Food Coloring Dye
A lot of unconventional dyes, typically used as food colorings, can quite effectively dye protein based fibers such as wool, alpaca, or silk. These dyes are inexpensive, available at a grocery store, and nontoxic. So dyeing with food coloring can be a fun project to do with children! You can use actual food coloring, frosting dye, or Easter Egg dye to dye yarn. Kool Aid is also a food coloring dye, but you do not need to add any sort of acid to the dye bath, because the mixture already has citric acid included! We have separate instructions for Kool Aid dyeing here. Make sure to use a food coloring dye that is sugar free.
Also, keep in mind that many food coloring dyes are not effective for color mixing. Many of the colors aren’t “pure” colors and were created by mixing several unexpected shades together. So while you can mix red and blue paint together to create a purple color, if you mix red and blue frosting dye together, it creates brown. So purchase colors that are as close to your desired colors as possible, instead of mixing primary colors. Additionally, black frosting dye is not actually made of black dye, but a combination of a lot of colors. Do not use it to darken another color or to dye something black, because when you dilute black frosting dye into the dye bath, the color will “break” and the colors that combined to look like concentrated black will be visible.
A crock pot or large non aluminum pot
A hank of yarn secured with figure eight knots of waste yarn or a dye blank
Dye of your choice (food coloring, frosting dye, or Easter egg dye)
A large spoon for stirring
1. Wet your yarn or dye blank and let it soak in a water and vinegar mixture for at least 30 minutes until it is fully saturated. The vinegar will change the pH balance of the yarn, and help it to absorb the dye. Use ¼ cup of vinegar for every quart of water.
2. Prepare a dye bath in a crock pot or large pot on the stove. Take the yarn out of the water and vinegar mixture, and put it aside. Heat up the water and vinegar mixture to a simmer.
3. Add your dye. Since different food coloring dyes are different colors, start with a few drops of color and work your way up to the intensity that you want. If you want to duplicate the color in the future, keep notes. Remember that you will use a lot more food coloring to dye yarn than food. To preview a color, dab some dye on a paper towel.
4. Once the dye bath is your desired color, add the yarn again. Heat your yarn until it has absorbed or “exhausted” all of the dye. Then turn off the heat source and allow your yarn and dye solution to cool down to room temperature.
5. In addition to kettle dyeing, food coloring dyes work well for hand painting, dip dyeing, or any other method you can think of!
6. Rinse any excess dye from your yarn, and hang your yarn up to dry. Wind into a ball and cast on!