A Fibre Diet for Hand Painting your Knitting

This poly/linen/silk blend is enhanced by the addition of the silk and the linen. Linen does not take dyes in the same way as the rest of the fibres in the blend. The silks grip on colour helps to balance the textural note that the linen adds. Linen does not take much colour without the riight mordant.

Which fibres do you like to work with when you knit?  Soft, buttery, silky and bouncy are the fibres I like, and not necessarily all of those attributes in the same yarn.  When you are planning on painting those fibres with dyes after knitting there are a few other attributes you need to be aware of as well!

Most of my painted projects have been protein based fibres.  This means that they come from a living creature; sheep, alpaca, goat, rabbit or silk worm.  I haven’t had an opportunity yet to try out the “new” protein fibres that are made from milk or soy proteins – it is on my list of things to do!  Classic Elite has a new yarn “Vail” – that will be my first painting project next spring.  I really want to see how the Baby Alpaca/Bamboo fibre takes the dye – But I digress!

This is necessary because of the type of dye I use.  All that is required to set the dye colours is an acid – vinegar – and heat – an old steamer!  Once the dyes have set I don’t ever have to worry about the colours running or staining my clothing.  The colours also need to be set because they intensify and clarify with setting.

Wool Fibre

Jaimeson and Smith Stetland Cobweb - all soft lines and impressionistic!

The easiest and quite often the least expensive of the fibre options for dyeing.

Briggs and Little Sport - no hard edges and lots of colour combining.

Wool fibre can run the gamut from inexpensive and “wooley” – some people call that scratchy!  To very fine and very expensive, depending upon the quality of the fibre.

All wools take dyes very well and all will draw the dyes deep into the fibre.  Wools will give you the greatest dye blending in your painting and the least amount of definite shape to the colours – the final effects will be very impressionistic!

Wool is perhaps my favorite yarn for painting, but then I love the impressionistic effect of the dyes and the yarn.

Alpaca, Camel or Llama Fibre

Drops Alpaca - 100% alpaca - draw but still some definition.

Alpaca, Camel and Llama are all members of the camelid family.  This type of fibre is of the hair variety, very soft, silky and does not necessarily have a lot of bounce.  This type fibre reacts to dye in a very similar manner to wool, but does not draw the dye into the knit as fast as wool does.  This gives the painter a little more control and the ability to create greater detail!

Alpaca can be very affordable and is a good fibre to try painting when you are painting for the first time and want to control your results a little more than wool will allow.

Undyed CamelSpin - gorgeous in it's own right!

I don’t think that there is any drawback to working with alpaca or any fibre from the camelid family.  One note:  Any fibre with Camel hair in it will be much darker than most other fibres in its natural state – not all dyes will cover that natural colour!  The Camelspin is a yarn from Handmaiden, 70%silk and 30%camel – see how the camel has darkened the silk!  Beautiful, but something to consider before painting.

Goat Fibre

This group of fibre includes both Mohair, from the Angora Goat and Cashmere, from the Cashmere Goat.  While both of these fibres originate on the back of a goat, that is where the similarity ends.

Mohair – Mohair is most commonly seen as that “hairy” type of yarn, one that makes some people look at it and declare itchy without even a touch!  Mohair can be spun like a traditional wool, but we seldom see it that way.  When we do it is usually a hand-spun.  When spun like this mohair has an incredible sheen and drape.  Tivoli,by Stacey Charles is a traditionally spun mohair/silk blend – I haven’t tried painting a smooth spin in mohair as yet.  I think that it would be gorgeous!

80%merino and 20% cashmere - see how the flower shapes have all blurred together!

Hairy mohair is quite often combined with wool, silk or nylon.  These other yarns are the binders that hold the long hairs of the mohair in place.  All of these binders take dye very well, as does the mohair – painting mohair is very rewarding.

70%mohair and 30%silk - same technique but different fibers, see how the shapes have been maintained by the fibre!

Mohair, like alpaca does not draw the dyes as fast as wool, again allowing for more time to consider dye placement and greater shape control.

The two samples used the same technique to create the floral shape, but the sample with the higher wool content has basically lost all definition.  It is not bad or ugly, but the results are very different.  This is something to consider when choosing your fibre for painting.

Cashmere – From the cashmere goat, a small very rugged little animal this luxury fibre is very different from its mohair cousin.  Seldom spun to be hairy, though it can be, Superiorby Filatura is a beautiful example of a brushed Cashmere!  The link for Superior takes you to a review of Superior by Clara Parkes of Knitters Review – she and I are in perfect agreement!  Most cashmere yarns are spun like a traditional yarn and have an incredibly soft hand and great loft!

100% Cashmere, very little draw and soaks up a tremendous amount of dye.

Handmaidens’ 4-ply Cashmere is a personal favorite and I did not waste much time before creating a shawl to be painted.  Cashmere paints very well.  It draws but not too fast, if anything it draws even slower than mohair, I wondered if this was because of the way that it was spun, but no, when I worked with the Diamond Cashmere Silk I had a similar experience.

Brushed cashmere/silk - vivid colours that stayed put.

