I usually use chemicals to dye my yarns; but I've been investigating organic dying a little and thought that I would do a little experiment. So here is what I did:
Step 1: I mixed 4 parts water with 1 part vinegar and let the undyed merino DK wool sit in this bath for about 15 minutes--just to make sure it soaked up the liquid completely.
Step 2: I microwaved the yarn on HI 3 times in 2-minute increments. The original directions that I found at Pioneer Thinking said to simmer the yarn for 1 hour; but I have a fear of felting, so I microwaved, instead. I've never had anything felt up on me in the microwave. The purpose of this is to pre-fix the dye before I add it so that it will "stick" and not bleed out during rinsing/cooling. I let the yarn sit for a couple minutes between microwaving sessions, and then I let it cool down to room temperature before adding my dye. I drained the excess vinegar/water from the dish so that it would cool more quickly.
Step 3: I took beet juice, which I saved from 3 cans of beets ($0.89 per can makes for a pretty cheap dye!) and soaked the freshly-squeezed yarn in it for most of the day (about 6 hours). I used plain old beets, not the pickled kind. Although, come to think of it, the pickled beet juice might kill two birds with one stone if I add just a little more vinegar to the already vinegarized juice. I will have to try that next time. The ratio was 2 cups juice to 1 cup filtered water.
Step 4: Pour the beet juice over the yarn, mix well (I carefully turned the yarn over--with gloves on, of course!--and then pushed down on it to make sure that the juice fully saturated the yarn), and let sit for an hour and a half. I turned the yarn once about half-way through this step to make sure that there was even saturation.
Step 5: I microwaved the yarn again, twice, in 2-minute increments, letting it cool for about a minute between sessions. Then I let it cool back to room temperature.
Step 6: As a final measure, and to make sure that any vegetable remnants that might have been in the beet juice are washed out, I did a quick "shock" soak in iced-cold water in the sink (about 10 minutes). I didn't agitate it much, just enough to move any vegetable particles off of the yarn.
Step 7: I squeezed out excess water and let it dry on a drying rack. Here's the final product. Sadly, the finished product is much, much lighter than I had hoped. Oddly enough, I ended up with some spots of an orangey-ink color in about 5 places on the skein. Not sure why. I think next time I will hold myself back and let the juice sit on the yarn overnight. Maybe there wasn't enough saturation time.
And here's another project from 2 weeks ago. I've been dying (no pun intended!) to show off this little number, which I custom-dyed for Roberta from Tallahassee for an August yarn swap. It's super-gorgeous, and this picture doesn't do the subtle color variations of turquoise justice. 880 yards of lace-wt. merino. Roberta says she LOVES it! I'm so glad. This turned out so well that you can expect to see this little number in my Etsy store for spring.