Dip-Dyeing to Create Shading in Hooked Rugs

serendipity close up

Close up of a peony, hooked using dip-dyed yarn

You will flip when you find out how easy it is to create realistic shading in hooked rugs! Dip-dyeing is the key and it is just too easy.

I begin by making small skeins, around 6″ in length.  I find wrapping my yarn around a sharpie pen box or a paperback book works well.  Wrap around 40 times, then with a contrasting yarn, tie the top and bottom of the skein, while it is still on the box or book. Then slip the skein off and cross-tie it with the contrasting yarn.

dd2 for web

Wrapping skeins for dip-dyeing. On the left, the yarn has been wrapped 40 times and the top and bottom have been tied off with contrasting yarn. In the middle, the skein is cross-tied to keep it from getting tangled in the dyebath. On the left, three skeins have been bundled together.

Now to set up the dyebath.  I like to use a roasting pan with 8″ high sides, so I can see what is happening.  I fill the roasting pan with about 1″ of water, then I fill a mason jar with around 1″ of water and put it into the pan.  I bring the water to a boil, then I keep it at a simmer while I’m dyeing.

I add a smidge, a speck, a sprinkling of dye to the mason jar.  Remember, it is much easier to add more dye if you need it than it is to take it away, so start small.


A few grains of pink dye to add to the mason jar

I keep several small pieces of my yarn to use as samples, to test the dyebath.  Drop one small piece into your mason jar and let it sit for a couple of minutes.  You are aiming for the darkest value at this point, but it can be a bit paler to begin with.  Again, it’s easy to add more dye later.

For these pictures, I show the mason jar by itself, but in reality, it is sitting in the roasting pan.

Begin by lowering your bundle into the mason jar, so just the bottom end comes in contact with the dyebath (use a spoon to hold the yarn up so it doesn’t slip down too soon).  Let the yarn sit for around five minutes, then take away the spoon and let the bundle sink down a bit.

Keep pushing the yarn down gradually further until it is totally submerged.

At this point, I lift up my bundle and check the color.  It should look darker on the bottom and fade gradually to the top.  If your bottom color is not dark enough, you may now add a TINY AMOUNT of dye to the mason jar.  You might need to add more water to bring it up to 1″ again.  I take a bit of the hot water from the roasting pan if I need more, then I don’t need to reheat my dyebath.  Check the color with a sample piece.  If you’re happy with the color, dip the bundle back into the mason jar, dropping and lifting, dropping and lifting, until you have the gradation of color you’re looking for.


Finished bundle. When the yarn is dry, cut it at both ends and remove the cross-tie.

Now all you have to do is hook in the direction that you want the shading to go.  In other words, for this flower, I start hooking inside the petal, and hook outward, toward the outside edge of the petal.  The yarn changes color while you hook.

This method works best when there is regular, repeated shading, as in the many petals in a flower, or the highlights and lowlights in a leaf.

hibiscus grey finished with samples

This sample shows the hibiscus flower, hooked using three different dyeing methods. Left, dip-dyed yarn, in the middle, successive dyeing, and on the right, handspun yarn in shades of white and gray

You have choices as to how you want to approach shading.  For a flower like the hibiscus above, you can go with dip dyed, for an easy gradation of color.  You can also try successive dyeing and hook with the different shades as needed, or you can start with handspun yarn that has been blended in shades of white and gray.

Remember that you can always overdye your yarn when you want to do shading.  Below, I took the leftovers from the sample above and overdyed them in a light pumpkin dye.

hibiscus overdyed for web

This sample shows how it would look if you overdyed your yarn. Left, dip-dyed yarn overdyed, middle, successive yarn overdyed and right, handspun white and greys overdyed

Blog subscribers can order this Hibiscus Sampler on burlap to practice shading at http://www.littlehouserugs.com/blog-special-hibiscus-sampler.html.

This month’s Featured Rug at http://www.littlehouserugs.com is a group of hand-hooked dollies.


Have fun with small projects like these dolls!

Read more about them at http://www.littlehouserugs.com/featured-rug-dolls-march-2016.html.  If you have ever tried hooking dolls or stuffed animals, contact me.  You might get your project included in my next book!

terrier finished for web_edited-1

Good Dog, Refurbished by Judy Taylor 22.5″x36″

You can win this Good Dog Rug (a $385.00 value)!  For every $50.00 you spend at Little House Rugs, from now until November 25, 2016, you will be entered to win!

Happy hooking everyone!



5 thoughts on “Dip-Dyeing to Create Shading in Hooked Rugs

  1. jean says:

    Hi Judy, I like your blog. I wanted to hook a rug, I had th pattern, the big decision was whether to use wool or yarn. Iam not a fan of the primitive look with the wool strips. So after some searching I noticed there were some that used yarn. I liked the look with the yarn. Now to gather more info about Hooking with yarn and dyeing it. Thanks for the info so far.


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