Yarn is dyed either in a mill or by hand. Mill dyed yarn is the type you see in the standard chain craft store, supplied by large manufacturers. Hand-dyed yarn is often created by independent fiber artists, and it provides a unique alternative to commercial offerings.
1. Fiber Type
Hand dying is almost exclusively done with natural fibers, simply because they take dye most readily and are easy for independent artists to work with. Animal yarns typically come from sheep or alpaca, while plant fibers usually come from cotton, silk, or flax (linen). Natural fibers absorb dye evenly, which results in vibrant colors that set well with minimal bleeding.
Yarn is sold by weight, and the weight term can help you determine the best usage. Fingering weight, for example, is also sometimes listed as sock weight because it is well suited for making socks. Sport weight has fibers of a slightly larger diameter compared to fingering, and it is often used for baby clothing. Worsted comes in several different thicknesses and is used for things like scarves and sweaters. There is also chunky yarn, a popular thick yarn for quickly knitting up a blanket.
3. Dip Style
Several different dying dip styles may be used for hand-dyed yarn. Full immersion dying will give every fiber in the skein the same color and hue. A popular style of dying now is dip dying, which results in yarn that is the same color but the shade gradually shifts in intensity along the fiber. Yarn can be dyed in multiple colors so that it becomes self-striping, depending on how it is knitted. Yarn shop will often unwind a skein so you can see how the colors change along the fiber.
The yarn can be dyed before it is spun, which ensures every part of the fiber is equally exposed to the dye, or it may be dyed after it is spun into yarn. Another aspect of dying is the type of dye used. Some indy dyers only use natural plant dyes, which tend to produce more muted, natural-looking colors, while others may use synthetic dyes that produce more consistent bold colors.
5. Dye Lot
Dye lot only matters if you are working on a project that requires more than one skein of yarn. Dye color consistency, particularly with hand-dyed yarns, can vary each time a new batch of dye is mixed. You want every skein to come from the same batch of dye or lot to ensure consistent color across your project.
Contact a fiber dealer to find hand-dyed yarn for your next project.