Dying wool?

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  • #1314726
    BPL Member


    Locale: SE USA

    Will I harm Merino shirts by dying them? Would I just use the basic RIT dye?

    What about the typical old wool blanket? I have one in off-white that I'd like to use for other projects but the color will show too much dirt.

    Roger Caffin
    BPL Member


    Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe

    Wool will take dye very well, but you would be well advised to do it COLD, with very little agitation.
    Or it felts up.


    Diane Pinkers
    BPL Member


    Locale: Western Washington

    RIT dyes are what are called union dyes, created to dye either wool or cotton. They are not very good quality dyes, and are likely to fade rather quickly, both from UV radiation and from washing. What color you are dyeing matters as well. Black may fade to greenish or purplish or rustish depending on the underlying main dye. So, if you are dyeing something that you won't use for long, like a kids Halloween costume, or just want a piece of clothing for one fashion season, RIT can work ok. Most of us use our outdoor clothing for years.

    For better, more consistent results, use PROChemical PRO One Shot Dyes, found at These dyes are just mix from the bottle, like RIT, no additives necessary, but are professional grade quality dyes. Look on the left hand side of the home page for the tab for "Dyes for Wool, Silk, Nylon and Other Animal Fibers". Far more color choices as well! They also are pretty safe to handle, unlike many commercial dyes, I have put them in my septic system with no issues. It is always recommended to wear gloves when working with dyes, and also to wear a face mask when working with powders until they are made into solution.

    BPL Member


    Locale: SE USA

    Thank you both very much!

    Leonard Wright
    BPL Member


    I remember as teenager in the '80s army disposal stores sold a lot of green woollen jackets died black to make them more fashionable. Unfortunately the synthetic stitching holding the wool pieces together remained olive green.
    Rather spoiling the effect for the goths.

    Rebecca Audette


    Locale: Wicked northern, Massachusetts

    I dye wool on almost a daily basis, and it is as easy as buying a few packets of 20¢ kool-aid from the grocery store, or, if you want to get less generic with your colors, Wilton cake icing dye and vinegar, and a candy/meat thermometer. The great thing about this is that it's all food-grade, so you don't need to have special pots or mixing utensils specifically for dyeing.

    Wool (all animal proteins) and nylon fibers are the only things that will dye with this process, but believe me it works great!

    Weigh your garment when it's dry,, this will tell you how many kool aid packets you need.

    Soak your wool in warm water with two or three Tb vinegar. (none for red kook-aid) while you mix your dye bath. make sure the wool is completely soaked for at least 1/2 hour so all the little air bubbles between knits are gone.

    The acid in the kool aid, citric acid, is enough to make the FC&C dyes permanently bond to the proteins in the animal fibers.

    If you're using Wilton dyes, use vinegar as your mordant.

    One packet of kool-aid will dye about 2 oz of wool, if your sweater is 8 ounces or more, I would go with more packets than you think you need.

    Testing on a plain wool sock or some wool yarn is always helpful.

    Once you have your color where you want it, (I pre-mix my colors in quart mason jars, then dilute into a big non-reactive pot) add it to the dye pot, stir and turn on the heat.. Carefully wring out the sweater and loosen it so the fibers aren't all tight and mashed together. Sink it into the dye pot and let it heat slowly to 180° and maintain until the water in the pot is clear. This will take longer for blues and greens, but reds exhaust the fastest. Do not stir the sweater and DO NOT let it boil, it will shrink and felt, that's bad.

    Once the water is clear, turn off the heat and let stand to room temp, then rinse several times under cold water until all the flavoring smell is gone.

    For a sweater, it will take probably 1-2 dozen packets. Here are some color recipes for Wilton, Kool Aid, and other commercially available dyes.

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