How To Dye Yarn with Food Coloring

Dyeing is a fabulous way to enjoy the fiber experience. Why dye our fiber when we can buy it in ready made hues and melanges of color that we are passionate about?  I have several reasons for jumping in with food color dyeing that I want to share with you. This mostly is about keeping it simple and having fun!

Why Dye?

 1. I love the process involved in creating. I feel that I have peeled back another layer in fiber use with learning to dye fiber myself.  

 2. In the dyeing process, it makes me more akin with the fiber as I am "hands-on" feeling the fiber, considering the color potential, and determining what the project path might be. It is just another way for me to feel in love with what I am dreaming of!

 3. I am a color junkie and how cool is it to take a plain piece of fiber and experiment with color. Do you want it light? Dark? Should more than one color choice be combined?  I tend to get caught in the hues from very pastel to deeply, darkly rich and all the variances in between.

 4. Beginners take note! Mistakes look exceptionally nice in home brewed yarns. There is no need to fret over a random piece that is mish-mashed in will learn to love this uniqueness and find joy in knowing that your colorway is a one and only!

 5.  This can be an exceptionally fun way to teach children about the joy of dyeing and the endless color options. Remember that you won't be making anything the same day you dye so this may need to be a several day project.  For now, share the joy of color and experimentation.

 6. Once you have the supplies which are easy to round up, diving in is soooo easy, too(well, not literally)!

Here is the "how to" of dyeing fiber using food coloring, a great place to play with color 

Food coloring is non-toxic so it is a gentle product for dyeing wool, alpaca and silk. You must use "protein fibers" and this DIY page explains what protein fibers . Some people prefer to keep their tools for dyeing separate from other supplies.   I consider the supplies and process to be like a recipe so while my "recipe" suggests how I dye with food coloring, you are welcome to change the recipe!

Supplies:  White vinegar,large aluminum pot, large spoon for stirring in pot, rubber gloves unless you are okay with dyed skin!, apron or whatever you want for your young helpers, a second pot for carrying the wet fiber, fiber (only protein fibers will work) for dyeing. Easy so far, right? Here are a few options for protein fibers we have at Darn Good Yarn:

Darn Good Yarn's Thick and Thin Wool

Darn Good Yarn's Undyed Yarn Collection

Life is a Math problem...

and enjoy it!  With the large aluminum pan, you will  soak your fiber in a solution of 1/4 cup of white vinegar for every 1 quart of water. Soak this for at least 30 minutes in your aluminum pot. (This helps the dyeing process by changing the ph of your yarn). After the yarn has soaked, I put just the yarn in a second pot and set it aside to rest. Save the brew of water and vinegar.

The aluminum pot of water and vinegar is now put on the stove and brought to a simmer.  Guesstimate how many drops of food coloring to add to the pot.  You will have to play with this and may want to keep a count of drops used for future reference in dyeing.  You will need more drops than for food and the more food coloring you use, the darker the dye batch. Stir well! Carefully do a test with a piece of the fiber or a scrap.

Dying to Dye

Okay! You have your dye color in one pot, the fiber "resting" in another pot. Turn the fiber into the dye pot carefully, this is warm/hot dye after all! Stir again. Let this cook/simmer until the fiber has absorbed the dye or you have a color that you are happy with. You may want to make this a deeper shade as the yarn will lose some color when you rinse it.

When satisfied with the color, turn off the heat of the dyeing fiber and allow to sit until the dye solution and fiber is room temperature. Then gently rinse excess dye from fiber. Hang to dry. But how, you ask?

With patience! I haven't found an easy solution for drying long hunks of fiber but in the winter I usually get out my drying rack, wrap the yarn on the rack and put it over a heat vent or near the wood stove. Some people wrap the yarn around the back of a chair. In the summer I lay it on my deck in the shade!  Just remember this part takes time and the yarn needs to be dry before winding into a ball.

Looking for more information?                                                                                         I suggest reading this idea about dyeing if you are looking for more introductory information on dyeing.  Visit our Darn Good Yarn website to find inspiration in full color! 

Fear not the dye pot! Celebrate the joy of playing with color!