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Dealing With Bleeding Yarn

January 17, 2018



I think we have all been there; you get a brand new skein of yarn (whether it be commercial or hand dyed), you are in love with it! You start working with it and suddenly you've got very colourful hands! Or, you are unlucky enough to get through the project and to the blocking stage, and your sink fills up with very colourful water. Bleeding happens, and that's what I will be talking you through today. This is mainly based on protein/animal fibres. I don't dye a huge amount of plant fibre at the moment, because I don't enjoy it.


I was designing labels today, and a thought came into my mind...."Should I put a small note on the care instructions about bleeding?". I decided against it, mainly because I feel like "Some bleeding may occur" is quite an off putting thing to read on a label of something you have just spent upwards of £15 on. But the unfortunate truth is that it does happen. Hopefully not often! But I can guarantee that every dyer has, at some point, sent out a skein which has crocked or bled, whether they know about it or not.


Bleeding can occur for a few reasons, and it isn't necessarily an inherent flaw, or cause for alarm, but I will talk about exceptions later on. 
I will start by talking you through some basic information about how protein fibres are dyed. In order for the dye to bond to wool or other animal fibre, there needs to be acid and heat present, and it needs to be cooked until the dye has "exhausted". Exhausting is a dyer term for bonding the dye, and it means that the water is clear in the dye pan or when squeezing the yarn out. It also needs to run clear when rinsing.  

If I have a skein which does not run clear when rinsing, I have tactics to deal with that, but sometimes a skein just will not run clear, even after I have tried everything. In those cases, the skein goes into my stash and I do not put it up for sale. I think this is the policy with a lot of dyers, so if you get a skein which bleeds, you can probably assume that they did do everything correctly in the dyeing process. If you continually buy yarn from a specific dyer, and most of it bleeds, you need to contact that dyer because they have possibly been doing something wrong.


The worst colours for bleeding are: Blue and blue based blacks. Neon colours such as fuchsia, and purple pop (the really vibrant purple which breaks into pink). 




Now onto why yarn bleeds.


Firstly, it is worth noting that modern dyes are much safer than they have previously been. That includes clothing dyes. And this is because they have removed or changed some of the nasty chemicals which they used to contain. The lack of these nasty chemicals has made it easier for the dye particles to dislodge. So that's a big factor.


If your yarn is bleeding on your hands when working with it, it could be a matter of the pH in your skin has dislodged some of the dye particles. You may be fine at point of washing if this is the case, so my advice is to keep going with your project if you feel that you can. I understand that having dye on your hands isn't ideal, and if you have a job such as nursing I am guessing that you can't go into work with dye on your hands. It does come off, I promise, you just need to be persistent. But if you need it clean desperately, then cheap mould and mildew remover works wonders on dye stains. It is a drastic measure, and you will need hand cream afterwards! 


If your yarn is bleeding after you have finished your project, and you are rinsing or washing it, there are several reasons or factors.


Just to point out first of all that I am in no way "customer blaming" with these points, they are simply troubleshooting points, I promise!

One issue could be the heat of your water. I recommend that all my yarn is washed in 30 or lower. I am fortunate that my boiler is situated next to my sink and it has a little screen that tells me my water temperature. But for those of you who don't have that kind of info, I would say as long as the water is warm, you're good. Cold water isn't ideal, because it won't get rid of anything the project may have picked up. Such as dirt or grease from your hands. So if you are washing your project in hot water, and you get bleeding, that's possibly why.

Another question I would ask is "what are you washing it in?". If it's just water, then that's fine. If you are using a soap or a wash, not so fine. The soap can change the pH of the water and dislodge some dye particles. For the first wash, I suggest using just warm water. 

Area water can also be a factor. I live in a moderately soft to hard water area (basically, it's kind of in between, from what I understand!). The hardness of your water is relevant because of the higher pH levels. So whilst something may run clear for the dyer at point of rinsing, the pH levels in your water may dislodge some dye particles (I feel like I am saying that phrase a lot!).

Another factor, if none of the above apply, is that there was just too much dye used. The yarn can only take so much dye. This should have been picked up by the dyer, since in theory it would have been bleeding whilst rinsing. But these things can slip through the net. I suggest you contact me or the dyer if you think this is the case, because we need that kind of feedback.

And of course, especially if the dyer is a new business (not knocking anyone! I was new too at one time!), the dye may not be fixed effectively. Again, this is something you need to talk to your dyer about. It will likely be apparent that the dye hasn't fixed properly if it just will not stop bleeding and the colour is fading or changing. 


So, you've got a bleeder and you want to fix it at home. Obviously, there are levels of bleeding. If you have something which produces a horrendous amount of dark colour as soon as it touches water, then it will likely be one of the two latter points (too much dye, or not fixed well enough). 

First port of call for getting it sorted is to attempt to exhaust the dye yourself. Remember up there where I told you about heat and acid? That's what you need.


Method 1: Grab a bowl of water, and glug a load of vinegar in it. Sorry, it is going to smell! There is no getting away from that, unless you have citric acid in the house (used in bath bombs, so you never know!). Any vinegar will actually do, even the brown fish and chip shop stuff. Pop your item in the water and get it fully saturated through with the liquid. Squeeze it out, and wrap in cling film. Now, you can either steam it, or microwave it. I don't personally like using the microwave, my steamer is great. If you have a tiered electric steamer, that will work, but even one of those stove top veg steamer will work. For steaming, I would leave it at least an hour. For the microwave, give it a  few 3 minute bursts with a minute in between. 

Method 2: You can heat it in water on the stove. Put a saucepan on the stove with cold water, add vinegar or citric acid. Add you item, and squish it a bit to make sure it is saturated (be careful doing this if it is not superwash). Heat the pan slowly on low heat, do not boil. Once it is slightly simmering, turn the heat off and put a lid on it. Leave it for hours and hours and hours. If it cools and you can see colour bleeding, repeat the heating process one more time.


If you have used a non superwash yarn, you will need to leave it to cool down before you try rinsing again. I advise doing that for superwash too, because any extra time will help set it, but it isn't necessary for the preservation of the fibre. 


So, you get it out, you rinse it, and it is still bleeding.  Sounds like too much dye to me. My advice for this instance is that you wash in warm water with something called synthrapol, or one small drop of Fairy liquid (UK) or Dawn (US). This should wash out the excess dye. Again, use only warm water, and rinse it really thoroughly. Do not use too much detergent. You only need a drop of Fairy or Dawn in a sink full of water (synthrapol has it's own guidelines). If your project feels a bit squeaky, you have gone overboard with the detergent, but it should rinse out. 


By now, I hope that you have a lovely finished item with no colour run? If you have been through these steps, and you are still having a big issue, please contact me or the person who dyed your yarn. 


I hope this has been useful to some of you. 







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