Kikiís Kool-Aid Class
by Catherine J. Hall
Here are some of our tips for successful Kool-Aid dyeing, all from a lot of trial and error on our part.† Have fun!
First, when deciding what to dye, look for animal fibers.† While we have friends who have achieved some success with cotton blends and even soy silk, the brightest, most permanent dye jobs happen with wool, or even silk.† Angora, cashmere, merino, lopi, alpaca, llama, camel, Shetland.....you get the idea.† I once dyed a silk/tencel blend, and while the colors were a bit muted, it turned out beautifully.† The greater the percentage of animal fiber in your yarn, the more dye will stick.
Now, prepare to dye!
Take careful notes about yardage, brand, cost, etc. from the yarn label, or just paste the label itself in your little knitting notebook.† Depending on how you want to dye the yarn, wind into open skeins around the back of a chair for short-skein dyeing, or place chairs up to 20 ft. apart for long-skein dying.† Tie your new skeins with cotton yarn scraps (you can use whatever yarn you have on hand for this, as long as it is a very light color, as you don't want to risk a dye transfer. We use undyed cotton, just because we have a lot of it, and don't like to knit with it very much.† Seems like a good use of a least-favorite yarn.† Use your own "mistake" purchases if you like.) every 12 - 18 inches.† This is important to prevent tangles, so tie more often than you think would be necessary.
There are two basic ways to prepare the fibers for dyeing.† You can soak the hanks of yarn in a sink or bowl of room temperature water for twenty minutes.† This softens the fibers and prepares them to accept the dye.† Your colors will end up a bit more muted this way, but it is surely the easiest, quickest way to get the job done, especially if you want the colors to blend into each other, or if you are going to dye the entire skein one color.† If you choose this route, after twenty minutes, gently squeeze the yarn to remove excess water (don't scrub, or twist...you don't want to felt the yarn!† At least not at this point!).† Place the yarn on the table (on plastic wrap), or in a glass casserole or cake pan.† You are ready to dye!†
The second way to dye is on dry yarn.† This is the way we use our yarn when we want very vibrant colors, or distinct stripes, such as in Fair Isle patterning.† Be warned, it takes a LONG time to dye this way.† Do it sitting down!† Again, get out your glass dish, or line the table with plastic wrap (make sure it is a microwave-safe kind).
Time for colors.
Choose your Kool-Aid, or Flavor-Aid, or whatever store brand is available in your area.† As long as the mix has citric acid or ascorbic acid, you are all set.† Put one package into an empty 16 oz. water bottle.† Add 8 oz. of water and a splash of white vinegar.† Screw the lid on tightly, and shake to mix.† If you love one color above all others, or want to use a lot of one color, put two packages into the bottle and fill it all the way to the top.† Or, for very dark colors, use 2 packages and only 8 oz. of water.† You can always water it down later if you like.† We like to use bottles for many reasons, even beyond the obvious advantage of recycling.† The colors keep indefinitely when stored in closed bottles.† Just shake to re-mix before using.† Use a permanent marker to label the bottle with the Kool-Aid flavor.† Also note if it is a double strength batch.† We only keep "pure" colors in the bottles.† We pour the colors into small clear plastic bowls to mix them.† That way, even when we end up with accidental colors, we haven't polluted the original source.† Even if you know that you want to mix lime with electric blue, prepare them both separately and then mix them one-to-one in a bowl.† You may decide that you need a little more of one color, a little less of the other, and this is easier to achieve if your bottles contain the original flavors.† No matter what colors you mix, what remains in the bottles is the color directly from the package.
Take notes of successful mixtures in your knitting notebook.† For example, write down "1 part grape, 3 parts cherry, 1 part tamarindo" or however makes it easy for you to replicate your results later.†
If you can get it, buy tons of the tamarindo flavor.† The brown color may not be your favorite
straight from the bottle, but a little added to any of the bright colors tends
to tone down the intense, vibrant, neon nature of the pure Kool-Aid
colors.† So, Yes!† It is possible to get adult-friendly colors
in your wool with Kool-Aid dyeing.† For
example, mix berry cherry with tamarindo for a burgundy color.† Add a little grape to darken it.† Adding the tamarindo to any of the pinkish
flavors results in some beautiful shades, and when you brown up the electric
blues, you get navy (again, add grape to darken).† Just with this one color, you will be able to
really change your Kool-Aid dyeing possibilities.
