Koolaid Dyeing at the Lunatic Cafe

Dyeing yarn with Koolaid is a fun, easy, and inexpensive way to try hand-dyeing. Koolaid plus water, vinegar and a heat source (such as a Crock-Pot) will produce some beautiful, lasting colors in protein-based fibers, such as wool and silk. Plant-based fibers such as cotton, linen and hemp will not absorb the color. I like using my Crock-Pot since it will "cook" the yarn without boiling or heating up my kitchen, and I don't have to watch it constantly. You can do this on the stove if you prefer; just use a stainless steel or unchipped enamel pan and keep the temp below the boiling point.

Obligatory caution: Be careful not to burn yourself. Children should not try this without adult supervision.

Materials needed:

I usually dye 4 ounces of yarn at a time, but my Crock-Pot could easily hold twice that amount. You need to be able to completely immerse the yarn without packing it in tightly.

If your yarn is in a skein, you must first unwind it into a hank; this will enable the dye to reach all the yarn. Wind the yarn around a chair back or other convenient object.

Hank O' Yarn

Tie your hank loosely in four places, equally spaced. You want the ties to hold your hank together to keep it from tangling, but tying them too tight will prevent the dye from penetrating those areas, and you will end up with undyed patches. If you can get a couple of fingers under the ties, you should be OK. I like to use cotton string since its color won't be changed by the Koolaid, but that's not essential (just kind of cool).

Soak the yarn in cool water while you prepare your dye mixture. Don't agitate the yarn; that can lead to shrinking. Just run cool tap water into a bowl or sink or what-have-you and gently push the yarn down into the water.

You will dissolve the Koolaid in a solution of 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. So, to make a quart of vinegar solution, you would combine 1 cup vinegar with 3 cups water. The amount of vinegar solution you need will vary depending on the size and shape of your container. The amount of liquid used will not affect the end color; that is controlled by how much Koolaid you use. You'll want enough dye mixture to completely immerse your yarn; for me, that usually means about a quart for 4 ounces of yarn.

Start off by combining 1 cup white vinegar with 3 cups water. Stir in Koolaid until dissolved; I usually use one packet of Koolaid per ounce of yarn. More Koolaid will give deeper colors, less will produce lighter colors. Pour the dye mixture into the Crock-Pot.

Lift the hank of yarn from the water where it has been soaking and gently squeeze out the excess water. Place the yarn in the Crock-Pot; if necessary, add additional vinegar solution to completely immerse the yarn. Put the lid on the Crock-Pot and turn it on low and go do something else for a while.

After about a half hour, check that the dye is penetrating the yarn under the ties. I usually slip a fork under one of the ties and lift the yarn up, then carefully (yarn is hot!) check the yarn under each tie. If necessary, loosen the ties. Put the yarn back into the dye solution, put the lid on and leave it alone for about three hours.

You'll know your yarn is ready when all the dye has been absorbed and the liquid is clear. Some colors of Koolaid will end up milky instead of clear, but all the color will be gone. Turn off the Crock-Pot and let the yarn cool until you can handle it without burning yourself. I often let it cool overnight.

Fill a large basin or clean sink with water about the same temperature as the yarn. Remove the yarn from the Crock-Pot and squeeze out the excess liquid. Gently push the yarn down into the water. Again, don't agitate! Lift the yarn from the rinse water, drain and refill until the water runs clear. Gently squeeze the excess water from the yarn, then place on a clean towel. Roll the yarn up in the towel and press on it to remove more water. Do this several times until you are no longer getting any water out of the yarn (or you run out of towels). Lay the hank flat on a dry towel (or a nearly dry spot of your last towel). Allow to air dry. Stand back & admire your work!

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Copyright 2005 ©Carol A. Fuhr