20 January 2008

How to dye yarn with food colouring (and small children)

dye14

I've been busting to show you this, but it's hard finding blogging time during the school holidays with children demanding food and water at regular intervals.

You may remember that last year I was voraciously collecting information and resources regarding natural dyeing with plant materials. I've dyed fabrics with chemical dyes many times, but never with the children around. I became obsessed with the idea of natural plant dyeing (and even joined the Plant Dyeing Group at the craft cottage at the Bot Gardens last year), but was turned off by the need for toxic mordants. (Yes I do know that there are some dye materials that don't need mordanting. I'm still experimenting. But with young children, you don't always want to experiment, you need guaranteed results. And preferably bright colours).

Then I found out about dyeing with food colouring. Perfectly safe to do with children, apart from the brief microwaving bit which needs adult supervision.

Son #3 (aged 8) was dead keen to dye his own wool which I would then knit into an item of clothing for him.

In case anyone's vaguely interested and thinking of doing this with their kids, I present to you (da na na na ...) my very first tutorial.

How to dye yarn safely, with small people.

You will need:
white, cream or light coloured wool yarn
white vinegar
food colouring


First, if your wool is in balls, you will need to unwind them and form into a skein. Use the arms of a small child or the back of a chair (the latter is more reliable and less prone to whining that its arms ache) to wind your skein. We used two 50g balls ($1 each from the op shop) to create a 100g skein. Make sure you use pure natural yarns - wool, alpaca, mohair or silk. Cotton won't work with food colouring apparently, and neither will acrylics and synthetics. Tie your skein loosely in two or three places with waste yarn.

Next, you will need to mordant your yarn. Soak the yarn in a basin of half tepid water and half white vinegar for anywhere between half an hour and overnight. Gently squeeze out the yarn and lay out the damp skein ready to dye. Protect your kitchen bench first with layers of newspaper/old nappies/plastic rubbish bag/old towels.

dye1

(Our skein is messy as I went the small child route rather than the chair. Trying to foster enthusiasm and participation, you know.)

Don your rubber gloves and an apron and start to paint your yarn! This is where the small child generally stops whining and gets interested.

We only had the tiny little bottles of food colouring, but I've since seen them in 50ml bottles in the supermarket, dirt cheap. You will need about 50ml for every 50g of yarn. This was a 100g skein, so we could have done with more dye, but we just made do as a trip to the supermarket with three children on a very hot day was not an option. Our finished yarn has several white, undyed bits due to our dye shortage, but as we were going for a multi coloured, variegated effect, it didn't matter. Gently squeeze droplets of dye onto your yarn and use your (gloved) fingers to work it into the wool. Don't rub.

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It's fun and messy but being food colouring, it'll still wash out at this stage if you get it on surfaces or clothes.

When you've used all your dye or achieved the effect you were after, whichever comes first, lay your painted yarn in a ceramic, glass or plastic bowl, cover loosely with a lid or clingwrap, and microwave for five minutes on the highest power setting. Let the yarn cool completely, but do not touch or rearrange the yarn. When the yarn has cooled, zap it for another five minutes on high. Don't let the yarn dry out during this process, so mist the yarn and the underside of the lid or clingwrap with a little water from a spray bottle if it's looking too dry.

This cooking of the yarn, together with the earlier mordanting of the yarn with vinegar, is what sets the colour. (See how in print it looks like I know what I'm talking about? Impressive huh?)

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When the yarn has cooled, rinse it thoroughly under a running tap of cool or tepid water until the water runs clear.

Squeeze (don't wring!) the excess water out and drape the skein somewhere out of direct sunlight to dry.

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Admire it close up ...

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from both ends ...

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and proudly take lots of photographs.

When the yarn is thoroughly dry, do the 'twist into a skein' thing (not terribly successfully in my case) and you'll feel like a real pro.

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When you're ready to knit it up, wind the skein into a ball and admire the rainbow effect from all angles.