The Diamond Cashmere Silk is created like the Superior, same blend and yardage and most likely created in the same mill, but dyed differently.  I worked with the undyed yarn in the Painted Ladies Shawl and found that it took the dye much like the traditionally spun cashmere.  Cashmere really soaks up the dye and does not move it around much.  I really appreciated the addition of the silk in the one yarn.  The silk seemed to give the colours greater vibrancy!

Angora Fibre

Angora - vivid colours, some draw, reacts a lot like cashmere.

Angora fibre is from the Angora Rabbit, not the Angora Goat.

It is very soft, very light and very warm.  The Victorians used to make wrist warmers and fingerless mittens for those afflicted with arthritis as the warmth encouraged blood flow.  I have only worked with Angora once so far, Peter Rabbit by Fleece Artist. I plan on working more with it as I loved the results.  Vivid colours, not too much spread but just enough!

Fresco - the Angora seems to add a modicum of control to the painting.

It reminds of cashmere in the way it soaks up the dye, but does not move around too much.

I recently worked with Fresco by Classic Elite, it has only 10% Angora, enough for the halo, common to Angora and it added control to the rest of the Wool and Alpaca that it was blended with!

Angora added some real control for the image.  The lines remain visible and the picture is recognizable.  I still need to learn more about the techniques I want to try!  But that is the fun of the whole process.  We learn every time we try something new.  Sometimes we enjoy the process and want to repeat it and sometimes we learn enough to know that we don’t want to do it again.


Silk is the product of silkworms.  It is the cocoon that each worm creates to go into to start the transformation from worm to moth.  Transformation, that is what are doing with our knitting every time we paint!

Handmaiden Lace Silk - 100% silk - clean lines and no draw - very vivid colours!

Painting on silk is similar to dry brush painting – or so I am told.  There is almost no draw with 100% silk.  The colours remain where they were put and you can have strong lines and defined shapes.  I have only painted with 100% silk once – when I first started the journey.  I found the process with silk a little less forgiving than the other fibres.

Where silk does shine is when it is blended with any of the other fibres that I have worked with.


Briggs and Little Sport - 100% wool, soft edges and blended colours.

Nowadays we seldom work with 100% of any kind of fibre, excepting wool.  Every fibre has its particular strength and they are often blended to take advantage of the strengths of each fibre.  Angora and Cashmere are both lightweight and warm, but they have no memory – no bounce back.  They are often blended with wool to added extra warmth without weight and to add extra yardage.  I find that the blends often paint better than any of the 100% fibres.

50%wool/50%silk - better colour definition.

Cashmere and Angora add control when painting with dyes and Silk add vibrancy to the colours.    Any blend that we choose to work with will be improved by the addition of these fibres.

I will be painting more and trying more fibres, but my favorite is still probably 100% wool.  I love the draw and the impressionistic finish given by the wool.  Next in line are the mohair silk blends!  I really don’t think that I will ever not enjoy painting any fibre, but if I had to choose….  What will be your favorite?

Wool, Alpaca and Silk, clear edges and colours!

Happy Painting


14 Responses to A Fibre Diet for Hand Painting your Knitting

  1. have you every painted then felted (shibori) your garments..? considering using mohair and silk.

    • Hi Andra,

      I have done shibori felting, but never on anything that I have painted…Mmmmm…..Something to consider.

      I would try swatching, painting and then felting before committing to a full garment! Good luck. I would love to see your results!

      Happy Knitting

  2. Magdalen says:

    This is very helpful! I am preparing to dye a finished piece for the first time and I hadn’t even considered the differences in fiber absorption. Thanks!

    • Hi Magdalen,

      I am glad to be of help! Let me know if you have any questions. I would also love to see what you create! If you can, please share!


      • Magdalen says:

        I’ve found plenty of tutorials for dyeing hanks and roving, but not for finished objects. Should I soak the item in vinegar water first, or mix the vinegar with the dye and paint on the dry garment? I’ll be using a 70% wool, 30% silk blend. Thanks!

      • Hi Magdalen,
        I have always soaked the item in a vinegar water solution first. I have never tried a dry approach – something for next summer perhaps!
        I would not try mixing the vinegar into the dye solution itself, because that would disturb the chemical make-up of the dye.
        Hope that this helps!

  3. Magdalen says:

    That makes sense. I was worried about absorption and bleed. I might try dry painting a small swatch just to see what happens. Thank you so much for your help!

  4. Magdalen says:

    I am on Ravelry. I keep forgetting to post there. http://www.ravelry.com/projects/SomewhereKnits/annis

  5. Connie Rose says:

    Thankyou for a brilliant resource and such useful information! What gorgeous pieces you make. I used to have a lambswool-angora-nylon sweater that I loved, that was printed with long leafy stalks and flowers and beaded with little pearls. I was wondering if I could hand paint one myself in my favourite colours. I don’t know how much shrinkiage to expect from the steaming, and whether it would melt nylon. I have some Koh-I-Noor water-colour paint pans that I was told are also dyes, but by someone who uses it to embroider or applique over so she doesn’t need it to be permanent. I am going to experiment but would appreciate any advice and suggestions.

    • HI Connie,
      Thank-you for your comments about my work.
      As to your project – try swatching and then painting your fibre with the dyes you have. I am not familiar with them at all. If you are steaming to set the dyes – there should be no shrinkage at all. As long as you do not change the temperature of your fibre to quickly – let it cool naturally before rinsing.
      Good luck with your project!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s