We all know hand-dyed yarn is gorgeous and to be coveted. and something you dyed yourself is even more so, since it's completely one-of-a-kind and custom-made to your own tastes.
But sometimes we don't want to jump in to dyeing our own fiber. Maybe you have small children and don't want them accidentally playing with potentially-toxic chemicals. Maybe you don't want the hassle of keeping your dye pots and utensils separate from your cooking pots and utensils. Or maybe you're on a budget and don't want to spend a lot of money on dyes, mordants, and all the other supplies you'd need to get started.
Well, no more excuses for you! There is a way to home-dye that's cheap, non-toxic, and easy. All the necessary supplies are available at your grocery store, and you probably already have most of them at home. What would you say to that?
Personally, I say....
Yes, that's right, Kool-Aid. It comes in tons of colors, and you can mix them to make even more. It's acidic, so it will dye protein fibers (wool, silk, alpaca, soy... I even used it to dye my hair as a teenager).
You can use any microwave-safe plastic or glass bowls you have on hand. Some people use metal, but personally I shy away from them because they could potentially react with the acidic dye. Since everything you're using is non-toxic, you can go back to using them for food after a wash. They may stain a little, but the residue isn't harmful.
1. Your protein-based yarn or fiber. You can use a blend if you like, but the colors won't come out as vibrant and may fade more quickly. For this batch, I used a 100% wool roving.
2. Lots of Kool-Aid. For bright colors, a good rule of thumb is one packet of Kool-Aid per ounce of yarn. For less saturated colors, use less. Since I wanted a semi-solid with some fiber left white, I used one packet per two ounces. The color is called "Ice Blue Raspberry Lemonade".
4. A few large bowls, plus cups and spoons for mixing.
5. A turkey baster, paintbrush, or other method of applying dye (for painting). I love to use my basting bottle.
6. Your microwave
7. A plastic sheet (such as a tarp or garbage bag) to protect your workspace.
Step 1: Wash Up
Fill your sink with water, and swish in a little bit of wool wash or detergent. Wash your yarn and rinse well. Then drain and re-fill the sink with clean water. Let the yarn soak until you're ready for it.
Step 2: Mix Up
Do you want your yarn to be solid or painted? Solid yarn will be the same color all the way through. Painted yarn will look mottled, variegated, or striped depending on how you apply it.
For a solid yarn, add some water to a large microwave-safe bowl (make sure to leave room to submerge the yarn!). Then dump in the Kool-Aid packets and mix well. The ratio of water to dye doesn't matter, just the ratio of dye to yarn.
For a painted yarn, mix your packets with water in a cup (coffee cups work well for this). Again, the ratio of dye to water doesn't matter. I use about 1/2 cup water per packet of KA.
Step 3: Time to Dye
If you're making a solid yarn, this next step is simple! Just dunk the soaked yarn into the dye bath, making sure it's all covered up.
If you're making a painted yarn, this is the fun part. Lay the wet yarn out on your plastic, and start painting. You can drip, pour, squirt, brush, or splatter the dye on. As mentioned before, I use a basting bottle, which lets me do a little of each. Get creative, and have fun. When you're satisfied with your results, transfer the dye-covered yarn to a microwave-safe bowl.
Step 4: Cook It
Heating the yarn/dye/water mix will help the fiber absorb all the dye and make it permanent. Just stick the whole thing in the microwave, covering it loosely with plastic wrap to avoid splattering.
I heat mine in 2 minute cycles: cook for 2 minutes, let cool for 2 minutes. Repeat until the water looks mostly clear (which meand the yarn is absorbing most of the dye). My batch today took 4 cycles to get clear, depending on how powerful your microwave is and how much dye you used, yours may be more or less. Just keep going until it looks right!
Step 5: Cool It
When the water is clear, drain it off (leaving the yarn in the bowl), and let the fiber cool to room temperature. In the meantime, grab some sock knitting you've been procrastinating on.
Step 6: Rinse Clean
Once your yarn is cooled off, it's time for the final wash. Get a stream of running water close to the same temperature as the yarn, as sudden changes in temperature can cause it to felt. You may see a little dye coming out in the water, or you may not. Either way is no cause for concern.
Step 7: Oh, Hang It All
Your dyeing experience is done! Now all you need to do is hang up your yarn to dry.
To make it dry faster, I like to lay out the yarn and gently squeeze it between two towels. Be sure not to wring or twist, as this can break fibers. Just press it gently. This step is optional, but if you do it, you'll have much faster drying.
Now hang the yarn someplace well-ventilated. I do it in my bathroom, or outside on a sunny day.
Once it's dry, you're ready to enjoy your results! Isn't custom yarn a beautiful thing?