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This will make a small child very happy.

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This ball of wool pictured has already been knitted up into a hat for the boy. (He's even been wearing it occasionally on these hot summer days). We're both ridiculously proud and excited. He can't wait to show it off to his schoolmates and tell them he dyed the wool himself and then Mum knitted it up.

The whole project was so successful that the other two children have each demanded a turn, and Son #2 and I have already dyed two skeins of yucky beige op shop wool into a beautiful forest green for a future pair of fingerless gloves. Photos to come.

Can you tell I'm addicted?

Updated: for those without microwaves, try the stovetop tutorial here.

89 comments:

Kitty said...

Hi. I've been reading your blog for a while now, but been tempted out of the comment closet by this post. That yarn dyeing is seriously impressive!

Take care :-) x

Sharon said...

WoW suse is there any limits to your considerable talents??? I am very, very impressed!!! I could be tempted... No I am busy taking things TO the op-shop (on a VERY BIG de-clutter mission here) rather than bring stuff home to do that hugely impressive multi coloured magical ball -limited only my your imagination - of wool...

Sharon said...

...see I have become intrancedby those rainbow yarns - should be BY not MY... Why do I see the typos after I publish ???(groan, groan)

Sharon said...

LOL - I did it again - time I went to bed...

blackbird said...

I hope the weather turns quickly for you -

telfair said...

That is completely brilliant!!

BabelBabe said...

You are SO amazing. It's gorgeous, seriously gorgeous. but i am with Sharon at the moment - I am getting RID of stuff : ) I am dreaming of having my own little crafty corner someday soon, with all my fabric stash and art supplies lined up neatly on shelves or in stacked bins. Sigh. Maybe around 2020?

daysgoby said...

I love this, and I DON'T KNIT.

So now you know how truly brilliant this is.

Dawn said...

That yarn is beautiful! What a fun thing to do with children. Thanks so much for sharing this.

Sue said...

WOW brilliantly simple. I'll have to file this for future use. It's far too wet & cold here in the north of England to contemplate at this time of year.

Rose said...

Love the yarn! My daughter dyed 3 skeins of yarn for me for my Christmas present this year. I'm impressed but not tempted. Too many projects for me to do. But thanks for sharing; it truly is lovely.

Frogdancer said...

Suse, that's amazingly fantastic. Connor (11) was looking over my shoulder when I was reading this and his eyes lit up and started spinning around his head like catherine wheels. There's a week of school holidays to go... guess what we'll probably be doing on one of them?

meggie said...

What pretty colours you achieved with the food colouring!
No wonder Son #3 was so happy, & other Sons wish to follow.

Jodie said...

That looks great and very professional all twisted up.

luv Abby said...

ohhhh I luv this idea thanx.
luv Abby

ilse said...

What a brights colors !
Now all you need is a winterholiday !!

Little question, do you think it will also work in the oven??? we don't have a microwave!!

I definitly want to try it.
Thanks for the tutotial.

Isabelle said...

I'm sitting here in Scotland, in the dark - and even during the day it was dull, and everything in the garden looks dead - and those colours did me so much good!

Bec said...

Wow - you know, you almost make me want to learn to knit....but living in Brisbane IS a bit of a disincentive..... I am both impressed, and entertained. Thank-you!

Louise said...

Completely brilliant!!! I will HAVE to give this a go and I think the multi colour is just gorgeous. Can't wait to see the hat!

Poppy & Mei said...

Yay! Yay! Yay!
I've always wondered about food colouring. I'd heard about 'Kool Aid' but never had access to it.
I'm going to pinch all these ideas & apply them to play silks. I'll report back...Xxx
Oh yes, THANK-YOU!

zoesquid said...

What a great idea. Im sure my girls would love a shot at this. Thanks for taking the time with the tutorial - much appreciated.

h&b said...

Wow ! I'm so impressed, and a tutorial to boot !

