grey and yellow skeins of yarn and a pink rose in the middle

Overdyeing And Modifying Yarn Colors You Don’t Like

Today’s topic is all about overdyeing and modifying yarn colors you don’t like. Let’s talk about what you can do when you are not content with the yarn color you created.

With natural dyeing, you never completely know how the final colorway is going to look like. To me, personally, this is part of the beauty of dyeing with natural materials. But it also carries an element of risk. What do you do when you obtain a colorway that is not appealing to you? Force yourself to use it anyway? Give it away?

two white and two grey cakes of yarn on a tablet painted with flowers and a mint border

Especially if sustainability is of importance to you, you naturally want to make sure that you cherish and use your hand dyed yarns. Luckily, there are different possibilities to adapt a colorway that didn’t turn out as expected. Let’s have a look at the options.

#1 Overdyeing Yarn Colors

If you are not happy with the colorway you received, placing the yarn in another dye bath and simply overdyeing the first color is a great option. This will be easiest with lighter colored yarns. But you can also try it out with darker yarns. Overdyeing darker colors works best if you are looking for a subtle shift of the hue rather than a complete color change.

For this method, you should have a look at the color wheel to find out what color you need to overdye the yarn with in order to create the colorway you are looking for. For example, in the left picture above you can see a yarn I created from a nearly exhausted dye bath. The colorway was too soft and not convincing enough for my taste. I decided to overdye it with indigo in order to achieve a light mint colorway (right picture).

color wheel
source: Impartoo

#2 Modifying Yarn Colors

Another wonderful and simple option is to modify the colorway with iron sulfate after the dyeing process is complete. I have described my process for using iron sulfate as a modifier in this blog post. In short, place the scoured yarn in an iron sulfate bath and let it sit for about 30 minutes without applying any heat. This is usually sufficient to encourage a color change. If the color hasn’t really changed after half an hour, I allow the yarn to sit in the iron sulfate bath for up to one hour total.

grey and yellow skeins of yarn and a pink rose in the middle
rose petals: yellow & light beige, rose petals + iron sulftae: grey (second to left skein)

The only downside is the fact that using iron sulfate as a modifier doesn’t work with every dyestuff. For example, placing a yarn that has been dyed with cochineal in an iron bath doesn’t change the hue of the color.

two yellow and green mini skeins of yarn and a rosemary branch next to it
rosemary: yellow (left), rosemary + iron sulfate: green (right)

On the other hand, I have had great success with modifying yarns that have been dyed with rosemary, pine needles, nettles and rose petals. All of the colorways changed significantly and beautifully. Avocado, lavender and eucalyptus are also good choices for being modified with iron sulfate. Here is an overview on the colorways you can create with iron sulfate and different plant materials:

Plant MaterialColor after Natural DyeingColor after Modifying with FeSO4
Avocadodusty pinkdusty purple
Rosesbeige or yellow
(depending on the rose)
grey/green
Eucalyptusbeigegrey
Lavenderbeigegrey
Elder Leavesyellowgreen
Pine Needlesyellowgreen
Nettlessoft yellow/beigedusty green
Rosemaryyellow/light browngreen
three grey hanks of yarn on a wooden table
rose petals + iron sulfate (left), rose petals + lavender + iron sulfate (middle), lavender + iron sulfate (right)

#3 Partially Adding More Color

Yet another way to change the color of a yarn you created is the option of adding additional color to parts of the yarn. This can be as simple as adding some speckles. You can also create a variegated yarn by only allowing part of the yarn to get in contact with the second dye bath.

Here is an example of one of my favorite colorways that started out as one of those “ugly skeins”. Unfortunately I don’t have a before picture to show you. But let me explain the process. First, I dyed the yarn in a rose petals dye bath with only parts of the yarn being touched by the dye solution. The result was a rather unimpressive lightly variegated yarn in natural and beige hues. Then I decided to add some speckles using cochineal. Since the yarn still didn’t look “finished” to me, I decided to emerge it in an iron sulfate bath. This did the trick and the former beige spots turned into a lovely shade of green while the pink cochineal speckles maintained their color. I liked the colorway so much that I decided to name it “Secret Garden” after one of my favorite childhood books.

pink and green variegated skein of yarn with flowers left and right to it
Luster Sock DK “Secret Garden”

I hope these three options gave you some inspiration of how you can adapt a colorway if you are not happy with the result of your natural dyeing endeavor in the first place. Do you have any other recommendations of how to change yarn colors you don’t like? Come share in the comments, I would love to know.

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