Dye Yarn in Your Slow Cooker

non toxic crockpot yarn
See this yarn?  I dyed it in my crockpot!  No kidding. And the color is permanent. Knit is up into socks or a sweater and the color won't go anywhere. I have several pairs of hand knit socks that had the yarn dyed in this method and 5 years later they still look great.

I love this process because it uses kiddo safe ingredients. Everything is non-toxic and you can use your kitchen tools to do it. Plus it's the totally lazy way to dye yarn. Just like with slow cooking food, you set it up and forget about it for a few hours.


  • Yarn made from at least 50% animal fiber like wool, alpaca, etc. 
  • Waste yarn (yarn scraps not made from protein fiber. Cotton or acrylic are great)   
  • Food coloring (I like Wilton's food coloring paste)
  • Vinegar (use the cheapest white vinegar you can find)
  • Slow Cooker
  • Colander
  • Salad spinner
  • Optional: 
    • Gloves (if you don't like having blue hands)
    • Crockpot liner (if you don't like having a blue crockpot)
    • Disposable silverware for handling and stirring the dye. 

Important Things Before We Start: 

(Read this!)

What kind of yarn this is going to work with?
This process will only work on protein-based fibers....meaning a fiber that came from an animal. Wool, alpaca, silk, etc.  This process will not work with plant-based fibers like cotton, flax, bamboo, etc.

It can be a mixed fiber (the yarn in my photos is a 75% wool, 25% nylon blend) but it needs to be at least 50% protein fiber.

What kind of food coloring should you use?
It's important to note that for dying yarn, you really should use synthetic food dye (as in, NOT veggie-based natural food dyes). I use Wilton's food coloring paste  because it is concentrated and not watered down (plus it comes in dozens of colors). If you're switching to natural food colors in your pantry, this is a great way to use up the synthetics you have had on hand but don't want to put in your food.

Some other important things to know about working with yarn...
You have to be nice to your yarn to get it to behave ("behave" meaning not end up in a wadded up, felty mess). Three things make yarn felt:
  • Temperature Shock (going from very hot to very cold quickly and vice versa)   
  • Agitation   
  • Soap 
These are the things we want to avoid. So throughout this process, handle your yarn gently and remember not to take cold yarn and plop it in super hot water, or take it out of a hot crock pot and run it under cold tap water. Got it?  Cool!

Let's get started!

Step 1: Tie the Yarn
My yarn came conveniently wrapped in a big circle called a hank. If your yarn came in ball or skein, you'll want to get it into a hank by wrapping it around the back of a chair or the end of your table. Got your hank of yarn ready? Great!  Lay it out in on the table and grab your waste yarn.

We want to secure the yarn in 4 different spots around the circle using the waste yarn (the pink yarn in the pics) to help keep it from getting tangled while messing with it.  You want to tie it loosely so that all the dye can still get under it.  Like so:

Step 2: Pre-Treat
Now that the yarn has been tangle-proofed we need to pre-treat our yarn with an acid (vinegar) to help the color stick.  Pour about 2/3 cup of white vinegar and 8 cups of warm (but not hot) water into a large bowl.   Place your yarn on top of the water and push it straight down.  Hold it down until the yarn has been saturated enough to stay under the water.  Let your yarn sit in the vinegar water for at least 30 minutes.

Step 3: Set Up Slow Cooker
While the yarn is soaking, you can get your slow cooker and dye solution prepped.  Set up the liner in your slow cooker if you're going to use one. Scoop out some food color paste (about a knife tip full) and stir it into about 4 cups of warm water in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Use more or less color depending on how dark you want the yarn. And remember....you can always add more dye later if you want your yarn to be darker.

For this batch of yarn, I'm using "violet:" Wilton's food color paste. The purple dye splits up a bit when you're dyeing and make some areas more blue and some more purple. I like that. Their other colors don't split as badly and will give a more uniform result.

