If the dye is properly set in the yarn, you shouldn't have an issue with colors bleeding (also known as crocking) when you wash them. However, factors such as the soap you use to wash your project and the mineral content of your water (which is ever-changing in a lot of places) can affect the fastness of the dye. While a little bit of color release is actually normal for any dyed yarn or fabric when it's washed, it is NOT normal to have the color of your water change dramatically. If it does, that means that the dye was improperly set.
There's truly nothing sadder than having a little excess dye running into a lighter color and marring an otherwise lovely FO. Here are some steps you can take to prevent this from happening, starting with (you guessed it) actually testing for color fastness.
Color Fast Test Option 1: Prewash skeins BEFORE you knit with them, especially if they are highly saturated colors. such as reds, yellows and pinks, which are particularly susceptible to bleeding. Not only will this step let you know if your yarn is at risk to bleed in the future, it will also reduce the amount of color bleeding in subsequent washes. Translation: it's win-win.
Color Fast Test Option 2: If you forgot to prewash (or, let's face it, just didn't want to!), do the mason jar test! Add some cold or tepid water to a jar, add a tiny bit of your preferred fiber wash, and then add a small amount of the yarn you'd like to test. Shake it around and let it sit for a bit to see if the dye starts to seep into the water. If your water is clear after several minutes, you probably don't have to worry about the colors bleeding when you wash your project.
HOWEVER: You can never be too cautious when it comes to hand-dyed yarns, and when are using something bright with something light or undyed, and ounce of prevention can save you a lifetime of regret!
Using my own recently-finished project as an example, I'll show you some easy ways you can reduce crocking during the blocking process.
I took it as a good sign that absolutely no dye rubbed off on my fingers or needles when knitting with it, but I still decided to test the dyed yarn with the mason jar test mentioned above. Even after letting the yarn soak for hours, the dye didn't bleed, but I still felt the need to take extra steps to prevent any unfortunate mishaps when washing this shawl for the first time. Here are the 3 things I did to make sure this project still looked great after a full immersion wet block:
First, I added a Shout! Color Catcher to the water. You can get a box of 24 for less than five bucks at Target, and let me tell you - that is completely worth the peace of mind.
Second, I made sure to use very cold water, because warm water can encourage the release of dye particles.
Third, I quickly removed the project from the water after soaking for only a few minutes - the longer you leave it in the water, the greater chance you have of your dyes starting to bleed!
Before I show you my gorgeous finished shawl, I have one more tip to share with you: Add vinegar to the wash water to help set the dyes.
Most dyers use a stronger form of citric acid to do this during the dye process, but vinegar is just another form of citric acid that you most likely have in your pantry! While this trick doesn't work for all dyes/fibers, it can never hurt....provided you don't mind it if your yarn smells a little vinegar-y of course!
I hope these tips give you confidence in using hand-dyed yarns with undyed, natural or very light colors in your next project.
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