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Dyeing Yarn with KoolAid

Updated on August 30, 2013

Dyeing Yarn at Home

Sometimes you need a little bit of a color in your fiber arts projects. Or you cannot find a colorway that is perfect for your new project. Worry no longer! In this lens we'll go through some resources for dyeing yarn at home with common kitchen materials.

The dyeing techniques described in this lens work for dyeing natural wool fibers with kool-aid or food coloring in the comfort of your own kitchen. You will need to use alternate dyeing methods for acrylic and plant fibers. That being said, the technique will work if you are dealing with a wool-acrylic blend. Play around with the yarn you choose to dye and you will see how different brands will dye differently!

A Rainbow Of Yarns Dyed with Kool-Aid
A Rainbow Of Yarns Dyed with Kool-Aid

What do you need?

Materials, tools, inspiration....

The beauty of dyeing at home is that you can work with what you have!

WOOL: You need some kind of fiber. For dyeing with kitchen items, only 100% wool will take the dye. You can, however, use blends, as you will see in the links I have been able to dye Lion Brand Wool-Ease which is only 20% wool with food coloring. You will not be able to get 100% acrylic to hold with these methods.

DYE: Kool Aid and/or Food coloring (either paste that you dissolve in water or liquid in a dropper, I've used both). You want to make sure that any Kool Aid you use is sugar free! (I wouldn't want ants to try to eat my sweater!)

ACID: You need mildly acidic conditions to get the dye to take to the yarn. The acid source can be the citric acid in Kool Aid pouches, or it can be common white vinegar. Sometimes you may end up using both, as the amount of acid can mildly affect the tone of your color.

HEAT: The second thing you need to set the color to your wool is heat. I tend to use the microwave for handpainted colorways, and the stove top for dip-dyeing and single color batches.

CONTAINER: As you may have gathered from the heat section, you will need to have something to put the wool in when you are heating it. This can be a plate with seran wrap over it for the microwave, or a pot.

SAFETY: The only real personal danger here is burns. BUT the less dangerous danger is coloring yourself. I recommend using latex gloves just to keep your hands their flesh color. Use oven mitts when touching hot pots or plates coming out of the microwave. I will cover my work area with plastic bags or seran wrap so my art project doesn't leave stains on the work surface.

TIP: Before you begin

It helps to pre-soak your wool before you start the dyeing process. This helps the dye bath absorb evenly to the yarn.

Where to buy Kool-Aid Packets Online

My personal grocery store only carries 4 flavors of Kool-Aid. I found myself searching the city for others, and then eventually going online.

Handpainted Rainbow Colorway with Kool Aid

A specific example

As described on my blog at www.chemknits.com

I started with experimenting with Lion Brand Wool Ease yarn, and I wanted to try to make a rainbow handpainted colorway. To remind you, Wool Ease is only 20% wool, but as you will see that is enough for your kitchen dyeing to take hold. I loosely followed the protocol from Pea Soup, but I did not use nearly as much food coloring as they did.

ACID: KoolAid served as the basis for the acid in this project, no additional acid (vinegar) was used. (This is going to smell so yummy!)

THE YARN:

1 ball of Wool Ease was wound into a skein, and then soaked in room temperature water until it was completely saturated (a couple of hours should be sufficient. Make sure you check the inside of the skein, or you could end up with white patches like in a tie-dyed shirt)

THE TOOLS: A garbage bag over the work station (my kitchen table) a 10 mL syringe that I had from lab, but you don't really need anything to apply, you can just pour, small glasses (shot glasses will do), a microwave safe plate and seran wrap. Don't forget to protect your hands or they may change color too!

SETTING UP THE DYES: Red (2 packets Cherry Kool-Aid), Blue (2 packets Ice Blue Raspberry Lemonade) and yellow (1 packet lemonade). Each were dissolved in 1/4 cup water. With a 10 mL syringe that I took from lab, I transferred 10-12 mL of each primary color into three smaller glasses. (9 glasses total) I then would use some McCormick food coloring, standard and NEON! varieties, to create my rainbow.

