20 January 2008
How to dye yarn with food colouring (and small children)
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
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.
(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.
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?)
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.
Admire it close up ...
from both ends ...
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.
When you're ready to knit it up, wind the skein into a ball and admire the rainbow effect from all angles.
This will make a small child very happy.
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.