Dyeing Wool/Animal Fibers From Kool-Aid and Food Coloring

****Please note, this has been updated.  This is a learning process and I want to make sure everyone is armed with the correct tools and information.  I myself am learning as I go along.  I think a great artist never stops learning.  As I keep learning, I will keep this page updated****
 Okay, as promised I have a tutorial set up for this weekend.  I know I said I would not be redundant but decided to put everything on this page in case you want to save it for reference and you don't have to fish around for all the information.  Dyeing with Kool-Aid, food coloring and other natural dyes is excellent for those who are pregnant, nursing, sharing their workspace with small children or do not wish to be around some of the harsher chemicals in general.  If done right, it is very color fast and will not fade.  You can even felt with it and see little to no color changes what so ever.

Before we start I want to go over the handling of your fibers.  Fibers will felt easily and you will have a gnarled mess that you cannot spin with and will have a hard time felting if you are not careful.  The best idea is to start with a small batch if you're new to this until you get a feel for it.  Putting your fibers between hot and cold and excessive handling will cause felting quite easy.  When handling your fibers you want the water to gradually reach desired temperature and don't wring them out with your hands or stir too much.  You don't want water flowing over them either.  Fill your pots up before adding fiber or carefully and slowly add it to the fiber.  Other than that, dying is a cinch.

There are two methods you can use..microwave and over the stove.  This tutorial will be for over the stove.  I personally prefer this method because I feel I have more control over the colors as the dyeing process is going on.  Others prefer the microwave because it can be easier to "paint" (painting is when you place the dyes on the fiber directly where you want them prior to setting the dyes in) in colors on the fibers without excessive bleeding.  With a little practice you can paint in colors as well with the stove method.

Materials you need are quite simple:

*Wool to be dyed (this can be roving all the way to already made yarn consisting of at least 80% wool, superwash DOES work also and due to its chemically altered coating it will leave behind a different sheen)
*Kool-Aid and or Food coloring (a packet to two of Kool-Aid per 2 oz of material depending on how brilliant you want the colors to be, make sure it does not contain any pre-mixed sugar or everything will be a sticky mess!)
*Vinegar to set the dyes
*Stainless Steel Pot to dye in (Preferably one not used for cooking but if you don't have an extra just wash it extra good when you're done.  It must be stainless steel so the compounds can react correctly)

I'm going to give these directions for using 2 ounces of roving.  Obviously if you're using more you need more of everything added.  After a couple dyeing sessions you will get the feel for it and not bother measuring anything.

Fluffing the fiber

Soaking in the soap solution
First you will need to fill a pot/bowl with warm (but not too hot) water.  Add about a tablespoon of soap to it.  I've found Dawn dish soap works the best.  This helps wash out any extra lanolin that wool is naturally coated with.  It also helps condition the wool so it will take to the dyes better. Stir the soap
around so it's worked in good and eye the water level to make sure it should cover all your wool.  Next is to carefully fluff out your wool so it will dye evenly.  You don't have to pull it apart by any means but just loosen up the fibers.  If you don't (especially if your roving is compact) the dyes won't be able to reach the middle as well and you will have inconsistent coloring or no coloring in the middle at all.  Carefully set your wool into the pot of water and make sure it is all covered.  Do not fuss too much with it...remember the agitation can cause felting.  Let it soak in the soap mixture for at least a half hour.  If the roving does seem really clean, I will skip this step.  It will need a soak though.  I will do the same process but put at least a cup of white vinegar in the soak.  In my opinion, it helps the colors attach to the fibers more evenly.  You will see a lot of different opinions on this.  You can forgo the vinegar all together in the soak but it will still need a soak.  At least a half hour till you see the fibers all swollen.  I have found the longer you can let it sit in a vinegar soak, the more brilliant your colors will be.  Some people actually leave it in overnight but I don't see the difference in a couple hour soak vs. an overnight soak.

Dye added without enough water
Correct amount of water added to dye
Next you will need to carefully pull the fiber out or gently pour it into a colander so the excess water can drain off.  While it is draining out, prepare your dye.  I like to use 1 - 2 packets of food coloring for every 2 ounces.  If I want a darker color I use two.  In this tutorial I used only one of the black cherry flavor.  You can also mix colors as well.  I like to empty the packet into a large bowl and add 8 oz of water (room temperature) and 2 oz of vinegar per packet.  This will give you a good visual of what color the fiber will end up being.  When you get a nice base color that you like, add it to your dye pot.  See if it will be able to cover all your fiber.  If not, add more water.  The amount of water you use will not affect the dye as the fibers are soaking up the dye and not the water.  If you do not have enough water your fibers will not dye evenly.   Carefully make sure all the excess water is out of your roving and place it into the dye pot.  Carefully add more water if needed.  You can now get an idea of the color and add more if you would like.  Please not though, your dye has not started the process so even if it is a lighter shade, it still has to soak up all that dye around it in the pot so it will eventually become darker than what it is now.  Set your fiber to a med-low heat on your stove.  Keep an eye on it, you do not want to fiber boiling but you want the temp to remain a constant at right below the boiling point.

