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Yes, You Can “Break” Acid Dyes

Learn an easy way to get complex dye effects using just one acid-dye color!

Betsy Neal Mar 13, 2024 - 10 min read

Yes, You Can “Break” Acid Dyes Primary Image

Purples are a great place to start with this method. Photos by Matt Graves unless otherwise noted

After acquiring a box of curly Teeswater locks at a guild sale, I was interested in adding more texture and color to my handspinning accomplishments. Spinning the perfect, consistent yarn was no longer my priority. Using my locks to create a fine art yarn—that’s the ticket! I began thinking about an efficient dye technique to use for the yarns I was planning. I had seen more than a few videos on “breaking” acid dye colors on both roving and yarn. This method can be used to create more colors with fewer dye batches. But how would it work on Teeswater locks? I was ready to give it a try!

What Does It Mean to “Break” Dyes?

Acid dyes available to fiber artists for use on protein fibers often come as dry powders. Common brands include ProChem, Jacquard, Ashford, Dharma, and more. Except for primary colors, the shades in these dye collections are often created by mixing a blend of various dye powders. Standard directions for acid dyes call for dissolving the dye powder in very hot water—up to boiling—to dissolve and blend the colors to achieve a consistent dyebath. However, some adventurous dyers aim to allow the mixed dye powders to separate into their multiple colors. This is often called “breaking” the dye, and one way to achieve this effect is by using the dry powder directly on fiber in cold water.

The choice of dye color is key, and purple is a good color choice if you are new to this dyeing approach. Purples can break to create a range of purples, blues, and pinks. The teal has a silver surprise. It’s surprising how many individual colors can appear. You can find information on the suppliers’ websites indicating which colors are primary (just one color powder) and which are not primary (a mix of colors).

Some of the dyes that were successful on Betsy’s Teeswater locks (clockwise from top left): Jacquard 613 Purple, Dharma 470 Chartreuse, Dharma 448 Berry Crush, Jacquard 620 Fuchsia

Pick Your Supplies

If you already have a supply of acid dyes for wool or other protein fibers, great. If not,

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