Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Dyeing Yarn with Highlighters


I have always enjoyed back to school shopping... or at least opening up brand new school supplies.  Crisp markers, sharp crayons, and brand new highlighters.  When these markers were fresh, before the bright fluorescent colors were dulled by text book ink, they were so bright and crisp that I wanted to doodle with them.  It was less fun to actually use them to highlight text, but I still enjoyed the process of drawing the bright, crisp lines.

I was OVERJOYED when Paradise Fibers sent me their September Fiber of the Month Club BACKPACK filled with a back to school themed fiber package.  (Disclaimer - I am a Paradise Fibers affiliate marketer and they sent me the Fiber of the Month club for free to unbox and share.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.)  Instead of the box that showed up the previous two months, I opened my front door to find a clear poly mailer with a purple draw string backpack inside.  I knew that I need to unbox this right away.  You can watch the replay of the live unboxing below:


If there was ever a subscription box geared towards ChemKnits... this was the one!  The washable nylon backpack was filled with goodies; 4 oz of undyed Cheviot wool top, 4 - 1 oz bags of recycled Sari Silk pulled rovings, and a zippered pouch that had 3 Sharpie highlighters, 1 pair of vinyl gloves, a Sheep Sticker, a chalkboard sheep pin, and some bubble gum.  The best part of this package... it included an unconventional yarn dyeing tutorial: Dyeing Wool with Highlighters!



There were rumors that this package would include a dyeing tutorial, but I didn't anticipate something so unique and whimsical.

I had been thinking about dying yarn with Sharpie Markers for a while (I recently found a huge packet from my childhood saved in one of my old boxes), but I it has never occurred to me to try to dye yarn with highlighters.  I knew as soon as I opened this package that I wanted to try this out in a livestream.  This way you could experience my true reactions (joys and frustrations) without me needing to edit the process down.

dye with highlighters

What You Need to Dye Wool with Highlighters
  • Wool (Roving or Yarn, Superwash or non-superwash, they all worked great!) 
  • Rubbing Alcohol
  • Vinegar
  • Sharpie Highlighters - I ordered some extras so I could extract some of the dye in advance and also demonstrate this in the livestream
  • Plyers - to help remove the end cap of the markers
  • 3+ cups to extract the color
  • Dedicated Dye Pot - This should be something that can hold some heat.  I heat set the color in a combination of using hot water, low immersion on the stove top in a steam pan, and steaming in a steamer basket.  You want to use non-food items for this dyeing project. 
  • Gloves - My favorites are purple nitrile gloves.  
  • Syringe (Optional) - I found the best way to extract the color was to inject rubbing alcohol directly into the dye tube, pushing out the dye.  This was significantly faster than cutting up the tubes and letting the dye come out overnight.  
  • Black Light (Optional)

The instructions included with the kit were fairly broad and left a lot of room for creativity.  The general concept for this project is to dye the wool like you were using acid dyes.  Presoak your yarn or fiber in a vinegar solution, add the dye, add heat, and then rinse it out once the colors have absorbed.  


The dye extraction step can take a few hours, so I picked up a few extra highlighters to do a cooking show type swap during the livestream.  The night before, I opened up three highlighters, cut the tubes into pieces, and left them to soak in a 50/50 mixture of warm water and rubbing alcohol.  By the morning, the tubes were much paler and there was a lot of color in the mixture.  During the livestream, I discovered that if I injected rubbing alcohol slowly into the highlighter dye tube, I could push out the dye fairly quickly.  Maybe I didn't need to do the overnight step, but at least there was plenty of color the play with so we could do multiple dyeing projects with these highlighters.  


The livestream is long, but we learned so much during this time.  The yellow highlighter is pH sensitive, so when you add acid it looks like it disappears.  (Later in the recap I discovered that this didn't completely disappear, but I'll get to that in a moment.)  The vibrant yellow as no where to be found, leaving behind a faint butter yellow color.  The pink, orange, and blue were super saturated and bound really well to the fiber.

Immediately after I added the dye 
paradise fibers highlighter tutorial
After an hour
In addition to dyeing the roving I got in my Paradise Fibers - Fiber of the Month Club Subscription, I decided to dye 6 miniskeins in different fiber types. I drew the highlighters directly onto some 100% acyrlic, 100% polyester, 100% cotton, 100% superwash merino, 75% superwash merino/25% nylon, and 100% Peruvian Highland wool yarns that had been presoaked in vinegar.  The yellow had a bit of trouble sticking, but the other colors went on easily.  I steamed the yarn and then washed to to see where the colors stuck.  The highlighters dyed the wool based yarns really nicely, with sharper marks on the superwash yarns.  The highlighter almost completely washed out of the synthetics and cotton yarn, which the exception of a faint trace of pink on each of them.


In addition to the roving and the mini-skeins, I also hand painted some yarn with the highlighter color to see how those would turn out.

The livestream recap for this project is a little more involved (i.e. longer) than normal.  I decided to wash all of the highlighter dyed fiber on camera so you could see how color fast, and how much bleeding, there was in each of the projects.


I think the biggest surprise was that the yellow highlighter actually bound to the yarn.  It looked like it completely disappeared in acid, but when you looked at the yarn under the black light you could see it show through. When I was handpainting the orange and pink yarn, I tried to paint on some yellow and once it disappeared, I covered that up with the pink and orange.  Under the black light, you could see where I had added the yellow!  This could be a super fun way to create a hidden message on a sock blank. 


I was surprised how much fun this project was.  I knew it would be whimsical, but I did not anticipate the level of color saturation you could achieve with highlighters on yarn.  I loved that so many of you decided to join me at home.  This livestream really felt like a dye-a-long - you were able to test things and share your own results in the live chat.  This was unbelievably fun.  I have a feeling that this is something that will end up in a Dyepot Weekly episode in the future. 

how to dye yarn with sharpies

Thank you so much, Paradise Fibers, for sending me this project!  It was a true pleasure to play around with this technique.  Clearly I need to revisit this package of Sharpie Markers... It shouldn't matter that they are decades old, I bet I'll be able to extract some color from them!

This post contains affiliate links to Paradise Fibers, Amazon, and KnitPicks.  Paradise Fibers sent me their products to review, and I was so excited that I did multiple extra videos and blog posts.  I selected items from Amazon and KnitPicks myself.  All thoughts and options are my own.  

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