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Dyeing fibers

From the Knitting Network (KnitNet) mailing list
Compiled by Caroline McMillan,

Using Easter egg dyes

From Jenny M.:
It's not often that I have the time to reply to the list, but I wanted to put in some info about Easter Egg dyeing. Two years ago my neighbors, who are always amazed at the number of fiber things in my house, came over with little jars of their left-over easter egg dyes. I didn't know what to do with them, but after having such a good time with Kool-Aid dyeing, I thought I'd try some things out. I put each color in a pint canning jar and all the jars in my canning kettle. I put in about 3 inches of water to surround the jars. I added extra vinegar and water to the colors in each jar until the jars were about 1/2 full. I then added one ounce skeins of mohair to each jar (one each). Mohair takes dye beautifully. The colors were fabulous. It took me about a year to decide what to do with the bright and beautiful yarn, but eventually I decided to knit a tam with all the colors. I choose the pattern in Homespun, Handknit (the one with all the hearts on it). I have been offered many $$ for the hat, but I can't seem to part with it.
From Liz C.:
I missed the original post, but when we dyed eggs the night before Easter (we used food coloring & vinegar), I made some mini skeins of a white merino yarn I had and put them in the leftover dyes. I then put them in the microwave until they "simmered", then let them cool. Nice colors! Problem tho - I had used dixie cups, the wax on which melted in the microwave and got on the wool. Didn't seem to interfere with the dye, but the little skeins are kinda stiff in places. Any ideas on how to get the wax out? Or will these skeins become "decorator" items? :)

Dyeing with Kool Aid

(Editor's note: Kool Aid, for non-North Americans, is a brightly colored powdered drink mix. It's mixed with water and a lot of sugar to make a drink that little kids seem to love. It comes in a number of flavors.)

From Helen F.:

Well the first rule is to use the kind without sugar. Second rule, don't sniff, snort, or otherwise inhale the powder. It's not good for the lungs. Use non-food containers and utensils, just on general good principles. After that there are several approaches.

The most basic method is to mix the powder in a LOT of hot water in a nice big pot. How much water doesn't really matter. You want enough to cover the wool. What matters is how much wool and how much koolaid. I have used as much as 9 packets of koolaid for one skein, to get a deeper green out of the lemon-lime flavor. That means this method isn't always the cheapest way to dye. I find that the koolaid has enough acid on its own to dye very well in my water, so I don't add anything else to the dyebath like vinegar or salt. Your mileage (and water) may vary.

Then I let the wool sit in the hot water until the water is clear and the wool is colored. The thing is, you want to keep the water hot. Not boiling, not even simmering, just hot. You can do that on the lowest setting of your stove, or you can insulate the pot, or you can use a black enamel pot with a glass lid, like I do, and set it on folded towels in your car, on a sunny day. The towels keep the hot pot from marring the seat, especially vinyl seats.

That's the basic vat method. Another fun trick is to put clean fleece in a micro-safe dish, that you won't be using for food again, with just enough hot water to almost cover. Sprinkle dry koolaid on top. Run the back of a plastic spoon over the top, then cover it. Zap it for a couple of minutes to make sure the water is nice and hot, then let it stand until cool. Check to see if the water is clear. If it isn't, zap again and let stand some more . Insulating the pot by wrapping it in an old towel during the standing time helps.

Finally, there's my version of quick and dirty painted-ball dyeing. Wind a ball of wool on a ball winder. Take one of the disposable pseudo-tupperware containers that hot soup comes in from the chinese take-away, or any similar heat-proof container that holds 2 cups, has a lid and will never again be used for food. Put in 1 packet of koolaid. Pour in boiling water to a depth of about an inch. Stir or swirl to mix. Put in the dry ball. Put on the lid. Keep the container upright! Wrap it in an old towel to insulate it and go away for a few hours.

When you come back, you can squeeze out the excess water, which should be clear. If you want a second color, repeat, with the other end of the ball in the dye. When done, carefully wind the ball into a skein for rinsing & drying. The interesting thing about this is that unlike space-dyed yarns, it will not knit up into typical stripes. The color spacing varies throughout the skein. Varying the amount of water will give you varying color overlap, or white space between the colors. Have fun!

PS I keep saying wool all through this message, but it also works really well on mohair or other animal fibers, not quite so well on silk, and not very well at all on plant fibers or synthetics.

Forwarded from Laurie Longinott:
The following is an excerpt from the WeaveList. Although the recipe is for mohair, I have found Kool Aid useful for dyeing most animal fiber yarns. It is especially effective if you overdye several different leftover colors. The result is a set of related colors that are easy to use together.

Thanks to Wheat Carr.

From Sun May 28 17:59:48 1995
Subject: Kool Aid Info

Mohair possitively inhales and reverberates with whatever color you use. Wool can be very nice, but slightly less intense. Silk worked but only with very strong solutions, maybe 2-3 pkgs per 1/2 oz. Cotton, flax, etc, do not take the color very well unless it is a kid communion outfit (stains <g>).

Although it does work, I have not been pleased with the results when I used already spun yarns, either my own or some commercially done.

My best color and nicest KA yarns results were accomplished by:

  • Washing fibers in Ivory Laundry Liquid
  • Blending white wool/mohair approximately 50-50
Drum carded fibers took the color much more evenly, although drum carding or combing of locks before spinning will easily blend shadings.