I wonder what I could do with the wool ( I can knit, but never learned to cast off, and can't think of anything i'd *want* to knit !! :)

Maybe i'll just make a ball of wool to admire and take photos of instead ? !

Kim said...

And here I was feeling proud that I washed the lounge covers.

shula said...

I've been dying to know how to do that.

(no pun intended).

I thought you needed Kool Aid, which of course you can't buy here.

Di said...

Very impressive! Brilliant tutorial, expecially considering how you have three kids hanging off you at every turn.

Janet said...

wow, wow, wow.

This would inspire me to learn knit. Would the dye wash off a small child?

Claire said...

Thank you for the brilliant idea and the wonderful tutorial. We will definitely be doing this ready for a winter scarf or two!

K said...

I'm with Isabelle -- what wonderful colours! The radio has just informed me that today is "the most depressing day of the year" and since it's raining and I'm sitting with all the lights on at 10.45 am... we NEED sunny pictures.

And what a good-looking child you have lurking in the background. (I'm sure he's too old to be "cute".)

Elizabeth said...

Your boys are gorgeous!

Surfing Free said...

That is some beautiful wool. And what a handsome son :)

herhimnbryn said...

Sod it! No microwave chez moi!
That yarn and son look very, very handsome.

steph said...

Beautiful Suse. Love your work.

louise said...

Suse thank you so much for that...I can't wait to make some with my granddaughter tomorrow. We also had a similar experience to you when we went to The Water Horse...we were completely surrounded by talking, chomping, and worst of all...sreaming, little children. Anyway, as you said, some very nice jumpers in the film. Thanks again...

fiona said...

looks like messy rainbow fun!! yet again you dazzle!

Stacey (Sheeps Clothing) said...

Your yarn looks fantastic. Really beautiful.
Will we see a pic of the finished hat?
I'd love to give this a go. There was a heap of undyed wool at my local op shop last week and I ummed an ahhed over whether I should buy it (like I need more wool) and in the end walked away. I might just have to go back!

TLCknits said...

Very impressive...

Gillybean said...

Hi your results are great, check out "how to" on my blog to compare effects. I use basically the same method as you except I do it on a stove top. If you have a look at my pictures you'll see I use big bottles of dye. When our playcentre is doing a order for craft items I just ask to purchase some dye. This way is alot cheaper. Also others might be interested that you can dye silk fabric in the microwave too I think the mordant is salt. I can ask my aunt if anyones interested.

Jen said...

Oooh that is wonderful! I can't wait to try this.

Jen

Penni said...

Gooor-jus'.

Um, so I'm stoopid, but how do you get it from skein to ball without tangling your wool to billy-oh?

I've been meaning to email and say thanks for your lovely thoughtful comment on the Cake about Christmas traditions. I'd still love to arrange some mutual visiting. I feel like I dropped off the earth for a while at the end of last year, but I think of you every time we drive through Warrandyte, which is pretty often.

sue said...

Thank you so much for the tutorial, and the wonderful tips on where to buy the food dye too. I am sure going to try this out as your yarn looks great. Do we get to see how the colored yarn knit up into the hat?

jorth said...

That looks like so much fun. I'm kinda wishing I hadn't given away my microwave now.

kt said...

Thanks for the tutorial and the peek at a dashing young man!

Love them freckle-faces!

sooz said...

I have 4 skeins of the most totally luscious undyed wool that I look at and fondle periodically. Too darn scared to dye it but maybe now I can be brave...looking forward to hearing more!!

manda said...

wow that is great. veda is going to love doing that. off to the op shop we go. whats a few more balls of wool in a house thats already bursting.

amanda said...

How very interesting, and with such beautiful results.

I have a feeling this tutorial will be one of those classics that makes all the rounds and is linked to endlessly for all time.

Thank you!

diana said...

Thankyou! Thankyou! Thankyou!I've been trying to figure out non toxic dyes for ages.

fifi said...

