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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yarn Soup (Dyeing with Kool Aid)

Mmmmm, fruity smells and delicious colours. Brightly coloured yarns are my favourite thing to cook! Dyeing with Kool-Aid is so fun and it's low-stress since you know that it's non-toxic (as long as you don't inhale the powder, yuck). It's even safe to do with kids. I've tried quite a few different things with Kool-Aid and wanted to share my experiences. For this article, I will focus on stovetop dyeing and handpainting.

Siren Sleeves made with Cherry, Grape and Ice Blue Lemonade. 

How does it work? Kool-Aid adds Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to their drink mix which is what we need to affix dye to natural fibres. Most dyes require vinegar for bonding, but since Kool-Aid already contains acid, that's all you need.

  • Yarn - white or light colours; natural fibre (no acrylics); loosely skeined
  • Kool-Aid - you will need approximately 5-10 packs per 100g of yarn depending on the amount of saturation you want; you can always add more, but can't take any away! No sugar required.
  • Large Pot, Steamer (rice cooker or stovetop) or Microwave - honestly, I don't have a microwave so I haven't tried that method personally, but it's pretty straightforward
  • Spoon; plastic gloves and apron; garbage bag and newspapers; glass cups for dye; large paintbrushes, sponges or turkey baster
  • Vinegar is optional for Kool-Aid dyeing but I always pre-soak with some vinegar.       
Pre-soaking in vinegar water.
  Prepare your yarn:
  • If you have some yarn that is already balled, make a loose skein by unwrapping the ball and re-wrapping it around your knees or the back of a chair. 
  • Tie your skein with figure-8 ties in at least two places (ideally four) if it isn't tied already. Use acrylic yarn in a contrasting colour to your dye so they are easy to remove when you are done. 
  • You will want to pre-soak your yarn in a sink or bowl for about half and hour. Add 1 cup of vinegar and use room-temperature water (not cold or hot)! Give it a gentle squeeze to encourage the air to escape. Rinse gently before continuing.
Take care of your yarn:
  • Avoid stirring or agitating your yarn while it's in water (during the pre-soak or dyeing stage). Always treat your yarn as gingerly as possible to avoid felting and fraying. 
  • If your skein looks like a big mess of tangled spaghetti while it's wet, pick it up gently where you see a tie and try your best to separate it into a loop again. Give it a few good, hard shakes and it will look perfect in a few seconds!
  • Only dye one skein at a time (until you get really good at it).                                                   
Steaming in a rice cooker (sans lid for photo).

This method is easy and quick. Best for a solid colour or semi-solid.
  1. In a large pot, add 6-8 cups of lukewarm water. The amount of water is not crucial. Make sure there is more than enough to cover your yarn. 
  2. Stir in 5-10 packs of Kool-Aid powder until it is dissolved. 
  3. Place your pre-soaked yarn in the pot and squeeze it to make a consistent colour. If you are trying to make a semi-solid, you can either mark off sections of your skein with elastic bands or place it in the pot haphazardly so some is sticking out of the water.
  4. Heat the water over medium heat until just before boiling. Do not boil! Stir gently throughout, trying not to tangle your skein. I stick my spoon in and turn the skein slowly 180 degrees one way, then the other. If I'm concerned about the consistency of colour, I carefully flip the skein over about halfway through the process.
  5. When the water is mostly clear (depending on the flavour you choose; it might still be cloudy, but colourless) you can remove the pot from the burner.
  6. You can wait for the whole thing to cool before removing your yarn, but if you're impatient like me then you can just strain it. I use a colander / sieve and squeeze out excess water. 
  7. Let your yarn cool then rinse it gently under room-temperature water. This step is mostly protocol because your Kool-Aid should be one with your yarn forever, but I do it anyway. Squeeze gently and hang the skein to dry. Even after it's dry, it should retain the fruity, candy scents!
"Bloody Valentine": Pot-dyed with Pink Lemonade then handpainted with a mix of Cherry and Tropical Punch

  1. Set-Up: I make a large pad with newpapers on my counter and cover it with a garbage bag. This way, if anything leaks off the bag, it is soaked up by the paper. Set-up your dye and equipment while your skein is soaking.
  2. Mix your dye in glass cups. For the handpainting method, I mix about 6 packs per 1 cup of yarn. Use warm water and make sure all the crystals are dissolved.
  3. Place your pre-soaked (or pre-dyed) skein on the workspace in a big circle. Consider how you are going to place your colours and how it might look once it's knit up. If you have short shots of colour, you will have small lines of colour in your finished fabric. If you choose to make larger sections of colour you will end up with longer stripes, etc.  Also consider how the colours will run together and overlap. I won't include a lesson on colour here, but basically, don't place complementary colours next to each other or you will get brown (blue-orange, purple-yellow, red-green).
  4. Using your baster or paintbrush or sponge, add the dye to your yarn. I find it helps to use your (gloved) hand to sort of mash the dye into the yarn while you are dropping it on. This creates a more consistent colour. Turn your skein over and dye the backside as well. 
  5. Once you have all your colours in place, place your skein in a steamer basket or microwave-safe pan. Steam for about 20 minutes; microwave for about 2 minutes, turn your skein over and zap for 2 more minutes. Rinse gently and hang to dry.
Basted yarn done with Cherry, Grape and Ice Blue Lemonade (seen above)
Just a word of warning: Don't drink and dye! While sipping Baileys and tea you might not be paying attention and take a gulp from your dye cup. Not too terrible if you are using Kool-Aid, but very bad if you are using Jacquard. Gross! Can you say "stomach pump"? Maybe I did inhale too much Kool-Aid powder as a kid...

Fun fact: Kool-Aid's original 1950's line of flavours included Root-Beer. Does that sound disgusting to anyone else?  

Knitty has a great article for dyeing with Kool-Aid and fantastic photos of all the colours / flavours:

Kool-Aid play clay recipe: