Wednesday, March 23, 2016

How To - Speckled Dyeing

This is a natural progression from the How To - Hand Painted Yarn, because you follow pretty much the same steps, except for the way you apply the dye.

Speckle dyeing gives you a yarn that had dots of colour scattered throughout the skein. Typically you will get only a couple of stitches of each colour, and the colours will blend.   When knit up, you will get a yarn that looks like it has been speckled with colour, or covered in confetti.

This is Bea, before she put her makeup on

Because a lot of these steps are duplicates of the last post, I am going to summarize them for this post.  If you want more details on the shorter steps, please see the How To - Hand Paint Yarn post.

What you will need:
  • Bare yarn in a skein - I use superwash wool, but you can use any any animal based fibre or nylon (the only synthetic that works with this method)
  • Artificial Colour - Because of the small amount of colour needed for this method, I recommend food colouring. 
  • Acid - Citric acid is my acid of choice, but vinegar also works. 
  • Something to soak your yarn in
  • Plastic wrap
  • Containers to mix your dye in - I recommend plastic shot glasses, since you won't need very much dye. This is also a good way to use up extra dyestock from other projects. 
  • A microwave
  • A large microwaveable plat
  • Medicinal syringes or eye droppers
  • Something to cover your work surface (newspapers/flyers/puppy training pads)
  • Latex gloves
  • Mild dish soap or baby shampoo
  • Paper Towels
  • Towel
Step 1 - Soak your yarn
Since you will be using a lot less dye in this one, this is your best chance to add your citric acid and make sure all of your yarn is going to damp when heat setting. I use 1 tablespoon of powdered citric acid, or you can use 1/2 to one cup of vinegar

Step 2 - Prepare you work station
Put down newspaper, flyers, etc. to protect your work area, then lay out your plastic wrap on top of it. You will be wrapping your whole skein in plastic wrap, so you want to make sure to lay it out in such a way that it makes that easy to do. As mentioned previously, I like to make a long rectangle with a hole in the middle. I lay out two long strips on the top and bottom of the work station, then two strips along the side.  It helps to know the size of your skein when doing this. 

Soaked yarn laid out on top of plastic wrap, with flyers under it to protect the counter

Step 3 - Prepare your dye stock
Speckle dyeing is a great way to use up any leftover dye stock you may have from other dye jobs.  If you are mixing up new dyestock, you don't need very much. I tend to use at least 6 colours, and have found that 2 ounces of dye stock is more than enough to do one skein. I can sometimes get two skeins out of that small amount if there are lots of colours. 

If mixing new, I like to use the plastic shot glasses, and when using my Wilton Color Right system, will put one drop of colour in each of the glasses. The intensity of the colour is up to you 

Step 4 - Remove the excess water from your yarn
You want the skein to be damp, but not dripping.  The damp yarn helps the dye soak in, and is required when heat setting it.

Step 5 - Apply the dye
This is where the difference between the hand painting and the speckling comes in. Speckling is way more fun!

With hand painting, you select the area you want to apply the colour and fill the area in. With speckling, you drop the colour randomly over the skein, making sure to leave lots of undyed spots, so you can see the base colour. 

Starting with the lightest colour, fill your syringe or eye dropper with dyestock, hold it above the yarn and release the dye one drop at a time, move randomly around the skein as you drop the dye. 

I like to hold mine about 2-3 feet above the yarn and just let it splat onto the yarn. The dye is going to spread out a bit anyway, so I like to have fun with it. But if you want it a bit more controlled, you can drop the dye from a lower height. 

Repeat this process with your remaining colours. As you drop the dye on the yarn, you are going to get extra colours, as the dyestock runs together. I consider this a bonus.

A close up of the drops of dyestock after they spread out

Once the top of the yarn has been speckled, flip it over and repeat the process on the other side.  When you have finished, your yarn is going to like like a rainbow sneezed all over it, but that is good!

Flyers removed, before being heat set

Step 6 - Wrap the yarn in plastic
Use some paper towels to wipe up any excess drops that may have landed on your plastic wrap instead of your yarn, then wrap you yarn in the plastic wrap. I like to work from the outside and wrap inwards. This is where the hole in the middle of the plastic wrap can make it easier.  