How did I miss this feast of a post??

I have loads of food dye, in huge containers in with the saucepans. Every so often, one falls onto my feet and spatters them indelibly but still i return them to the cupboard...

I certainly wish I could KNIT. Perhaps I could just dye some wool and leave it lying around the house looking nice. It would be better than dying my feet with it.


Spectacular!!!

I did reply to your comment, btw, regarding my affectatious accent. ha!

Bronchitkat said...

Suse, that is amazing. I am soooo going to try it - if I can find some reasonably priced white wool. I already have the food colouring - left over from when I did fancy iced cakes.

Just one question - how does this kind of dying stand up to washing? Hand wash?/Machine wash? Temperatures etc? Would it work for socks, or only for things which get washed very infrequently, like that awesome hat.

LouLou said...

oH MY GOD THAT IS SO STUNNING- I LOVE IT and it actually looks reasonably easy!!!! I just need someone to knit it for me!!

My float said...

Wow. I'm beyond impressed.
But.
Isn't it easier just to BUY the darn things? (I've missed the point, haven't I?!)

Blossom said...

well done.
I AM impressed!!
I can't wait to try it!!!

Suse said...

Thanks everyone for your lovely supportive and encouraging comments.

To answer a few questions, I'm afraid I don't yet know just how colourfast the wool will be. The mordanting and heating is meant to set the dye, but I wouldn't go using it to knit up a jumper or something that will get washed regularly. That's why thus far I've only knitted it into hats, mitts and neckwarmers, which around here, get washed infrequently. I'll report back once our items get washed a few times.

For those of you without microwaves, you can also use a crockpot (slow cooker), or the oven. I don't know how long for, I'd recommend you experiment. After all, that's part of the fun.

Fifi, you should definitely just dye some hanks of wool and drape them around to look good! If you arrange them in a circular fashion, they look like exotic birdsnests.

Penni, one skein ALWAYS tangles horribly. It's the rule I believe.

Kim, washing lounge covers is impressive. I never do that.

happy handmade goods said...

Wow, this is an amazing tutorial! I will make good use of it - I live in New Zealand and have a little crochet club(http://looptroop.blogspot.com)with friends and their (somewhat) small children. We will definitely be trying this out and crocheting up the results. Thanks heaps :)

Kylie said...

Thankyou so much for this - armed with this tutorial and the hints from Yarn magazine I am off to try this - the wool is currently in the vinegar - wonder if I will be able to wait overnight or have to do it tonight before I go to bed - and I am impressed that it is already knitted into something!

Heids said...

Love this tutortial - can't wait to try it! (Even if we do live in Darwin and have little use for woollen items - I think we will make pompoms!) Have just discovered your blog and can't wait to explore the rest of it.

Guzzisue said...

where can I adopt children by the hour so we can p[lay at things like this? :-) great post

Karen said...

What a neat blog! I'd like to subscribe to it but cannot find the place to do it. RSS feed? Advise please.

.... said...

Thank you. I was looking for a simple way to dye some wool stockings blue for my sons' halloween costume (They will be used as hats)and this has worked perfectly. word to the wise....Remember to wear the gloves! I now have smurf hands.

Melody said...

Thank you so much for posting this tutorial. It was invaluable for my first dye attempt! :)

SBJ said...

I stumbled accross your posting while looking for a child friendly method for dying yarn in order to help my daughter (6 yo) get into knitting. I am so excited for her to come home from school so we can get started - thanks for the tutorial!

Lanee' said...

Thanks a bunch for this easy tutorial. love your pics! very inspiring =-)

KnitAnotherSock said...

I just saw your tutorial, and it was the most comprehensive I've seen for the procedure! Thank you!

Donna said...

hey I am about to hook a rug with yarn, have my pattern drawn on burlap..would you reccomend using this method to dye my white yarn, not sure if the color will stay..

thanks
Donna

Suse said...

