Everything You Need to Dye Yarn in Your Kitchen
Hand Dyeing Yarn
There are many beautiful yarn colorways available for purchase, but the most amazing colors are achieved from hand dying. Unfortunately, purchasing hand dyed yarns come with a price. In this article, I am going to explain to you all of the things you need to successfully dye yarn in your own home, in a safe and easy manner.
To dye yarn at home you will need: Yarn, Food Coloring/Kool-Aid, Acid, Heat, and plastic wrap to protect your kitchen from stains.
The first thing you need to dye your own yarn is... yarn! To dye yarn with food coloring, you will need natural animal fibers, but I have had success dyeing wool/acrylic blends. You do not need to start with natural or white undyed yarn, you can over dye any color you can imagine. Just keep in mind that a darker color is likely saturated with dye already, and may not take up more.
An acquaintance's daughter decided to dye her hair with kool-aid one Halloween... and it turned out to be permanent! So really, most "animal" fibers should work.
Purchase Undyed Yarn
Wool Ease Yarn is only 20% wool, but it is enough to dye with food coloring. You will end up with a slightly heathered effect, as the acrylic won't pick up the color.
Kool Aid is great for dyeing yarn because it also contains an acid source that lets the yarn take up the dye, citric acid. You want to make sure that you use drink mixes without sugar (you wouldn't want ants to find your knit hat!).
Food coloring gives you more flexibility, and less bright, color options. You don't need to stick with just a liquid food coloring, a paste or gel mixed with water will also work well for dyeing yarn.
A color source is another obvious item that you will need to dye yarn at home. Using food coloring and an acid source is a way to avoid the toxic chemicals that can be involved with natural dyeing. By using a combination of food coloring and Kool-Aid packets, you can create any color you could ever imagine!
FUN TIP: If you want to end up with a muted color, add some black tea to the dye bath. The colored compounds in the tea will create a beige color, but it will also help saturate the yarn with dye so you do not end up with a deep color.
Protect yourself and your kitchen
In order to keep the color off of your hands and your counter, you will want to cover your work surface with plastic. I will use a garbage bag and paper towels to catch any spills. Rubber gloves are useful if you are going to hand paint the yarn (rather than dye through submersion).
Every item in this article is non-toxic and safe to use in your kitchen.
White vinegar provides all of the acid you could need.
Don't be scared when I say you need acid to dye yarn. All you need is for the conditions in the dye bath to be acidic. If you are using KoolAid to dye your yarn, the citric acid already in the mix is enough acid for your project. If you are using food coloring that does not contain any additives or flavor, then you can add some vinegar (Acetic Acid).
I typically use 0.5-1 T vinegar per cup water.
Once you have yarn, dye and acid, the last component you need to dye your yarn is heat. There are two main ways that you can add heat to the dyeing process:
- Stove top - You can make a dye bath in a pot and bring the liquid to a simmer. You can then place the entire skein of yarn into the dye bath or you can dip it in slowly to create a color gradient.
- Microwave - You can use the microwave as a heat source. After you have applied the dye mixture to your yarn, wrap it up in plastic wrap and place in the microwave for a few minutes. If I hear the plastic popping, I stop the microwave for a while and let the yarn cool down a bit.
Now that you have everything you need to dye yarn, you are ready to get started. There are many tutorials on how to dye yarn with food coloring, but you can learn a lot by just playing with different combinations.
Even if you follow the same recipe, it is difficult to achieve the exact same color twice, so make sure you dye enough yarn for your project!