How to Dye Yarn
What do I do with all my left over food coloring after Easter???
Traditions. Every holiday has them. Easter is a time for trips to see the Easter bunny, Easter Mass, Easter egg hunts and a big family dinner. But the most memorable Easter tradition I had growing up was dying Easter eggs. Every year I carry on this tradition with my children, I know a lot of you do as well.
What do you do with all that left over food coloring. If you’re anything like me you buy new stuff every year, forgetting about the 3-4 boxes you already have in your cabinets from Easter’s past.
We don’t use any food dye’s in our foods for health reasons, but I’d hate to throw all of them out. They do cost after all. So it got me thinking… what can I do with all that left over food coloring?
AHA! I’ll dye my yarn. I had some REALLY old Fishermans Wool that I inherited from my mother. I really didn’t care for the color of it and wool is definitely too itchy to make something to wear with it. However wool is great for felting. I decided to give fiber dying a try.
First you need to start with an animal fiber. Acrylic and cotton will not work (believe me, I tried). You can use any animal fiber, wool, alpaca, angora, etc. I’m not sure about other fibers like hemp and viscrose (made from plant materials) but I have a feeling that they would not work either.
There are many different ways to color yarn this is just one of them. A great method to use with children that I will be exploring this summer is a solar method using nothing but the sun… no muss, no fuss. But seeing as how it’s still freezing outside I wasn’t going to attempt it this Easter.
The method I chose to explore is still very easy but can be a little messy so you’ll want to throw down a large piece of plastic (you can just cut open a garbage bag) or an old towel that you don’t really care about!
The base color of the fiber you choose will affect the results you get. If you use yarn with a cream hue it will soften or mute the color you use. Yellow toned yarn will give the finish result more of a yellowish color. Keep your base yarn color in mind when choosing what color you will dye your yarn.
You can use any dye you choose, I used liquid food coloring because that’s what I had but you can use natural food dyes (coffee, fruit juice, vegetable juice, etc) or even powdered drink mix.
The only materials you will need are:
Yarn- your choice of fiber and amount
Liquid food coloring
A sink or basin filled with lukewarm water (two times)
A glass pyrex or microwave safe glass
A pair of latex gloves (you really want these, I promise)
Saran wrap or plastic wrap
First you will take your yarn and wind it in a large loop. I used an old sneaker box to wrap my yarn around to make it easier and keep it neat. Then you will tie 3-4 spots to keep the yarn together and to keep it from getting tangled. Use a different yarn in a color other than what you will be dying your yarn so that you can easily find it when you’re done. Make sure your ends are not loose. I tied mine to the straps to keep them from loosening up and falling out. (these pics are from when I tried using acylic… just to test it, it took color but bled on my hands every time I used it)
Fill your sink or basin with lukewarm to warm water. You don’t want it hot or it may shrink your yarn and if it is cold it will not open up the fiber molecules enough. DO NOT run water over the yarn, this will cause it to mat up. Place the yarn as neatly as possible into the sink and submerge it. You may need to place something heavy on top to keep it from floating until it is completely saturated. I used my pyrex. Soak your yarn for 30mins.
When your yarn is almost done soaking you can prepare your dye. The mixture that worked best for me was 1 ½ cups HOT water, ½ cup white vinegar and 20-25 drops of color. The finished product will depend on how much dye you use. If you want a pastel look use 10-15 drops. If you want a deep color use 30-35.
After 30 minutes remove yarn from sink and squeeze excess moisture out. Do NOT twist or mash it together. Just squeeze bit by bit. You can also lay the yarn on an absorbent towel, fold towel over and press down to remove excess. You want the yarn to remain damp but not be dripping.
Lay your yarn in the pyrex (put on your gloves) and pour the dye over the yarn. You can use as many colors as you want. If you are doing more than one color you will need to be neat and precise about where you pour the color. Be sure all of the yarn is saturated. Press down firmly on the yarn to make sure it is all incorporated.
Cover the pyrex tightly with your plastic wrap and place in the microwave. Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Check the yarn to make sure it is still all saturated and microwave for 1 minute more.
Remove from microwave. It will be hot so use a towel or oven mitts. You will know if the process is complete once the left over yarn turns clear (depending on the color you use the water may still look a bit cloudy or milky, that is ok). All the color will be in the fiber. If the water is still colored return the pyrex to the microwave and repeat warming in 1minute intervals. Let sit until cool
Drain and squeeze out excess water from yarn. Fill sink with lukewarm water. Repeat soaking process again. Soak, wring out, soak again until water is clear. This will probably take at least 3-4 soaks. You can add a small amount of soap to the water if you wish, though I did not (If I used fruit or veggie juice or powdered drink mix I would). Make sure not to rinse under running water or to make the water too warm.
Squeeze out all possible water (the towel method works great here, but do not rub with towel, just press firmly). Hang yarn to finish drying. Hang it outside if possible. I hung mine over my porch rail (I would not do this if your rail is wood, but mine is pvc). Or you can drape it on a hangar.
Once your yarn is completely dry you can wind it up and work with it.
I hope you enjoyed my tutorial on fiber dying and that you find other interesting uses for all left over food coloring in your house! Happy Easter and….