Hi Donna, if your yarn is wool or other animal fibre (alpaca, mohair etc) the dye will stick as long as you use the mordant (vinegar) and heat (stovetop or microwave). If your yarn is acrylic or synthetic I don't think the dye will stick.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

I used this tutorial today for both food coloring and applied it to beet juice yarn dye as well. They both worked great! Thanks!

Pic here

Suse said...

Great pic, thanks for showing me!

Emma Scrimgeour said...

I also just used this tutorial and it was great I'm going to post pictures to my blog later here's the address if you want to check it out
emmascimgour.wordpress.com

Freya said...

Great photos, great project! Thanks.

http://tutorialadventures.blogspot.com

trixi said...

That wool looks so amazing, I can't believe it's colourfast too! I'm wondering if it works on wool felt too? Have you ever tried?

Anonymous said...

Do you have to use wool yarn, or can you use anything.

Suse said...

Hi Trixi,it will work beautifully on wool felt. Absolutely!

Anonymous, you need to use a protein-based yarn, eg wool, alpaca, silk, mohair. Cottons and synthetics/acrylics don't work as well.

millie said...

This is SO lovely; thank you so much for blogging this. I look forward to reading more of your posts, but first I am off to put my skeins I just made on the chair into vinegar water. Thank you.

thornberry said...

Thanks so much for your tutorial Suse - the yarn is currently cooling down between microwave zaps! I can tell that I'm going to want to give more of this a try.

the stonker said...

I tried your tutorial today and something went drastically wrong I'm afraid. The colour is horribly patchy - but worse we almost had a fire - the wool is burnt in patches - it was in a plastic bowl in the microwave and I was alerted to a problem by what sounded like popcorn popping. Our microwave is an old model so it can't have been too high a setting - top whack is 650 watts. If anyone has any idea on why this happened I'd love to hear.

Suse said...

Hi Stonker
it's absolutely imperative that the wool be wet with the dye, and kept wet while in the microwave, hence the spraying and misting and covering with clingwrap. Don't let it dry out or it will burn. Hope you have better results next time!
Suse

Sara said...

This is amazing and it's on my weekend to do list. My girls are super excited! Linking up at Tangled Happy tomorrow. Thanks so much for sharing this brilliant tutorial. :)

gratefullyinhisgrace said...

Simple enough to begin with, fun and creative enough to become addicted to!!! :)
Thanks! I can't wait to try it with my kids!

Kylie Jensen said...

Think next time I will put a nappy underneath to sop up some of the excess dye as I made puddles and it became a bit muddy.... Was doing it with a 3 year old too. Might see if I get clearer cleaner colours

Soleil said...

Hi Susan! Thank you very much for your story! Your tutorial is easy! Your yarn is perfect!
I also tried to do hand dyed yarn. If you wish you can take a look for my result:
http://olgasoleil.blogspot.com/2012/01/hand-dyed-yarn.html

Have a colourful day!
Olga ☼

~her_mehness~ said...

I've just done my own, will post credit once I publish my pictures. Can't WAIT til it's dry! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Eloise said...

Hi, I'm looking forward to dye my own wool for a special somebody!.. But I don't have a microwave..is there an alternative to that step? :<

thanks!

Suse said...

Hi Eloise, read the very last line of the post ;)

karen ( bits and bobs zone ) said...

thanks so much for sharing this ... im so going to do it !!! so excited now xx

pammihearts said...

love this! i'm going to have to try this with my kids :)

Organic Cotton Yarns Manufacturers said...

I read your blog, its so nice and provide good knowledge for us. I really like it and thanks to write this wonderful post.

Sacia Meeka said...

Love it! I make handspun yarn and need to dye it! It looks so pretty��

R.M.InterNational said...

I have read your blog its very nice and very useful information about cotton yarn. I really like it and waiting for your next post.

Anonymous said...

Where do you by your wool for a dollar

Suse said...

At the op shop, like I said :)