I then mixed the colors as follows (where 1 refers to the Big cup):

  • Blue 1 - 10 drops of NEON blue
  • Blue 2 - 5 drops NEON purple
  • Blue 3 - 8 drops NEON pink, 5 drops NEON blue

Blue 4 - 5 drops greenYellow 1 - 10 drops yellowYellow 2 - 5 drops NEON greenYellow 3 - 2 drops yellow, 2 drops NEON green, 2 drops greenYellow 4 - 3 drops yellow, 5 drops redRed 1 - 10 drops redRed 2 - 4 drops blueRed 3 - 5 drops yellowRed 4 - 6 drops NEON blue

Now looking at the liquid you cannot get a real sense of the colors. I dipped a fork into each dye sample, and made a mark on a paper towel to see how the colors came out.

The order to bring the best rainbow: R1, R2, R4, B2, B3, B1, B4, Y3, Y2, Y1, Y4, R3

APPLYING THE DYE: As I mentioned previously, I covered my kitchen table with trash bags and then covered them with paper towels to absorb any dye spills. I placed some seran wrap on the work space, and then put the skein in the center.

I applied the dye to the skein in sections (think about making a tie dyed T-shirt). You want to make sure you work the dye through the entire section by lightly pressing with my fingers, so that it reaches the middle of that portion of the skein. Of course, part of the beauty of hand painted yarn is that the repeats are not identical, so play around with this. After I applied all of my colors to the skein, I went through and with my fingers pushed the die so there would be some blending at color junctions, and so there would be no white spaces.

APPLYING THE HEAT TO SET THE COLOR: In this next step you want to try to keep parts of the skein separate so there isn't bleeding of the colors. Wrap up the skein with plastic wrap as best as you can, place it on a microwave safe plate and cover the plate with more plastic wrap. Microwave on high for 5 min (or until you hear it boiling) and then allow the plate and yarn to cool until you can touch it comfortably. Repeat this process. Make sure that the yarn is still wet during this whole process, if needed add some more (clear) water.

REMOVE THE EXCESS DYE: Allow the yarn to cool completely. Rinse the skein in lukewarm water until the water runs clear. Use some mild soap (dish soap is fine) and rinse the skein thoroughly. You may have a lot of dye to rinse out, or only a little. Hang the yarn to dry.

The colors have dimmed a bit, but remember that I was working with 80% acrylic, 20% wool yarn. If you were working with 100% wool the colors would be VIBRANT.

Look how pretty the final ball looks!

Photos from my first 100% Wool Colorway - Following the same procedure as the rainbow colorway above

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Dyes used, pre-assembled and swatched out on a paper towel.How the skein appears after I've added the dye, before microwavingA comparison of 100% wool (left) to a 20% wool knit swatch that was dyed with the left over dyeThe finished colorwayThe finished colorway wound into a ballA swatch knit with the ball.NHM #7, knit with this handpainted yarn and black.A butterfly finger puppet, knit with this colorway
The Dyes used, pre-assembled and swatched out on a paper towel.
The Dyes used, pre-assembled and swatched out on a paper towel.
How the skein appears after I've added the dye, before microwaving
How the skein appears after I've added the dye, before microwaving
A comparison of 100% wool (left) to a 20% wool knit swatch that was dyed with the left over dye
A comparison of 100% wool (left) to a 20% wool knit swatch that was dyed with the left over dye
The finished colorway
The finished colorway
The finished colorway wound into a ball
The finished colorway wound into a ball
A swatch knit with the ball.
A swatch knit with the ball.
NHM #7, knit with this handpainted yarn and black.
NHM #7, knit with this handpainted yarn and black.
A butterfly finger puppet, knit with this colorway
A butterfly finger puppet, knit with this colorway

Dyeing Recipes by ChemKnits - With KoolAid and Beyond!

Some use KoolAid as the acid source, others use food coloring and vinegar, and the rest use a combination

Photos of Projects with Handmade Yarn - Created by ChemKnits

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Felted Oven MittsNHM #7 MittensA cute little Penguin Ornament.  His beak, feet, scarf and hat are all products of hand dyed yarns.Butterfly Finger Puppet (Free Pattern available at www.chemknits.com)Starfish
Felted Oven Mitts
Felted Oven Mitts
NHM #7 Mittens
NHM #7 Mittens
A cute little Penguin Ornament.  His beak, feet, scarf and hat are all products of hand dyed yarns.
A cute little Penguin Ornament. His beak, feet, scarf and hat are all products of hand dyed yarns.
Butterfly Finger Puppet (Free Pattern available at www.chemknits.com)
Butterfly Finger Puppet (Free Pattern available at www.chemknits.com)
Starfish
Starfish

ColorSense

ColorSense: Creative Color Combinations for Crafters
ColorSense: Creative Color Combinations for Crafters

So this is not a book just for knitters, but it is important to think of color combinations and how they work. This is something that I have trouble with.

