what is the secret to dyeing skeins without creating tangles?

I am new to dyeing fiber and have tried using MX dye on cotton and rayon. While I am having success getting great colors, I cant seem to keep the skeins from getting tangled in the dyebath. I wound 2 yd skeins on my skein winder, tied in 4 places (very loosely on the first try, a little tighter on the second batch) and each skein comes out of the dye tangled. I dont dare tie any tighter because my semi-loose tieing on the second color (dark purple) is lighter where the skeins were tied even though I thought I had it loose enough. I guess I need some advice. Thanks. Gail


Posted on Thu, 06/07/2012 - 19:37

If you dye the skeins by placing them on an old shower curtain or heavy plasitic, after you soak it in a mordant, you can pour the dye on the skeins and squeeze the dye in. I use cold water dyes from Dharma. After squeezing the dye in allow it to "cure" for 24 hours, place it in the washing machine soak with a textile soap, SPIN ONLY, do it again, SPIN ONLY. NOTE:  The washing machine is used as a tub for soaking - not as a washing machine.  Spinning takes a lot more water and they dry faster. Shake them. Then hang to dry. No tangles. You still may get some shading.


Posted on Sun, 06/03/2012 - 23:42

Hi Gail,

There are two keys to not getting the skeins tangled: tie them in more places (NOT more tightly...in more places) and disturb them as little as possible during the dyeing process.  I wrote a page about dyeing and unwinding fine yarns, but the advice works for bigger yarns too:


I use four ties on a 1.5-yard skein most of the time, but for very fine threads i'll tie as frequently as every four inches.

But the big secret is not to agitate the yarns or swoosh around the skein in the dyebath - just lift in and lift out.  rinse the same way.  You can do lots of rinse baths, just don't swish the skein around in it and DEFINITELY do not put it in the washer!!  That method works for fabric but will tangle skeins into an irretrievable mess.

Posted on Mon, 06/04/2012 - 01:05

Thanks,Tien. I did read your blog - actually your systematic method of mixing color blog post is what convinced me that I could do this.

I guess I shouldnt have followed the directions to "stir constantly for the first 15 minutes" and then stir every 5 minutes on the ProChem literature. I guess that is just for fabric and not for yarn. I actually thought that the dye was taken up very quickly as soon as I put the skeins in the bath. My next attempt will not involve stirring.

I am very happy with the colors I am getting. I put a skein of cotton and a skein of rayon in the dark purple bath today. The cotton is a deep bluish purple, the rayon is more toward reddish purple. Strange how two different fibers react to the same dye.

There still seemed to be a lot of color in the dyebath even though I used the amount needed for the weight of yarn I dyed. So I tossed in a small skein of unmercerized cotton and about 400 yds of more rayon. Will let them sit overnight to see how much color I can get. They will definitely be lighter than the first yarns, but still will be colorful.

So now all I have to do is hope that I can wind these skeins back on a cone without too much difficulty.

Posted on Wed, 06/06/2012 - 18:58

I find a cone is much easier to handle than a ball, especially if I'm using only half of it - balls tend to jump around if being unwound from the outside, and collapse inward if unwound from the inside.  Cones wind off evenly, and that's why I use them, even if they are a bit more complicated to wind.

For really fine yarns (like the ~30,000 ypp tram silk I'm currently dyeing) I find it easier to wind onto a spool, but for everything else, I use pirns or cones.

Posted on Wed, 06/06/2012 - 20:17

I've just finished a group project that involved unwinding skeins from lots of different people.  Many did not seem to know to tie the beginning of the skein to the end of the skein, or how to make figure 8 self ties along the skein before tying the beginning to the end. 

Even with all this self tying, I make a long loop tie (of a distinctly different yarn) through the skein as a handle.  I can fish that out to swish the skein or lift and lower the skein in the dyebath.  It also gives me one clean place to start re-organizing the skein before snapping it open.


Posted on Wed, 06/06/2012 - 21:35

Depending on how you dress your loom, I have some silk weavers that sectional beam right from the swift. Cheryl gone from a swift to a warping board.


Posted on Thu, 06/07/2012 - 19:23

I go from swift to warping reel frequently. I also go from spool to reel a lot a lot. But unless you have enough threads for a section wound togther on the swift, how does one go from swift to sectional beam?  How long are the warps -- short enough to go in a single wrap around the swift?


Posted on Thu, 06/07/2012 - 19:39

I clarified my washing machine use in the first post - soak and spin water out only.  I have done this for 15 years - no tangles.

Posted on Tue, 10/09/2012 - 20:03

I like to dye my yarns in small baggies I make from woven nylon mesh like that used in laundry bags.  I mostly do immersion dyeing for skeins and the bags work very well and keep the yarns from tangling especially when you agitate or tumble (I use a concrete mixer). For low water immersion or Ikat, Shibori or other techniques that don't require agitation just tying works well. If you tie too tightly it can act like a resist as in Shibori and if you tie loosely the yarns will dye all the way through with no interference from the ties.

Regards, Charles

Posted on Thu, 04/12/2018 - 16:27

Hi Gail,

Has anyone explained "bumping"?  After your skein has been wrung out it gets "bumped" or snapped in order to untangle enmasse.  If it's really tangled then grab a section between 2 hands and snap just that section, moving around to work the entire length little by little.  You can also drape the skein over something rigid and snap it while pulling against that.

I dye everything so am always at my dye pots and dye buckets.  For MX I use a plunger instead of a stir stick.  You need to keep the fiber moving but "stirring" is misleading.  The fiber needs to move for 2 reasons: It helps the dye to penetrate and keeps the dye "up" as it will drop to the bottom without being agitated. 

Also, in case anyone is interested: I sometimes use my "Wonder Wash" which is a manual washing machine meant for very small wash loads.  It works great for fabric and yarn if you are dyeing larger quantities.

I actually don't mind tangles as I love handling the yarn.  I consider it the tactile equivalent to the NYTimes crossword puzzles my husband does daily.

Here is a photo of the Wonder Wash.


Posted on Mon, 04/23/2018 - 01:47

Your ties should be the same as the skein yarn. Why, the ties will take up the dye and pass it on to the yarn being dyed