Dakota Fiber Mill hosted a dyeing class that went over techniques including Food Coloring, Kool-Aid, and Rit Dye. Let’s explore these techniques!

Kool-Aid Dyeing

This is a great project for young kids. You need to use an animal fiber like sheep or alpaca as this doesn’t work well for cottons. Julie Mangnall provided a handful of fibers from a suri alpaca which is really different from sheared wool. These fibers are twisted, long locks that drape down their bodies. It is so soft and has a shine to it. What you need:

  • Fibers, preferably a wool yarn already in a skein or wool roving.
  • One package of UNSWEETENED drink mix per ounce of yarn or roving
  • A microwave and microwave safe dish
  • Work surface covered with a plastic cloth
  • A container to hold enough water to cover your yarn
  • A colander to rinse your wool in
  • A salad spinner is a great way to help dry the wool
  • Plastic baggies
  • Always wear plastic gloves!

The suri fibers were covered with warm water and then the colors were chosen from Grape (Purple), Mixed Berry (Blue), and Mango (Orange). 2 packages were used, which were opened up and sprinkled on top of the fibers. A splash of vinegar was also added to the water. Vinegar makes the water more acidic and wool takes color better under acidic conditions. This became very apparent one pan got more vinegar than another pan. Despite using three packages, the pan with less vinegar turned out much lighter than the one with more.

Once you add your dye you need to set it with heat. The wool was scooped from the pan and allowed to drip to get some of the excess water out. Then it was placed into a baggie but wasn’t sealed completely and then heated on high in the microwave for a minute. It was then carefully removed and rinsed under running water. You want to start with warm water and work up to cold water. If you start with cold water it shocks the wool and can start the felting process. Make sure the water runs clear and then put it in a salad spinner to get the excess water out. Hang it to dry. Here are the results, before and after.

For more information on Kool-Aid dyeing, Knitty’s blog has some great tips and pictures. You can also use this technique to dye your hair. Here is a great site with step-by-step pictures if you are brave enough to try it!

Rit Dyeing

Rit has a great webpage covering all aspects of using their dye.

One of the ladies in the class had requested a deep red for felted Santa hats, so a pot was already simmering set up with a red dye. The wool roving was soaked in warm water and vinegar. She cautioned us not to be poking and pushing the roving a lot or it might start to felt. The soaked roving was placed into the pot and let it start simmering again. After about 5 minutes it was red but not deep red, so it was put back in for another 5 minutes. It came out a deep, beautiful red. Then it has to be rinsed, again starting with warm water working towards the cold water. You want to be sure the rinse water is clear or your yarn could bleed when you use it.

The majority of the morning was spent with the reactive dyes specially made for animal fibers. Jean uses Cushing’s Perfection Dyes. This company has been making dyes since the late 1800’s! Everyone in the class got a 4 ounce ball of roving (about 8″ in diameter). Starting with about an ounce, it was soaked in plastic containers, the excess liquid was drained and turned it out onto the table.

Next colors were added without poking much on the roving. Jean had mixed up 4 or 5 colors so here is an example using several of them.

This was then microwaved for about 1 minute. It came out very, very light. Several people really soaked their roving and put it in the microwave for over 2 minutes. Their results were much darker.

Another attempt was made using more of the dark purple and put in the microwave for 2 minutes and it still didn’t come out quite as dark as others. It was determined it was again the amount of vinegar used in the water.

Chris had encouraged the attendees to bring other fibers to dye. A variety of white cotton threads were brought. The Rit dye worked with cottons. Half of them were soaked in a vinegar solution and the other half were left dry, straight out of the wrappers. As you can see, it made absolutely no difference.

Class was held in the working side of Chris’ shop where there was access to the large sinks. She has a couple of “helpers”, this is Fred, an Angora rabbit. This picture doesn’t really show how fluffy Fred is. Some people even set an angora rabbit on their lap and spin fiber right off the rabbit! No, it doesn’t hurt the rabbit.

Jean had brought food coloring as a dyeing option, so an experiment was performed on a skein of floss. She had some neon colors and a dot of each were placed along the skein to create a very colorful rainbow. As it was rinsed, most of the color ran off, leaving a variegated pink. Dyeing with food coloring works best with animal fibers, which is why the cotton wouldn’t take the dye.

Next some additional wool roving was tested with the Rit dye. Jean added more red Rit to the simmering pot and the roving was divided into 1 ounce balls. Each ball was dyed individually, simmering for 10 minutes. Each one got a little lighter as the dye was being used up.

We hope this guide makes your stitching easier and more enjoyable!

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