Plan 1/2 oz blend per package of KA. More KA if darker color preferred.

After blending the fibers, pre-soak in plain water (some like to add 1/2 c vinegar) for at least 10-15 minutes.

Dissolve 1 package of Kool Aid into 1.5 quarts of water. Add presoaked fiber. Microwave on high for approximately 6 minutes or until all color has been absorbed and the water is clear. (Berry Blue and one other will not go clear; the water gets a milky white color.) Remove, and dry.

My color chart for KA includes the three new colors recently found; I would be interested in hearing of others.

You may very well become obsessed with the processes (I did last year) to be described. BUT your house will smell very nice if somewhat fruity.

Thus far I have discovered the following color names:

Kool Aid flavor Mohair color
Berry Blue *** Robin's egg blue
Black Cherry Burgundy
Cherry Christmas red
Grape Purple
Great Bluedini Green
Incrediberry Pinky orange
Kickin' Kiwi-Lime Light chartreuse green
Lemonade Pale, baby yellow
Lemon-Lime Bright Christmas green
Man-O-Mango-Berry Salmon pink
Oh Yeah-Orange Pineapple Light golden yellow
Orange Orange
Pina-Pineapple Bright, golden yellow
Pink Swimingo Coral pinks
PurpleSaurus Rex Lighter purple
Raspberry Darker purplish pinks
Rockadile Red Fire engine red
Sharkleberry Fin Pink
Strawberry Light pinks
Tropical Punch Deep reds

Just a last note of caution - DO NOT USE pre-sweetened KA or Jello - yes you get the colors and a yucky mess of nicely colored fibers. However, Korwyn Winde recently mentioned in the Textile Arts Forum of Delphi about using Jello both as a dye and warp sizing. I have not tried this.

If there are more, I would love to hear about it.

*** Berry Blue Kool Aid has been discontinued by the manufacturer, but is available in Jello.

Note from Wheat, April 8, 1998: As you can tell from the date, this information is several years old, and some of the color information is now obsolete.
Kool Aid dyeing with kids, from Danutta
I have done this using a simple and foolproof recipe from Anna Hergert, published in Fall/1994 "Fibre North" magazine (p.11). You use " 1 litre of water, 1 pakage of Kool Aid(any colour), 1 to 2 tablespoons of white vinegar, 1 ounce of scoured wool, wetted." When I did this with my little one (he requested a green sweater for his Barney) I followed the stated proportions, and put the correct amount of water into a stainless steel pot. We dissolved the Kool Aid in a cup of warm water and added this along with the vinegar to the pot. My son then added the wetted fibres and I brought the pot slowly to a simmer, leaving it there for 20-30 minutes. The water was almost colourless by this time. We let the pot and contents cool down to room temperature,then rinsed the fleece in lukewarm water, and laid it out flat on a towel to dry. Very easy to do!

Rainbow dyeing

From Deanna:
For those of you who are interested, here are the instructions for the rainbow dyeing and casserole dyeing I talked about yesterday. They are basically the same thing: just different ways of "cooking" it.

Rainbow dyeing:

1/2 cup vinegar
1 lb fleece
enough water to just cover the fleece
2 squirts of dish detergent (Ivory suggested)
(if you are doing one colour only, add 1 tbsp Glauber's salt)

Put this all in a roasting pan, and look at the fleece in the pot as a circle divided into three "pie-shaped" thirds. Sprinkle CIBA dyes over the fleece: 1 colour in one-third, 2nd colour in 2nd third, 3rd colour in last third. Make sure the colours mix with each other at their dividing lines. Of each colour, sprinkle enough dye to lightly cover that particular third.

Poke down gently with a wooden spoon, so that the dye powders get diluted by the water. Let simmer for 1/2 hour at medium heat (you don't want it to boil.) Rinse 'til clear with lukewarm water, put in your washing machine on the spin cycle (I use a salad spinner!) to spin most of the moisture out of it, and allow to air dry.

Then you can card the fleece together, to get a heathered type colouring, or separate the colours to get a variety of different colour fleece.

Casserole method (the precise instructions, which I usually modify...):

Put water in a roasting pan to 1 inch depth. Add 2 tbsp white vinegar. Add skeined yarn or fleece. Let sit 5 minutes in the water, to absorb it. Squeeze out the excess water and drain the remaining water. Put the wool back in the pot, and drizzle CIBA dyes dissolved in water over the wool, as above. Squeeze the yarn to distribute the dye. Add water at the sides of the pan, to 2 inches depth. Seal with foil, and bake for 350 degrees for 1 hour. Drain, soak in warm, soapy water, and then rinse til clear. Let the wool sit in the rinse for 1/2 hour, then spin it to get the excess water out, and hang to dry.

This isn't rocket science. Trial and error is best. Just make sure you're in a well-ventilated place, and don't use the roasting pan for anything except dyeing.

I found some interesting colour combinations:

  • blue - red - yellow
  • teal - blue - purple
  • green - blue - fuschia
Just avoid mixing too many colours, because it will get muddy-looking, and try to use colours that are more than just a few shades from each other.

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Last updated April 8, 1998