Tips and Tricks Tuesday - Bleeding Yarn

May 17, 2016

Tips and Tricks Tuesday - Bleeding Yarn

Before I dive into todays topic I wanted to give a brief update on Moth-agedon. Last time I’d given you a link to some moth traps. I’ve since realized that those traps are for pantry moths and not the variety that eat wool. You actually would need these traps for wool moths. And yes, they work! I’m currently that person that wakes up each morning to check her moth traps and am gleeful to see more and more of the little buggers caught in the sticky trap. But it also means that I’m slowly getting things under control at casa Nelson which is a good thing for the stash. So, moving on.
I’m asked pretty frequently what to do about yarns that bleed so I thought it would make a great topic for a Tips & Tricks Tuesday post. This is by no means an exhaustive discussion on the topic but is my experience as a knitter and a dyer with a bit of research thrown in. Feel free to add any input in the comments! 
Bleeding is something that can occur for a few reasons and not only occurs in hand dyed yarns but in commercial ones as well.
 
  1. Crocking. Crocking is the same things that happens when you buy a new pair of dark colored jeans and the color rubs off a bit on your skin as you wear them. Worse in warm weather right!? This is usually caused by the pH of your skin pulling the dye out of the fabric or yarn. This CAN be an indication that it will bleed once washed but not always. If you’re experiencing any crocking as you knit (blue fingers anyone?) it’s a good idea to wash it first. Wash yarn just like you would a finished wool project. Room temperature water, wool wash, submerge gently and let sit for 30 min. or so, etc.
  2. Not rinsed completely. Sometimes a yarn bleeds when washed just because it wasn’t rinsed completely after it was dyed. As a dyer I try to rinse and rinse and then rinse some more so that any excess dye that hasn’t bonded to the fiber is rinsed away. This is harder for stubborn colors like reds and deep gorgeous blues, like the one in the photo above. Many yarns of those colors will have minimal bleeding that resolves itself after a few washes.
  3. Improperly set dye. Minimal bleeding is pretty common but never ending bleeding isn’t, although it does happen. If you’ve washed your yarn or garment 3, 4, or 5 times and the water is still as full of color as the first few times and your yarn is becoming lighter than you have something that wasn't properly set. Dyeing can be fickle and complicated at times but to simplify, you have to create an environment where the dye bonds with the fiber on a permanent level. If  you don’t, then each time you wash more dye molecules will drop off and go down the drain.
So, you’ve discovered you have a bleeder, what do you do? First just wash your yarn. If you’re working on a color work project that uses two very contrasting colors (i.e.: one very light and one very dark) I’d always recommend washing first. That way you can take care of any bleeding beforehand and you don’t have a finished garment ruined by bleeding later. Wash with a wool wash like Soak just like you normally would. If you have minimal bleeding, wash until the water runs clear. 
If you have a serious bleeder you’ll need to set the dye. There’s a huge group of people that say all you need to do to set bleeding yarn is to add vinegar to your wash. I don’t understand this logic. When dyeing you need an acid (vinegar) AND heat to set dye, it’s chemistry. If all you needed was vinegar I wouldn’t have to slowly simmer my yarn for hours to get the colors to stick. So, just adding vinegar to the wash really won’t work. You need to add heat as well. 
Grab a metal pan (one you won’t use again for food) and fill with tap water and a glug of vinegar. You can also use citric acid if you happen to have some from doing some canning. Submerge your yarn and slowly bring up the temperature. You don’t want to shock the fibers or you’ll have felt. Let simmer for 30 minutes to an hour. You don’t want the water to boil but just to lightly simmer and steam. Then turn of the heat and let it sit overnight. In the morning you should see that the water around the yarn is clear. This means that the dye has bonded to the fiber. You can now rinse as normal.
There are also those that recommend microwaving your yarn to set the dye. While yes, this works it’s also dangerous. I won’t go into how many times I burnt yarn this way. Just stick with the stove. It’s slower but better in the long run. Of course, let me know if you’ve come across any other methods or tricks for dealing with the bleeders! 
Stitch On, 
Kayanna