Kool-Aid dyeing is fruity fiber fun!Posted: August 18, 2014
Want a little homemade fiber fun before the summer is over?
Did you know you can dye wool with Kool-Aid?
We do it every summer at my weaving camp for kids. It’s easy, it’s non-toxic, and it’s very fun to experiment with the different colors you can create.
Here’s what you need:
* 100% wool yarn in white or off-white. Cotton won’t work.
* heat-proof bowl big enough to hold all the wool you want to dye
* small microwaveable bowls, one for every color you’d like to make
* boiling water
* plastic wrap
* potholders to remove bowls from the microwave
* newspaper to protect your work surface
* cold water for rinsing
* a way to hang up your wool to dry
* liquid food coloring, if you want to mix up different colors
* Kool-Aid, or any brightly colored drink mix that does contain citric acid, and that does not contain sugar. These two things are important! The citric acid is the mordant that “sets” the dye in the wool so the color won’t wash out. And you’ll be microwaving the wool till it’s very hot, so any drink mix that contains sugar is going to burn! If the label says the mix has zero calories, and the ingredients list says it contains citric acid, you’re good to go.
First, tie the wool yarn into butterflies. The yarn has to be fairly loose in the dye bath (so a tightly wrapped ball won’t work), but you don’t want the yarn to tangle. Butterflies are the perfect solution. To make a yarn butterfly, loop the yarn in a figure-8 around the thumb and little finger of one hand. When the butterfly is as big as you want it, cut the yarn and loop the cut end around the middle of the butterfly a couple of times to hold it together. When you want to use the yarn, you just pull the starting end. Our butterflies were about a yard and a half long.
Fill the big bowl with very hot water and gently push all the butterflies into it. Don’t stir it around! Wool + hot water + agitation = FELT, and felt is forever! Just push the wool down into the water, and let it sit for at least half an hour. You want the wool to be completely saturated with water. This opens up the wool fibers so the dye can penetrate easily.
When the water has cooled. gently lift each butterfly and squeeze it nearly dry. Don’t wring it.
Next, prepare your dye baths. In each of the small bowls, pour at least a cup of boiling water. Stir in the drink mix. Whether you’re using a powder or a liquid, experiment with how much mix to use to get a darker or a lighter color. Put the wool butterflies into each dye bath and use a spoon to gently push them down into the liquid. Again, don’t stir!
Here you may want to remind children that, although these dye baths smell nice and fruity, they aren’t for tasting. Kool-Aid dye and food coloring are obviously non-toxic, but every other fiber dye out there is either fairly toxic or horribly toxic. “Don’t taste dye!” is a good rule to hammer home.
Not happy with the color selection? You can add drops of food coloring to make different colors. We got a great kelly green by adding green food coloring to the lemonade. Just remember that you must start with some drink mix in the dye bath, since the mix contains that crucial citric acid.
Now for the amazing part! Tightly cover each bowl of dye and wool with plastic wrap. Poke 4 or 5 holes in the plastic with a toothpick. These are your steam vents.
One by one, microwave each bowl for about a minute. Watch carefully! If the wool is not completely submerged in the dye, it may start to smolder. Don’t let it do that!
Carefully remove hot bowls from the microwave and set them on your workspace. Leave the plastic wrap on. Let the bowls sit undisturbed till the dye bath has cooled completely. This will take a while, so shoo the kids out to do something else for an hour. Feed the chickens, clean their rooms, build a tree fort . . .
When the dye baths have cooled completely, the liquid in the bowls should be nearly clear. Almost all of the color will have been absorbed by the wool.
Rinse your dyed butterflies in cool water, again gently squeezing to remove excess water. Then hang them up to dry.
Want to dye several skeins of wool the same color? Instead of using the microwave, you may need to heat the dyebath and the wool to a brief boil in a pot on your stovetop. One of my co-workers dyes her ragg-wool socks this way!
What can you do with little bits of Kool-Aid-dyed yarn? Next week I’ll show you what the kids in weaving camp made!