Now that your colors are ready, use a bulb syringe or eyedropper to apply color to your yarn directly from the mixing bowls.† If you are using a long skein of yarn, place the section to be dyed on top of the plastic wrap and allow the rest of the skein to hang off the table.† Apply the color(s).† If your yarn is wet, it should soak right in.† If you have chosen to work with dry yarn, it may take some persuading.† We use the eyedropper to apply and coax in the dye, drop by drop (told you it was time consuming).† If you want to leave areas undyed, or to get distinct stripes, this is the only way to go.† Wet wool will allow the dye to travel, and you must decide if that is a good or bad thing depending on the results you hope to achieve.
Once the yarn is saturated with the dye, use paper towels to remove excess moisture.† This step is very IMPORTANT and will keep your colors from bleeding or spotting where you don't want them to.† Press the paper towels to the yarn between every color change.† We go through a lot of paper towels, but it is worth it.† Keep a plastic bag lined wastebasket or box under the table at your feet, as the trash accumulates quickly.† ††††††
If you want to make self-striping yarn, or faux Fair Isle yarn, which is perfect for socks, gloves, etc., leave the yarn dry before dyeing.† This allows you to leave undyed sections, as well as to get distinct stripes.† Dye small dots of one color separated by undyed yarn or stripes of another color to one section of yarn at a time.† Apply these dots with a small brush or with an eyedropper.† Push the dye into the dry yarn until each tiny part is saturated with dye.† Then press with paper towels to remove excess water before starting with the next color.
As each section is dyed and towel dried, wrap it in the plastic wrap underneath it, and coil the section into a microwave-safe dish.† Re-line the table with more plastic wrap, and pull up the next section of yarn to be dyed from under the table.† In this way, even a 40-foot skein is manageable.
If you are dyeing the entire skein one color in a dish instead of on plastic wrap, you may apply the dye more liberally, and allow some to accumulate in the bottom of the dish.† But, if you wish to use more than one color, always remove excess dye with towels between colors.
You are ready to cook!
When all of one skein is dyed, you need to set the dye with steam.† This can be done on the stove, or in a steamer, but we use the good old microwave.† Since we are using only Kool-Aid, water, and vinegar, we don't have to have a special microwave dedicated to dyeing only. If you are dyeing a long skein that is coiled in plastic wrap, add a small plastic bowl with water in it to the dish, in the middle of the yarn.† This provides more steam, which keeps any dry parts of the wool from scorching, which is not a good smell, and it would ruin your yarn - yikes!† Now, whether you are cooking a long or short skein, cover the entire dish loosely with more plastic wrap, punch some holes in it, and place in microwave.† Cook on high for 2 to 4 minutes (use less time for smaller skeins).† Check after two minutes to see if any water in the bottom of the dish is clear, or if there is a lot of steam built up in the dish.† Continue cooking until any water in the bottom of the dish (you may not have any) is clear, or until water in the small cup is bubbling.††† Allow the steam to remain in the dish after cooking.† Do not remove plastic.† The steam is still helping to set the dye.† After it cools down to room temperature, or a little hotter (20-30 minutes), remove the plastic and look at your yarn!† At this point, we carefully place the yarn in a sink or bowl of lukewarm water to let it rest.† It is very important to never shock the yarn with temperature changes, at least not at this point.† You can felt your dyed yarn after knitting, even in very hot water, with great success.† We have done this several times, and have never lost color saturation at all.
After resting in the bowl of water for several minutes, use a chopstick or something to swish it gently in the water to rinse.† Remove from the water, and gently squeeze out excess water.† We place the skein on a fluffy towel and roll, again, very gently, to partially dry the yarn.† This is not necessary, but it does cut down on drying time and drips!† Now, hang your yarn up to dry, preferably out of direct sunlight, which could fade the colors.
When the yarn is dry, you can coil the hank into a nice skein (this is a beautiful way to present the yarn if you are going to sell it or give it as a gift) or you can roll it into a ball for your own use.† If you are unhappy with the colors, start over.† Add more color, or overdye the whole skein a different, darker color.† We once saved some too-Christmas-y red and green striped sock yarn by adding teal and navy to some of the undyed sections in a second dyeing attempt.
We know that there are lots of other Kool-Aid tutorials out there.† Read them!† Everyone has good hints, and you can learn so much from the failures and successes of others!† We only hope that the experience is a fun one for you, and that you are happy with the results you can achieve in such a low-toxic way.† We used to love commercial dyes for fabrics and yarn, but several things in our lives conspired to make us live a more chemical-free life.† This dyeing technique is safe for pets, children, and those with allergies or illness which leaves them chemically sensitive.† We have been thrilled with the colors and color-fastness that this technique allows, as well as the cheapness of hand-dyed, one-of-a-kind wool we now have to knit with on a regular basis.† Please, write us with questions, comments, and pictures of your yarn!