Dyeing wool with Kool Aid – immersion method
Why Kool Aid?
If you’re new to dyeing, there is no quicker, easier, safer or more reliable introduction than immersion dyeing wool with Kool Aid.
Kool Aid is technically a food stuff (although you wont catch me drinking it), so it is non-toxic and you’re totally safe to use your kitchen pans and implements. Kool Aid dyeing is an acid dyeing technique – acid reacts with protein fibres to set the dye. But, unlike other acid dyes, it already contains citric acid so it requires no additional chemicals (unless you’re dyeing stubborn fibres or plant fibres). It comes in small, manageable, measured sachets, in a rainbow of bold colours (flavours) that are washfast when set.
So why would you want to use anything else? On the downside, it would work out expensive to dye big quantities. Some of the colours are stronger than others, and there are certain shades that it’s simply impossible to create with the palette available. Some shades are also less light-fast than proper acid dyes, but don’t let that put you off!
What can be dyed?
You can dye any type of protein fibre based yarn using the method described below. Protein fibres include wool, alpaca, silk, cashmere – basically, animal fibres. Some fibres absorb dye more easily than others, superwash merino is ideal – the superwash treatment helps the yarn suck-up dye, giving vibrant colours, while silk and cashmere require more treatment in order to get the dye to set.
You don’t have to use yarn – top (roving), felt and finished items can also be dyed. If using fleece of handspun yarn, make sure it’s been properly cleaned and all the oil removed.
Cellulose (plant) fibres such as cotton, linen, bamboo and tencel cannot be dyed using this technique. There are ways to dye cellulose fibres with Kool Aid but they are not described here.
If you’re dyeing yarn made from a blend of animal and plant fibres, the dye will take to the animal fibre content only, so overall the colours will be paler.
Equipment & supplies
What you need
- Undyed protien-based yarn (wool, silk, alpaca etc.). If you’re new to this, use superwash wool – it absorbs colour more easily and there is no danger of accidentally felting it.
- Kool Aid (see table below for quantities)
- A stainless steel pan, large enough for your yarn
- A plastic or metal stirring implement
- Rubber gloves
- White vinegar (50 ml per 100 g yarn) or citric acid (10 g per 100 g yarn) to aid dye fixing on stubborn fibres only (silk, cashmere, alpaca etc.)
- Salt (25 g per 100 g yarn) to slow dye absorption, giving an even colour
I have found citric acid slightly more reliable than white vinegar, but vinegar is much easier to get hold of.
Kool Aid strength chart
|Strawberry / cherry||Orange||Pineapple||Lemon Lime||Berry Blue||Grape|
|Colour||scarlet red||orange||golden yellow||green||turquoise blue||dark purple|
|sachets / 100 g||3||4||4||6||4||4|
- Soak the yarnin enough warm water to cover with a drop of washing up liquid for at least 30 minutes.
- If using citric acid, dissolve it in a small amount of boiling water, then mix with enough warm water to cover the yarn. Wear gloves when handling citric acid if you have sensitive skin – it is not harmful but may cause irritation.
- If using white vinegar, simply mix it with the water.
Soaking helps the yarn absorb dye quickly and evenly. The washing-up liquid aids wetting by breaking the surface tension.
- Once soaked, remove moisture by gently squeezing. Do not wring as this may damage fibres.
Making single coloured skeins
- Add to a pan, enough warm water to cover your yarn – the actual amount is not important. If you’re using salt, add it now and mix until dissolved
- Add the Kool Aid and mix well. The colour of the dye bath will be very close to the final colour of the yarn so you can make changes at this point by adding more packets, for example if you want your green to be bluer.
- Add the yarn to the dyebath and push it under, making sure it’s fully submerged.
- Turn on the heat, bring to the boil.
- Simmer for 30 minutes. By this time all the dye should have absorbed and the water will be clear (or milky with certain shades).
Making multi-coloured skeins
- Place the yarn in a large, flat saucepan (a sauté pan is ideal), and add enough warm water to cover.
- Empty different colours of Kool Aid into different areas on the pan and very gently agitate each area using a chopstick until the powder dissolves.
- Turn on the heat, gently bring to the boil.
- Simmer gently for 30 minutes, do not allow to boil vigorously while the water contains colour.
- Leaving the yarn in the dyebath, allow it to cool until it is handleable for superwash, or room temperature for everything else.
- Rinse using water of the same temperature as the dye bath, taking care to only agitate the yarn while submerged, until the water runs clear. Do not be alarmed if takes several rinses, especially with red colours.
- Gently squeeze the water out of the yarn. Remove excess by rolling it in a towel or using a washing machine delicate spin cycle. Hang to dry.
- Admire your work!
Links & UK Stockists
- Kool Aid World – a vast range of flavours, and do a good value 27 pack set for £16
- DT Crafts – dyers favourite Kool Aid shades (with colour charts) for 45p per sachet, plus other dyeing supplies like citric acid
- What a Kool Way to Dye – Ravelry group dedicated to dyeing with Kool Aid and food colouring
- Texere – good value undyed yarns
- Self-striping yarn with Kool Aid by Eunny Jeng
- Kool Aid dyeing on Knitty
- Kool Aid colour chart
- Kool Aid colour chart showing mixed colours and stronger concentrations
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