This step can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes (or longer) depending on how much fiber you are dying.  It will be done when either all of the liquid in your pot has turned back to clear (this means your fiber has taken in all the dye) or it's been "cooking" at a constant temp for at least 45 minutes.  I will usually wait for all the dye to be taken in, even if it is longer.  Your temp must remain on the higher side (just under boiling) in order to set the dyes correctly.  Not hot enough, the colors will bleed.  Too hot, your fiber will felt.

Almost done, still dye left in pot

All done...liquid is clear!
Okay, next step...your liquid in the dye pot is clear.  Your fiber is officially dyed.  At this point if you're not satisfied with the color or if you want to make any modifications, now is the time to do it.  I will usually take food coloring and mix up some complimenting colors to add to it.  I will gently drip my color mixture over my roving.  If you want the deeper color and for the color to not bleed into the rest of the pot, let it set on top of the roving and do not touch it.  If you want it blended in to cover more space or all of the roving, carefully poke where you dripped the dye with a wooden spoon and help the dye along where you want it to be.  Let your fiber continue cooking until the water runs clear again.

When you are satisfied with the color, turn the stove off.  Do not mess with it in any way.  It needs to cool down on its own so it doesn't felt and so the dye can be correctly set.  You will want it to cool back down to room temperature.

Once your fibers are cooled down to room temperature, gently remove the fibers.  You will want to as gently as possible and without agitation, wring out the excess water.  If you have a washing machine, you don't need to worry about getting most of it it out.  Just worry about the excess.  If you don't have a washing machine, just get out the excess and set up a drying rack in the bathtub and let it drip out on it's own.  It will take a long time to dry this way.  If you have a washer that does not use water on the spin cycle, set the dial on it to spin out only.  Gently lay your fibers in your washer (away from the agitator) and let it go through a spin cycle. This will safely remove all excess water and your fibers will dry very fast.  Remove your fibers from the washer and set them on a rack to continue drying.  That's it, you're fiber is now ready to use.
Painted in the dye pot

Painted in the dye pot...cooling down
After you get familiar with it you can develop some neat tricks.  You can stripe the colors by only letting so much at a time into the dye pot.  You can polka dot it or give it a tye-dyed effect.  You can also try painting it by adding the dye directly to the fiber before adding it to the vinegar and water solution.  Using this method the colors will bleed once they hit the water but I have gotten some pretty amazing fiber colors this way.

Another idea is to use the Wiltons Colored Gel that is used for coloring icing and foods.  This seems to save more money than kool-aid and there is a much greater variety of colors to choose from.  It can be used along with Kool-Aid.  When using Wiltons I will boil water and put about a cup of the boiling water in glass jars.  I will put in an extra tbs. of vinegar in each jar.  I then will measure out about 1/2 tsp. of the gel and mix it into the containers.  This formula I use for approx. 4 oz of roving.  If you want a more brilliant color, use 3/4 to 1 tsp of gel.  If you are dyeing more fiber, use more, etc.  Once your colors are mixed up you can use the same process as kool-aid dyeing as listed above.  It can be dyed in the pot on the stove.  If you want to hand paint it, lay your roving that had been soaking (gently remove excess water) on plastic wrap and paint away.  I tend to find it easier to put painted roving in the microwave for the color to set.  I will wrap it up in the plastic wrap and set it in a microwaveable safe dish.  Next I will heat it in the microwave for 2-3 minutes and then let it rest for the same period of time.  This may seem tedious but you don't want your roving felting and go to waste.  I will repeat this step at least 6 times before I let it cool down on its own.  Once done I will give it another rise, put it in a spin cycle then hang it out to dry.  I do have pictures of this painting process and will be glad to share on this post soon when time permits!

Get creative!  You can also use other household items this way to naturally dye your yarn.  Try coffee and tea.  Also try adding some different spices or flowers.  Onion peels work great do  Don't be afraid to experiment!

Sections folded and dyed separate to give a striped effect
Any questions or other tips you would like to share, feel free!

Both dyed with Kool-Aid and Food coloring.  Both Painted in the pot.

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