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Dyeing Yarn with KoolAid

Updated on August 30, 2017

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?

working

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