Equipment for dyeing with acid dyes is really very easy to come by. There are three types of equipment you will need: something in which to pre-soak and rinse your yarn or fiber, something in which to dye, and some kind of a heat source.
Pre-soak and rinse: I use the heck out of the 5 gallon buckets you can get at big home improvement stores and hardware stores, and even stores like Wally world. They will hold up to 20 skeins of yarn or a couple of pounds of fiber and can easily be rinsed out. If you are only dyeing a couple of skeins, you can use large plastic food storage containers. One of the best deals out there is the dollar store where you can get dishpans for a dollar. I use them for every step of the dyeing process that doesn’t involve heat.
Concerning pre-soaking your fiber/yarn: I know that it is quicker to skip this step, but your yarn and fiber have been through a process that involves machinery that requires oil to run properly. This oil and residual dirt from the animal the fiber was removed from end up on and in the fiber. To get a good result from dyeing, it’s always wise to pre-soak the products in order to get rid of the residue. Below you can see the clean water before soaking, water from an over night yarn pre-soak, and water with the residue from pre-soaked fiber. Pretty gross, isn’t it?
Something in which to dye: Depending on your dyeing method, you can use any number of containers. You can apply dye in any kind of container you like, but to heat it to bonding temperature, you need heat resistant plastic, glass, or stainless steel. Remember that the bond between the dye and the fiber is a chemical bond and you need a container that will not react to the dye, acid or heat. For this reason, never use aluminum containers! Thrift shops can be a great source for glass containers (corningware or pyrex ware) as well as the occasional stainless steel stock pot.
Heat source: I use the stovetop with a stock pot, the oven with stainless steel steam table pans, crock pots, wrap and steam in saran wrap in a tamale steamer or in the microwave. You can also microwave in glass or plastic containers, but be careful with the plastic…it can melt…don’t ask me how I know…
Accessories: Plastic spoons for measuring dye, glass or plastic measuring cups, syringes for measuring dye stock (get these from a feed store – much cheaper and available in larger sizes), saran wrap, jewelers scale for accurate measurement of dye powder, cupcake liners to measure dye powder in, disposable or kitchen gloves to protect your hands, and disposable masks to protect from inhaling dye powder. Believe me, that stuff is very light and darn near invisible , and you don’t want it in your lungs: there’s a reason many of the tie-dyers of the 60s died of lung cancer! Many of these things are nice to have, but not strictly necessary for dyeing a few skeins, but are invaluable for dyeing more than that.
NOTE: Keep the utensils and containers you use to dye strictly for dyeing. DO NOT use them for food again after dyeing. I can hear you saying “but I only use Kool-aid or food safe dyes!” That may be true, and 99% of the dyes I use are made with the exact same chemicals as Kool-aid and food dyes. That’s not the issue (although there are dyes you will want to use to get colors like aqua that are made from some pretty toxic chemicals). Remember the pictures of the pre-soak water? Your fiber and yarns have been through a process that leaves them with residue that you don’t want your family ingesting. And… you don’t know where that sheep has been! So make me happy – use dedicated dye materials and containers!
The bottom line is that it doesn’t have to cost a ton to get started dyeing. You probably have many of the required items on hand. Don’t go out and spend a lot of money on dyeing equipment until you know that you want to do it for more than a few skeins at a time for you and friends.
Next time: Yarn and dyes – where do I get them?