You want the plastic to be tight enough that it won't pop off when it is steaming in the microwave, but you don't want it too tight. That makes it harder to get the plastic off after heating.

Place your wrapped yarn on a large microwave safe plate/dish. If there are spots that did not get covered properly with the plastic wrap, you can either wrap those sections, or just wrap the entire dish.

Step 7 - Heat set your yarn in the microwave
This is why it is important that the yarn be damp and be covered in plastic wrap. The heat in the microwave gets quite high, and your yarn can scorch if it is dry and/or uncovered. As you heat the yarn, steam is going to build up inside the plastic wrap and cause it to puff up. It may even cause it to pop during the heat setting process. This is normal, and has happened to me a few times, which is why I have pauses built into my heat setting process.

Microwave on high for two minutes, then open to check to make sure the plastic wrap is still there, and the yarn hasn't gotten free. Repeat this process 4 more times, for a total of 10 minutes. Do not skip the step in between each set of checking the plastic wrap. It only take a few seconds and can save your skein from disaster

Step 8 - Cool the yarn
The dish will most likely be very hot, so remove it carefully with oven mitts and place it on the counter. Let it cool completely.  If you are as impatient as I am, let it cool for at least 10 minutes.

Carefully remove the plastic wrap (remember, scissors will lead to heartache). If the yarn is still warm/hot, let it cool for at least another 10 minutes

Step 9 - Gently wash and rinse your yarn
Making sure your water is the same temperature as your yarn, add a few drops of mild dish soap or some baby shampoo and gently wash your yarn.

I find it helpful to separate the skein and make sure you start while holding one of the ends that has the ties. As you are washing, move your hand along the skein, making sure you do not grab any yarn from the other side of the skein.  This way you can make sure the skein stays separated and avoid tangles.

If your yarn happens to slip out of your hands, or you loose the section you are holding on to, no big deal. Take a look at this picture. The whole skein is sitting in a bowl of rinse water. To take it out, I just look for the section with the tie and maneuver it so that I pull out that section first. As I am doing that, I make sure to keep the two sides of the skein separated.

Sitting in the rinse water. It looks like a water colour painting to me.

If the water/yarn is warm, slowly adjust the temperature of the water until you are working with cool water. You do not need it to be cold, but cool is good.

Step 10 - Dry your yarn
Gently squeeze out as much of the water as you can, then lay your yarn out on a towel. Roll the yarn up in the towel and twist it to help get as much of the water out as you can.  From here you can hang it to dry, or, if it is superwash and you are like me and want to see results quicker, you can use a dryer with a shoe rack in it. But only use the dryer if you have a shoe rack! Tossing a full skein into a tumbling dryer is a disaster waiting to happen

Step 11 - Enjoy your yarn! 
You should now have a skein of yarn with lots of colourful sections running throughout it.

Soon to be Bea

Combine hand painting and speckling for an even more interesting yarn
I sometimes like to dye either my self striping or my hand painted yarns so there is also a little bit of speckling mixed in.

Adding a couple of speckled sections to this skein of hand painted yarn:

KnitPicks Hawthorne Bare Fingering

Gave me these socks:
Love the spiral stripes on this!

And adding a section of speckled yarn to one of my self striping yarns resulted in these:

A special request sock - Riki's Radical Stripes
Note that for these, I dyed a corresponding skein of speckled yarn that I used for the cuff, heels and toes.

The possibilities are endless, and the yarn is sure to put a smile on your face! 


  1. Thank you for this post! So helpful and it's so kind of you to share the process.

  2. Thank you for this great posT, step by step instructions & photos. very helpful.

  3. Thanks for this! Any tips for smaller, crisp speckles?

    1. Check out the post for dyeing with cake sprinkles. Those ones came out a lot smaller and crisper :)

  4. This is super helpful, thank you! Have you tried speckles with a background color? I'm dreaming of a pale gray with pops of color, but not sure if I should dye gray first, or do both at the same time...