« Navel | Main | Knuckle »

Techniques: Self-striping yarn

As a novitiate in the Order of Kool-Aid Dyeing, I've been having a lot of fun making self-striping yarn. My method (which, I should warn you, is fraught with shortcuts and awkward work-arounds) follows. I can't stress enough that I'm new at this - all this is old-hat to many of you, I'm sure, but I thought it would be interesting to document it.

Step 1

Pick a yarn. All my dyeing thus far has been superwash wool (Dale Baby Ull, to be precise), which takes dye thirstily. I'm told that Merino, like Knitpicks Color Your Own works very well, too, but any animal fiber should be fun to experiment with. This sloppy, low-maintenance girl just can't bear the thought of handwash-only socks, is all.

Step 2

Once you've got a yarn, you need to determine how much yarn will go into each row of your piece. I've been working with a pattern in mind - Grumperina's Jaywalkers, which show off stripes beautifully - but you could also use an all-purpose number derived from a basic pattern to make stash yarn.

Cast on, mark the starting point of your working yarn (don't include the caston row) with permanent marker, and knit a few rows. The most accurate measure, I think, comes from working several rows and then taking the average length, particularly with a patterned fabric. Mark your end point, and frog.

Fold the frogged length into the number of rows you knit, and measure:

Don't worry too much about pulling the kinky yarn perfectly straight - just lay it out and take the measurement. With this pattern, I got about 32" of yarn in each row.

Step 3

Now, you need to do a little math.


Come up with the stripe sequence you want - I'm going with six rows of dark red, two of dark pink, three of light pink (undyed), and two more of dark pink, for a total of 13 rows in each stripe repeat. Multiplying by the number of inches per row, each stripe repeat will take up 416" (13 x 32"), broken into a 192" (6 x 32") run of deep red, a 64" (2 x 32") run of dark pink, a 96" (3 x 32") run of light pink, and one more 64" (2 x 32") run of dark pink.

Note: I think stripes of at least two rows are the most visually coherent - a stripe of just one row is impossible to match joglessly, and any overlap is immediately obvious. Overlaps or gaps in stripes are harder to see when the stripe is a little wider.

Step 4

Now, you need to wind off a skein 416" in circumference. Each 416" loop will create one stripe repeat. You could use a warping board, or go the low-tech route with two lamps set 208" apart.

Step 5

Tie the skein with some waste acrylic or cotton every 18-24" or so to keep the loop intact and prevent tangling, and then mark your color divisions. Measure out the sections you came up with earlier, and tie them off with a different color of waste yarn.

Step 6

Now, soak the skein in cool water with a dribble of wool wash:

while you mix the pots of color. I'm going with a deep red (4 packets Black Cherry, sprinkle Cherry), a deep pink (2 packets Cherry), and a light pink (the starting color of the yarn).

Step 7

Now, dye your yarn as usual - I mix the color with cold water, add the yarn sections, and then turn on the heat. The magic seems to happen faster that way - and if you were working with non-superwash yarn, there wouldn't be any concerns about temperature shock and resulting felting.

Superwash provides one more benefit - you can stir without fear. Let the placenta - I mean wool - sit just under a boil until the solution is exhausted.

Step 8

Let the pots cool, rinse your yarn

and hang it to dry.

Step 9

Now, wind off your dyed, dry yarn into a more manageable hank (I don't have a niddy noddy, so I wind around my arm).

You can make a pretty skein by holding the hank stretched on your index fingers, twisting the right end, and tucking the two end loops together. The twisted hank should double back on itself to form a neat, compact little smugworthy spiral:

Step 9

Enjoy your delicious stripey goodness. If I were the kind of person who named her craft supplies, I don't think I could help but dub this "Let Me Call You Sweet Tart." Not that I'm the kind of person who would do that. Or would secretly think it. Or anything like that.

Extra reading:

Diana's great tutorial
Knitty's Kool-Aid dyeing guide


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Techniques: Self-striping yarn:

» The 311 On Christmas from Fig and Plum
Jinglewatch 2005: It's Day 3 of the Holiday Assault on Seventh Avenue. That's right: the third day of Christmas carols blasting onto the street in front of my apartment while I'm TRYING TO STUDY FOR MY FIRST AMENDMENT EXAM. When... [Read More]

» Lady Eleanor at 4 Balls from Fig and Plum
Jeepers! Thank you SO MUCH for all the nice things you said about my Norwegian Stockings! That's the most comments I've ever received on a finished project. I hope those who are inspired by them go ahead and buy Folk... [Read More]


That yarn IS very sweet! I like how you're starting off with pink, and leaving those sections as they are, while over-dying the rest of the yarn dark pink and red!