Step 4: Cook the Yarn
Once your yarn is done soaking in the vinegar water, pick it up out of the vinegar solution and lay it in the bottom of your slow cooker. Don't worry about wringing it out or messing with it....just pick it up out of the bowl and move it over. Add more warm water until there is enough pretty dye water in the slow cooker to cover the yarn

Put the cover on your slow cooker, set it to high heat and let it cook your yarn until the dye has been exhausted from the water (the yarn will be colored but the water should be clear). Depending on how much dye you put in the water and low long you let it soak in the vinegar, this can take anywhere from 2-4 hours. It won't hurt it to cook for longer, though. So go pick up the kids from school, run some errands, take a nap and come back and check on it in a few hours.

This is what is will look like once the dye is exhausted:

Once the dye is exhausted, you can decide if you want to add more dye to make it darker or alter the shade. If you want to add more dye, take the yarn out of the slow cooker and put it on a plate or in a bowl. Mix more food coloring (you could even get adventurous and use a different color!) into the water and return the yarn to the slow cooker.  Let it cook until the dye has been exhausted again.

Step 5: Drain & Rinse
Once you are happy with the color of your yarn, remove the yarn from the crockpot and place it in a colander in the sink. Allow it to sit in the sink to drain and cool off for about 15 minutes (or longer). If you have something to do, go do it and come back once you have about 10 more minutes to mess with it.

Depending on how long your yarn sat before you came back to it, it may still be warm or it may be rather cool. Before you rinse your yarn, it's very important to touch it and see how warm it is (remember, temperature shock = felted yarn). Run some water from your tap and get the water to match the approximate temperature of your yarn. Once the water temperature matches, run the water over the yarn to rinse out any excess dye that may be lurking. Keep rinsing until the water running out the bottom of the colander is clear.

Before hanging your yarn up to dry, we want to remove as much excess water as possible. A salad spinner is my favorite way to do that. Drop your fresh yarn in the basket and spin out the remaining water. If you don't have a salad spinner, gently squeeze the yarn (don't wring or twist it).  Once you've manually removed as much water as you can, hang your yarn up to dry.  It can take up to a full day depending on the humidity in your area, but once it's dry you can re-wrap it into a ball or re-twirl it into a hank.

Give your pretty yarn to a knitter or crocheter you love for the holidays or use it to knit a one-of-a-kind article for yourself.


  1. Great tutorial. Thanks for being so detailed. I have always wanted to start dying but wasn't sure where to start.

  2. I just used your tutorial and made beautiful yarn!!!! It worked perfectly! Thanks so much!

  3. Any idea how light fast the food-coloring dyes are? Will the color fade quickly?

    1. This dying method is permanent. Best results are accomplished with animal fiber yarn (the higher the quantity of animal fiber, the more dye it can absorb). Also be sure not to skimp on the vinegar as that is what reacts with the food coloring and yarn to lock the color in.

  4. What do you use to line your slow cooker? Great tutorial....just might give it a go! Thanks

    1. I believe Reynolds makes (or made) the product- they are plastic slow cooker liners designed to make clean up easier in your slow cooker. I never use them for food due to concern about about the chemicals in the plastic leaching into the food but they work great for this application. Look for them near the foil in the grocery store

  5. Hi there,

    I accidentally got acrylic yarn. Will the dye not exhaust? What will the problem be? It's been cooking for over an hour with red dye but it's still kind of a pale orange and the water is not clear.

    1. Oh no! If it is 100% acrylic, while you might be able to stain it, it will not absorb the dye like a protein (animal based) yarn like wool, alpaca, angora or silk would. I should not this process ONLY works with animal based fibers so if you try again, be sure to check the label to make sure it isn't cotton, linen, bamboo, etc because this process will not work with those types of yarn either

  6. I'm so excited to try this. If I wanted a base color with bits and pieces of other colors (have you seen the handmaid mkal?) would I put the base color first? Or the darker stripes of other colors?

    1. To get something kind of like handmaid mkal, do the base color the way I show you except use less water (like in the not enough water picture above). To add the darker spots, put some warm water, a couple Tbsp vinegar and dye in a 2 cup measuring cup and slowly pour it in around in the areas sticking out of the water. Then don't stir it and let it sit and absorb the dye.

      Have fun experimenting with it!


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