This book is a FANTASTIC reference. It not only discusses color theory, but gives pages and pages of examples. There are monochromatic, two color, three color, complementing color, contrasting anything you can imagine. Flipping through the pages looking at the color examples gives me so much inspiration. It is inspiring me to dye yarn, to knit colorways...

 



This lens earned a purple star on 12/08/2010!


Natural Dyeing

Natural Dyeing
Natural Dyeing

I have been experimenting with dyeing my own yarn. I checked these books out of the library to learn about more traditional (i.e. non-Kool-Aid) dyeing methods.

Natural Dyeing contains vibrant illustrations and step by step instructions for each of the dying projects. For each of the 31 dyes described, wool treated with each mordant type are shown, which gives a beginner like me a sense on how much you can vary color with different salts. There is a color chart index, listing all of the colors shown in the book. The instructions are clear for describing how to optimize dye uptake with different fibers.

 

Handpainted yarns

Would you rather make your own or support another artist?

Make your own

Make your own

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    • TopToysForKids 5 years ago

      I would rather make my own...it's more fun that way. This is a great idea!

    • Heard_Zazzle 6 years ago

      This is such a cool idea. I would want to give it a try.

    • myneverboredhands 6 years ago

      I would like to make my own... it's very interesting to experimenting with colors and yarns.

    • catbehaviors 6 years ago

      I would love to do it myself. Dyeing yarn looks like something that I would enjoy doing, I also love to knit. It would be fun to knit things out of my own dyed yarn!

    • lovelylashes 6 years ago

      Knitting is one of my favorite pastimes. It is relaxing and the finished product is so rewarding!

    Buy from another knitter

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      • CraftLyn 5 years ago

        I like to support others who are more skilled at something than I am. However the kool-aid process fascinates me!

      • ideadesigns 6 years ago

        Probably both. I could try to make my own, but would support other artists as well.

      • DogToys LM 6 years ago

        I've never even heard of this, so artist.

      • myneverboredhands 6 years ago

        I'm really busy lately and don't have much time, so I'm going to support another knitter and buy hand painted yarn for my next project.

      • Lisa Auch 6 years ago from Scotland

        I would like to try to make my own, but for better quality measures support another artist

      • LauraHendrix 6 years ago

        If you have the time it would be nice to make your own, I think this is fascinating. My late grandmother would have loved to make her own. She loved to knit and crochet! for me I wuld have to put buy from an artist since I don't have the time.

      • anonymous 6 years ago

        I like to support indapendent artists

      What color should I dye next? - Tell me what you think!

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        • bbsoulful2 profile image

          bbsoulful2 5 years ago

          PS - How did you get the "This lens won the purple star" box? I got one the other day, and I'd love to post this cute box on the lens...

        • bbsoulful2 profile image

          bbsoulful2 5 years ago

          Ooh, I don't know but I wish you could come to my house and do it! This looks fun!

        • Gayle Dowell profile image

          Gayle Dowell 5 years ago from Kansas

          Great tutorial. My daughter has dyed wool and alpaca fiber this way. Very economical and safe.

        • profile image

          miaponzo 5 years ago

          I'm just getting into wool.. spinning and the like and am going to have to dye my own wool soon.. I'm looking forward to this! :) Blessed!

        • TopToysForKids profile image

          TopToysForKids 5 years ago

          I love the purple ones....greens are also good!

        • profile image

          KarenCookieJar 5 years ago

          These really come out great

        • nightbear lm profile image

          nightbear lm 6 years ago

          I love this, great instructions and photos. Great lens. Blessed by The Squid Angels Epic Back To School Bus Trip!

        • jennabee25 profile image

          Jenn Dixon 6 years ago from PA

          Another fantastic lens! Getting lensrolled to my knitting lenses. :)

        • profile image

          Heard_Zazzle 6 years ago

          I really enjoyed this lens. During my Girl Scout days, I made and dyed paper. I never thought to dye my own wool.

        • profile image

          ideadesigns 6 years ago

          You sure deserved that purple star this is an excellent instructional lens. It has wonderful pics so full of the colors of the rainbow. Great!