You make it look so easy!

That color is intense! I love it! I will have to go on a dying adventure once the holidays are over!

nice job on the tutorial for dyeing. I just got back from Ga and it was a great read despite the tiredness.

Oh! And I brought you some flour!

Awesome tutorial.

Great job - I definitely want to give this a try. Now I just need a second lamp...

wow, what a wonderful tutorial! and i like it that you use baby ull to dye. now that i've used sock yarns that are not washable, i can really appreciate superwash yarns.

what a great & addictive tutorial. I read it three times. Now I am itching to try it myself. So far my Kool-Aid dying has all been the speckly kind (also very satisfying!). Thank you so much for this post. You must get a lot of satisfaction from having such pretty socks.

I like how you broke down the numbers for us, I don't recall reading that in another tut.

Great colors btw, you know of my relationship with pink and red!

You are too talented. I would never do it myself, but it gives me satisfaction seeing someone do what she does so well.

Wow, love your tutorials, unfortunately my house is too small to undertake something like this.

And I'd hoped there was an easier way..... especially with the HUGE loop of yarn wound around the living room... but nope, you did it exactly like we did!! Beautiful yarn BTW!!

Great tute! Love the colors - I especially liked the blue and orange.

When do you sleep?? :)

Excellent tutorial. You're making me really want to try it for myself. One of these days....

It looks good enough to eat! Love the idea- and the socks.

That is incredibly great! Thanks so much for posting the process. I've often wondered about it.

What a great tutorial! And the yarn turned out so well. I'd like the name too, if I were the sort to like names like that. ;)

I love pink and red together---even when it's not Valentine's day!

Thanks so much for tutorial! I'll be trying that probably as soon as I finish the current pair of socks I'm working on :)

That tutorial is terriffffic!! I am going to bookmark it an order some more wool :). Thank you.

Thanks for the great information!

Gorgeous! You don't seem new at this at all!

OMG- thanks for the pics... I tried strip-dying a while ago, and it was a disaster... i didn't know how to dye it without getting it all tangled up. My family spent hours helping tring to untangle the poor wool before dying it.

Great tutorial although to much math for me. I like to throw in the yarn and see what comes out:) I love Kool Aid dyeing!!!!!!!!!

That is exactly what I was looking for and SO HELPFUL. Thanks!

i was searching for how to make self-striping yarns and came across your blog, which is wonderful. i make and dye my own yarns and sell them, too. hard to do, but still...anyway just wanted to suggest to you trying jacquard dyes...they are just as easy as koolaid, i could even say easier, you can mix it up with water in a jar and it keep forever and you can mix any color you can imagine and it is very cheap. a few bucks dyes at least 2 lbs. if you have the primaries, you can mix almost anything and all you need is water and white vinegar and that is it. please email me if i can do anything for you.


Awesome tutorial! :) Now I really want to dye my own yarn.. Just have to get my hands on some Kool-Aid. That's the down-side about living in Denmark. That, and all that fuss about those stupid cartoons.

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that the math/step 3 picture isn't working. In case you didn't know. :)

Happy knitting!

thanks for a great tutorial.
I ended up making a warp board to measure the yarn -

Oh My God! Much respect to you, that's a lot of work to make the perfect yarn. Colours look fab, as does the perfect stripes! Hat off to you Missus.

So beautiful!
Great work on the yarn AND the tutorial!

You are just FREAKIN' AMAZING. You really need to compile all of these wonderful tutorials into a book and sell it.

Now I want to see the whole sock from your wonderfully-dyed yarn....

Wow, need I say more?

I can't wait to try this!

I like the yarn dyeing method it was very informative for me. And i was able to understand yarn dyeing very properly

wow! you're too good to be true! and very generous too.

This is amazing!!! I won a dye-it-yourself kit from Afgans for Afgans (SP?) a few years back (probably quite a few by now), and was totally intimidated. But your description and pictures are great - I am inspired. So once I finish the christmas socks, baby blanket(s), my entrelac felted knitting bag, and a few other projects, I will get right to it!!

I think I might look for a buddy, to make sure it happens!

Take care and keep up the great blogging and wonderful knitting!


I love your tutorial and the yarns are fabulous!!! But what I really want to know is how the heck do you keep your house that clean?

Awesome tutorial! :) Now I really want to dye my own yarn.. Just have to get my hands on some Kool-Aid. That's the down-side about living in Denmark. That, and all that fuss about those stupid cartoons

gorgeous stuff! one question: how washable is it? i mean, need one worry about the colors bleeding?

never mind... read the knitty guide...