember to move your cakes around a little bit so it is not always the same spot sitting on the cooling rack. I have one, but it is too tall for use in the skillet I have, and I didn't want to break out my pot.  I might, however, have a friend break out their grinder and cut the legs off the cooling rack so I can use it.   Other people have suggested trying to put skewers or long knitting needles through the cake and rest them on the top of the skillet, but I have not tried this yet, and am worried it may distort the shape of the cake, thus giving me a completely different effect.  There was also one neat suggestion in one of the forums in the What A Kool Way to Dye forum about crocheting a sort of mesh basket type thingie to hang the yarn in.  I can't remember what thread it was in...if I remember, I will try to come back and update this part of the post. 

Step 6 - Add citric acid, wait for dye to absorb
I used to do this based on the colour (yellow and green, add right away; anything with a lot of blue or red, add gradually later), but now I just add it later for all colours, so I don't have to remember which ones get acid later.  Let the yarn sit in the dye stock for about 10 minutes, then slowly add your citric acid/water combination. I tend to add 1 tablespoon at a time, but you can see by the picture above that it can be too much for pinks/reds, so you may want to start with a teaspoon at a time. I typically wind up using about 2 tablespoons in total.

I have found that with some colours, like blues and purples, if I leave the yarn in long enough for all of the colour to absorb, it also means there is more time for the dye to wick up into the other half of the cake, so there are time that I will just say the colour has absorbed enough, and move on to the next stage.

You will need your yarn to remain in the dye stock, at temperature, for at least 20 minutes. 

Step 7 - Remove the cakes from the dye stock, prepare new dyestock
I keep a plate beside my skillet, and when the first colour is done, I gently remove the cakes (usually by putting one end of the tongs inside the middle of the cake and the other on the outside of it), let as much extra water drain as I can, then put them on a plate. 
After the pink bath
If you are going from dark to light, it may be a good idea to carefully rinse the cakes at this point, to get some of the excess dye out. That way, it doesn't bleed into the next dyestock. If you are going from light to dark, this does not seem to be as much of an issue, but you can still do it if like.  Just remember to fluff up your cake a bit when you are done, as you will have squished it pretty flat rinsing it.

Pour out your excess water from the first colour and let your skillet cool a little, then give it a quick wash. Some colours will leave residue, and you don't want that in your second colour.   Mix up the second colour the same way you did the first, but use a little less water. Because the cakes are now wet, they will slump a bit, so you don't need as much dye.

Again, bring your dye stock up to temperature before adding the yarn.. 

Step 8 - Add your yarn to the second colour, adding acid later, as you did in Step 6
Flip your cakes over and add them to the second dye bath. 
Tum to add the lemon to my pink lemonade yarn
At this time, you may find that stray strands of the other colour get into the second dye bath. Especially if you have rinsed and squeezed the cake to get rid of the excess water after the first dye. That tends to make the cake a bit looser.  I don't worry about these fiddly bits. They just add character. 

After 10 minutes, slowly add your acid while waiting for the dye to absorb. Again, you want to make sure it is in the heat for at least 20 minutes. 

Step 9 - Remove your yarn, cool, wash and rinse
I never seem to think to take pictures of the washing and rinsing part, for some reason. But here is picture of the yarn after it has been removed, washed and rinsed.

Because it is in a cake, the centre of the yarn will retain a lot of the hot water, so be careful when washing and rinsing. It may seem like the yarn is cool, but in reality, there may still be some hot left inside of it. 

Step 10 - Reskein the yarn (Optional but recommended) then dry your yarn. 
You don't have to reskein your yarn, but I find it helpful for a couple of reasons.  First,  it lets you wash and rinse the yarn one more time, getting rid of any excess dye that may still be inside the cake. And second, it will help the yarn dry faster. A cake of yarn can take days to dry completely, and we all know how much patience I have for waiting for yarn to dry!

After reskeining and going for a ride on the shoe rack of my dyer

Tip : If you are going to reskein, make sure you start in the same place for both skeins (they are in a centre pull ball, so it is easier to start with the yarn in the centre), and make sure to tie whatever end you started with in a particular way. I like to use a nice big bow at the end of the my figure 8 tie, but using a different colour yarn works as well.  That way, when you go to rewind it later, you can make sure that both skeins start in the same place.  The outside is going to be much darker than the inside, so unless you want fraternal twin socks, it is good to start at the same end for both socks. 

Step 11 - Enjoy your beautiful creation!
You are now ready to knit with your new yarn. And, if you are lucky, you will wind up with some kind of funky pooling, like these socks have.
Side shot of both socks

The bottom of my socks
I use size 2.75mm needles and am working with 60 sts, plus I twist my stitches when I knit, so my gauge might be different than yours, meaning your socks may pool differently than mine.

I was able to replicate this pooling effect on a second pair of socks, this time using pink and blue. I dyed the blue first, then added the pink. It gave me this yarn, and these cool socks, which my friend immediately claimed upon seeing the picture. 

My Bejewelled 2 Yarn
Bejewelled 1 was done with a different method and will be shown in a later post

Sulley Socks!  These reminded me of Sulley from Monsters, Inc. 

One interesting colour fact I learned testing this method
If you dye with brown first, the bottom will be brown, but green will wick up into the other section of the yarn. If you try to overdye that with pink, you will just get a lighter brown... so this is one of those cases where lighter first is definitely better.
I was attempting to do a brown and pink, and wanted to dye the brown first. To my surprise, the yellow and blue in the brown decided to run away to the top of the skein. I wound up dying the other half green
I did re-do the intended colourway, dyeing the pink first, and then the brown, and got the results I was aiming for

Pink dyed first, then brown. One cake flipped so you can see both colours

My Chicken Bones colour way

This time I wrapped the cake so I started with the outside, darker yarn first. I still got one section of the pooling, but also got a really funky spiral stripe at the top. 


  1. Have just found your blog - and find it really amazing that there aren't a zillion posts to read before I'm up to date ;-)
    The post about the crochet net you were looking for is:

    1. Thank you! Will update the post with the link!
      I just started the blog a couple of weeks ago, and I am limited to what I know, so not a whole lot of posts yet, but hopefully they are helpful to people :)

    2. I was sure to have the link in my rav faves so it wasn't a big deal to find it :-)
      And I find your information very valuable.

    3. Such a great instructional. Thank you.

  2. Very good! Sounds like some pretty thorough research - thank you for taking the time to write it all out and sharing it with us!

  3. This is awesome! I am doing some research/planning to try a weave on my rigid heddle that is inspired by shibori patterns, so this would be great to dye my weft yarn. One cake about 2/3 depth, and one that is 1/4 to 1/3 depth. So excited to experiment!!!

  4. This is awesome! I am doing some research/planning to try a weave on my rigid heddle that is inspired by shibori patterns, so this would be great to dye my weft yarn. One cake about 2/3 depth, and one that is 1/4 to 1/3 depth. So excited to experiment!!!