        • evelynsaenz1 profile image

          Evelyn Saenz 6 years ago from Royalton

          Just wanted to let you know that this lens is now featured on Celebrating Teachable Moments http://www.facebook.com/teachable

        • evelynsaenz1 profile image

          Evelyn Saenz 6 years ago from Royalton

          Fascinating! Of course I knew that Jello stained clothing but it never occurred to me to use it to dye wool. What a cleaver idea! Thank you for all the wonderfully detailed instructions as well.

          Blessed by a SquidAngel!

        • tandemonimom lm profile image

          tandemonimom lm 6 years ago

          What a fabulous project! April Fool's blessings today, and featured on Blessed by Tandemonimom!

        • JeremiahStanghini profile image

          JeremiahStanghini 6 years ago

          Didn't know you could dye things with kool-aid!

          With Love and Gratitude,

          Jeremiah

        • profile image

          Helene-Malmsio 6 years ago

          Amazing lens - never would have thought of trying to dye my own yarns! Big Thumbs up and Like from me!

        • jlshernandez profile image

          jlshernandez 6 years ago

          I read about dyeing yarn with Koolaid but never got around to it. Now that I have stumbled upon your lens and lensrolled into The Joy of Wool Felting, I am also dusting it with Angel magic.

        • jodijoyous profile image

          jodijoyous 6 years ago from New York

          This lens makes me smile. Liked and blessed too.

        • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image
          Author

          ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

          @DogToys LM: Kool-Aid is a colorful drink mix (sort of like lemonade or fruit punch flavors.). You typically have to add sugar or artificial sweetener to the drink mix.

          I have a lens dedicated to Kool-Aid packets (arranged by color for use in craft projects!)

          http://www.squidoo.com/kool-aid-packets

        • DogToys LM profile image

          DogToys LM 6 years ago

          What is Koolaid?

        • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image
          Author

          ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

          @indigoj: Any sugarless drink mix should work well. Or even just food coloring and vinegar :)

        • indigoj profile image

          Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

          @indigoj: Oops, I don't know why it does that. By the way, congratulations Dr Chem! :)

        • indigoj profile image

          Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

          It's a pity we don't have KoolAid here, this looks like so much fun!

        • indigoj profile image

          Indigo Janson 6 years ago from UK

          It's a pity we don't have KoolAid here, this looks like so much fun!

        • profile image

          bcarter 6 years ago

          I'm loving this lens and many of your others too. I'll be back, I need to make time for projects like these.

        • Sylvestermouse profile image

          Cynthia Sylvestermouse 6 years ago from United States

          Wow! This is fabulous! I have never actually heard of dyeing yarn with koolaid before. Awesome!

        • myneverboredhands profile image

          myneverboredhands 6 years ago

          Great lens, I love the idea to use Kool Aid... I never thought that it's good for drinking anyway :) Congrats on Purple Star!

        • Kiwisoutback profile image

          Kiwisoutback 6 years ago from Massachusetts

          I knew Kool Aid had some other uses besides drinking it (it's not really that useful that way). Cool looking yarn- nice work!

        • Dee Gallemore profile image

          Dee Gallemore 6 years ago

          Congrats on the purple star ... well-deserved. Blessed!

        • Board-Game-Brooke profile image

          C A Chancellor 6 years ago from US/TN

          Nice lens - -blessed!

        • Nimblepins profile image

          Nimblepins 6 years ago

          PS. Your projects are beautiful

        • Nimblepins profile image

          Nimblepins 6 years ago

          What a great lens! I am on the threshold of dyeing! I mean, I just bought some undyed wool. I don't have any dye yet, and I think I will try this KoolAid technique - thanks to your instructions. Hee hee,, I like the jar of eyeballs!

        • jgall34 lm profile image

          jgall34 lm 6 years ago

          really cool lens and a great idea for using kool aid as a dye

        • profile image

          anonymous 6 years ago

          R - these are stunning! it's really fun going through all of your new stuff!!

        • catbehaviors profile image

          catbehaviors 6 years ago

          Great lens! Congratulations on the purple star...this lens was good enough for it! :) I love the way you explained the steps, it makes me want to dye my own yarn.

          *blessed*

        • mr1902 profile image

          mr1902 6 years ago

          I always hated when the koolAid powder spilled on the counter and stained it. Never thought about using it to dye things though! Very KOOL...hahaha!

