Bleeding Colors

I recently read the sad post of a knitter who shared her knitting disaster:  She knit a sweater from two colors (bright red and white) and, upon washing the sweater, discovered the red bled.  Her beautifully knit sweater was now bright red and red-splotched white.

To avoid such preventable ruination, here are the steps to follow when knitting/crocheting a project with more than one color yarn.  (This is particularly important if any of your yarns are light colored.)

Note:  This is a multiple step process (yes, a bit time consuming), but it will ensure your hand creation is not ruined by color bleeding.

  1. Knit/crochet two (2) swatches from each color yarn you intend to use.
  2. For the first set of swatches, hand wash each swatch separately.  Look for any discoloration of the water.  You may find that even with the same yarn, some colors will bleed and others won’t.  Dry the swatches and compare their colors to the original skeins/balls.
  3. Wash the second set of swatches together, either by hand or, if appropriate, in the  machine.  If you’re hand washing them, look for any discoloration of the water.  Dry and compare to their original skeins/balls.

Some hints:

YarnInBowlWashI hand wash the swatches (with a drop of a gentle liquid soap such as Eucalan), in mixing bowls that have white interiors.  This allows me to more easily notice color seepage.  The picture to the right is of a swatch (still wet) I washed today in just such a bowl.

When checking for discoloration in the wash water, I put a sample of water from each wash into a small, clear glass and compare the water to a glass of tap water (holding both glasses against a white background).

If I have a bleeding yarn that is majorly protein fibers, I will make another swatch and this time add some white vinegar (a simple mordant – as is lemon juice) into the water in the mixing bowl.  Sometimes just a little extra boost is enough to remedy the bleeding.  If it works on a swatch, then I rinse all the skeins of that color in a vinegar-infused bath.  🙂

Note:  If you knit/crochet the swatches as you would a gauge swatch, you’ve saved a step!


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Crocheting, Dyeing, Fibers, Knitting. Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Bleeding Colors

  1. cleo14 says:

    Ok! I’ll have to write this down in my notebook where I keep all this kind of stuff.


  2. Hah! Nice. At least she smelled healthy…? ;-D


  3. And yet people regularly opt to skip this step … perhaps because they have faith in commercial dyes or they’ve used the yarn before and noticed no problem. 😦


  4. Plain white … no balsamic or fig vinegars. 🙂


  5. Me too! Handy for pickling as well!


  6. And sometimes we’re surprised by yarns we do not anticipate problems with!


  7. Forewarning is forearming! 🙂


  8. Thanks for chiming in on this! I once went a little overboard on vinegar, to the point where my daughter – wearing the finished sweater – said she smelled as though she had spilled salad dressing on her sweater!


  9. Thanks for this post and careful examples on avoiding disaster! So important. As a dyer myself, stories like the one you recounted always sadden me.

    No matter how careful a dyer is about exhausting dye, etc. some colours are just more naturally bleed prone – PARTICULARLY the reds. I am not sure the scientific reason for this (maybe particle size?). And yes, the intensity of dye needed in a dye bath to colour really saturated hues sometimes means that residual dye is left in the fibres. Vinegar (and if needed with heat also) will help the dye to ‘take’ if the fibre is still able to absorb more dye, but if it is saturated, no amount of vinegar will help and the extra will need to be washed out.

    It really is vital to swatch AND BLOCK swatches before starting a project. No one wants to work so hard on something for it to just be wrecked…sigh.


  10. Thank you for sharing these tips! I’ll try to remember this! I just wanted to share with you that I’ve nominated you for the Versatile Blogger award here:


  11. needleandspindle says:

    great advice, especially for hand dyed yarns and colourwork


  12. And worse, seem reluctant to learn from others’ mistakes! Swatching prevents so many sad outcomes.

    ____________________ Sent from my iPhone


  13. She decided to leave as is as she knit it for a child. (I couldn’t have done that!)

    ____________________ Sent from my iPhone


  14. Swatching. It’s a cure for so many things! Too bad we’re so reluctant to do it…


  15. marjorie says:

    Good information here, Thank you! But so sad for the sweater maker, how about dyeing the whole sweater over?


  16. cleo14 says:

    Good idea with the vinegar! I’ll have to remember that one.


  17. Good tips! With the saturated colors I love, bleeding is always a concern. I’ve gotten pretty diligent about checking the swatches, and I have a giant jug of vinegar on hand pretty much for this reason alone!


  18. If I have any reservations about possible bleeding, I was swatches. Even ifit doesn’t bleed in the swatch, I toss of glue of white vinegar in the wash with it. Better safe than sorry!


  19. excellent tip, particularly when experimenting with new fibres.


  20. babywren says:

    Good to know, thanks!


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