        • LisaAuch1 profile image

          Lisa Auch 6 years ago from Scotland

          Congratulations, I think I have burst now! lol....It is very clever and definitely something I would try with my daughter called Rebecca too!

        • profile image

          taliasmith23 6 years ago

          Whoa this is really cool I knew that you could use kool aid to make play dough but not dye yarn that's super! and i bet it smells amazing too :)

        • retta719 profile image

          Loretta 6 years ago from United States

          Congrats on the purple star award on this lens, very well deserved! Great job! :)

        • retta719 profile image

          Loretta 6 years ago from United States

          Great step by step tutorial! I've never dyed yarn before, only embroidery flosses, but mostly the same process.

        • profile image

          anonymous 6 years ago

          Thanks for this lens! I have always wondered about how to do this, but never found a good place for directions!

        • lovelylashes profile image

          lovelylashes 6 years ago

          This looks so easy and the results are beautiful. Your finished knitted creations are immaculate!

        • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image
          Author

          ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

          @GonnaFly: Koolaid works on its own because it contains acid (in the form of citric acid) and food coloring. You can use standard food coloring and some vinegar (acetic acid), and these work just as well. I would think that any sugar-free powdered beverage could work, just check to see if it contains citric acid.

        • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image
          Author

          ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

          @GonnaFly: Koolaid works on its own because it contains acid (in the form of citric acid) and food coloring. You can use standard food coloring and some vinegar (acetic acid), and these work just as well. I would think that any sugar-free powdered beverage could work, just check to see if it contains citric acid.

        • GonnaFly profile image

          Jeanette 6 years ago from Australia

          This looks really fascinating. What is it about koolaid that makes it work? I don't think I can get koolaid here in Australia, so I'd have to look for a substitute.

        • Sensitive Fern profile image

          Sensitive Fern 6 years ago

          I love dyeing fabric but hate the toxicity of it. I wish Kool-Aid would dye cotton! My mom is a spinner, though, and has been wanting to dye some fleece. And I've been wanting to try Kool-Aid dyeing. Maybe I could get her to try this. Great lens!

        • Ramkitten2000 profile image

          Deb Kingsbury 6 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

          Wow, that is really ... kool! I never knew you could dye with Kool Aid, but it does make sense. Really creative.

        • sheriangell profile image

          sheriangell 6 years ago

          I'm no knitter, but the title of your lens sure got my attention. How creative and original!

        • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image
          Author

          ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

          @jgelien: Oh my! Well human hair does count as an animal fiber I suppose....

        • profile image

          jgelien 6 years ago

          Well I do know that Kool-Aid makes a good dye because my friend's daughter used different colors of it on her hair for Halloween one year instead of the usual Halloween hair coloring. The color was so permanent that she had to grow her hair out and cut it off to get rid of her neon colored hair. Very neat lens.

        • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image
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          ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

          @WildFacesGallery: It helps to think about what has accidentally stained your clothing ;) A lot of people still use plants and flowers to dye yarn but this process requires some special chemicals called mordants to add to the project.

        • WildFacesGallery profile image

          Mona 6 years ago from Iowa

          What a brilliant idea. I would have never thought of using Kool Aid for a dye. :)

        • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image
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          ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

          @darciefrench lm: Thank you very much!

        • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image
          Author

          ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

          @AWildDog: That's a great suggestion. The lens only links to the other dye projects I've done. (The two most colorful ones are on here). I'm adding "add more of my photos" to my to-do list. Thanks!

        • darciefrench lm profile image

          darciefrench lm 6 years ago

          Very enjoyable lens with a ton of focused info- excellent and angel blessed.

        • AWildDog profile image

          AWildDog 6 years ago

          Awesome lens! So pretty! I'd love to see some more examples of different colour combinations though!

        • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image
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          ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

          @anonymous: It is so much fun! The set up and clean up are most of the work. Once you have your table covered, it is not too hard to do multiple skeins back to back. Good luck!

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          anonymous 6 years ago

          Purple! This is a great lens. Dyeing yarn looks like a lot of fun (and a lot of work.)

          I'll have to try this one day.

        • ChemKnitsBlog2 profile image
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          ChemKnitsBlog2 6 years ago

          @anonymous: Purple is one of my favorite colors. I've been thinking of doing a purple/yellow colorway (taking tips form the colorwheel!)

        • profile image

          anonymous 6 years ago

          purple! This looks like lots of fun. Hope you don't confuse it with kool aid! haha.