Yarn Dyeing with Kool-Aid to Celebrate Holi

Holi Festival from March 9th to 10th, 2020.

Holi is right around the corner. A two day event falling this year on March 9th and 10th. For those of you who might not know too much about it, Holi (pronounced “Holy”) is an ancient Hindu festival dating back to the 4th century or earlier. The festival signifies the changing of seasons from winter to spring and is a symbol of love and friendship. It’s also a time for acceptance, forgetting past troubles and forgiving those around us. A time to move forward. Holi is also known by another name, the festival of colors. Looking out my window, everything is grey. I think I speak for all of us here at Darn Good Yarn when I say we could all use some spring colors and sunshine pronto. Spring? Are you there? Knowing my luck, we’ll probably get 2 feet of snow next week.Man being covered in colorful poweder in celebration of Holi Festival

Traditional Holi celebrations include singing, dancing, and most notably the throwing of colored powders into the air. This usually happens in a giant mob - think food-fight - that results in a rainbow of colors coating everyone involved. We thought a great way to bring that tradition to crafting would be to dye some yarn using the vibrant colors found in Holi celebrations.

The Yarn and the Dye

While it’s probably possible to dye using the colored powders normally used in Holi celebrations, they are not commonplace and guaranteeing them to be non-toxic is difficult. To make things easier and safer, we used Kool-Aid as our dye and how well it worked blew our socks off. Like, we couldn’t believe it. It ended up being so easy, mess free, and obviously it’s food safe and kid safe too. We picked up as many colors of Kool-Aid as we could from our supermarket and got to work (we bought the big 20oz tubs of powder and used quite a bit of it, it really depends on how saturated you want your colors).

We used our Superwash Merino Wool Yarn in both Sock (2) and Jumbo (7) weights. It’s important to use “protein fibers” to dye with Kool-Aid. Protein fibers are fibers that come from animals like wool or silk. These fibers react to dye a bit differently than plant based fibers like cotton or linen, which require more of a process to lock in any color.

Get the yarns we used:

The Process

Undyed Merino Wool Yarn being dyed using orange Kool-Aid on the stove.

Dyeing the yarn is quite simple. Here is a list of all the items you’ll need:

  • Undyed Wool Yarn.
  • Kool-Aid (colors are up to you - about 0.5 - 1.0oz per skein).
  • A pot to boil water in.
  • A Ladle.
  • Tongs.
  • A few ceramic or metal mixing bowls (safe to hold boiling water).
  • Aprons and potholders as needed.
  • Rubber gloves (optional)
  • A drying rack (optional)
  • A few rags (optional)

SAFETY NOTE: We had access to a sink to rinse and cool down the boiling hot waterlogged yarn. Be sure to exercise caution when working with boiling water as it gets absorbed by the yarn and touching the yarn can be very hot even if you’ve removed the yarn from the bowl or pot. We ran our yarn under cold water in the sink and used tongs when handling it to avoid burns.

STAINING NOTE: We found that once the yarn had absorbed the Kool-Aid, it did not release from the yarn. We were surprised by this and found that the rinse water we used ran clear immediately and we could lay our yarn out without it dripping colors everywhere. In fact, we were shocked to see the yarn absorb all the color, leaving behind a near-clear liquid in the bowl. None of our kitchenware was stained or affected at all, although I would be wary of using wooden utensils and just stick to metal our plastic if possible. That being said, if you get concentrated Kool-Aid on your hands or clothes or children or pets before it has been absorbed by the yarn, it will stain your skin and people will look at you funny in public for a day or two before it goes away. But it will go away. Use rubber or latex gloves if you’d like to avoid this.

COLOR NOTE: We found that the packaging for Kool-Aid does not make it clear which color the powder/drink will turn out to be. For instance some packets that were blue on the outside contained red powder. What we found was that the little Kool-Aid Man graphic is holding a glass of the beverage on the outside of the packaging. That is the true way to tell what color the powder will be. Oh yeah...we found out the hard way.

Here are the steps

  • One skein at a time.
  • Read directions all the way through before beginning.
  • Results may vary. The beauty of this is that you can choose your own colors. Adding a lot of Kool-Aid will get bold colors, but adding less can yield beautiful light tones. There is something for everyone.
  1. Boil several quarts of water in a pot.
  2. Shake out your yarn into a hank (a loose ring. Be sure to keep the ring tied in at least one spot so you have a way to get it back into ring-form it if things get out of hand.)Tie off hank with string to prevent tangling
  3. Using tongs, submerge and bathe your yarn in the boiling water pot until it is saturated. The heat is important to make the dye bind to the yarn.
  4. Pour some Kool-Aid powder into a separate heat-safe mixing bowl. We used approximately 1-3 Tablespoons for each skein, depending on how bold we wanted the colors to be. (Thicker yarns will take more Kool-Aid. Experiment with multiple colors if desired. Remember that you don't need to completely cover the yarn to get a beautiful result.)
  5. Add about 2 cups of boiling water to your mixing bowl. The Kool-Aid will gurgle a bit when you add boiling water. This is normal.
  6. Add your wet yarn to the bowl. Flip, twirl or stir to coat your yarn as desired. Add more water or Kool-Aid as needed to achieve the desired look. Yarn being dyed orange in a bowl with Kool-Aid powder
  7. Let sit for a minute or two.
  8. Using Tongs, carefully remove the yarn and run under cold water in the sink until cool. The water should run clear and the dye should hold in the yarn.
  9. Lightly squeeze the water out of the yarn and set to dry. While we were somewhat cavalier about this and just hung it over the counter to dry, you may decide that you want a bucket or drying rack or towel you don’t care about to provide a safe drying space for your yarn. Try not to over wring-out your yarn to speed up drying as it can fray your yarn a bit.

That’s it. Boil water, bathe yarn, mix yarn and Kool-Aid with heat present, let sit, rinse, dry, get crafting. What was most astounding about this was there was very little mess to clean up because the dye holds in the yarn so well. It was easy and didn’t require chemicals or special equipment, just normal kitchen pots were fine and because it’s food safe, everything works out.

If you’re wondering what I think you’re wondering, yes, the yarn does smell like Kool-Aid. The smell will fade with time so you’ll not be stuck with a Berry-Blaster, Wild Wild Watermelon shawl or socks. Kool-Aid is also Sugar-Free so the yarn is not sticky at all after dyeing. Each flavor of Kool-Aid has different ingredients, so be sure to check the ingredients list if you have food allergies, just to be safe.

We’d recommend that you wash your yarn and any projects you make with it by hand with cool water. Soap is likely to speed up any natural fading of colors. Be gentle with it.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and got some amazing colors in your yarn! Please please please share your dyeing results with us on Instagram or Facebook! We love seeing what you're up to and all the beautiful things you make. Maybe we'll even post your finished dyed yarn here for all to see! Until next time, happy crafting. - Cam


Hand-Dyed Merino Wool Yarn by Darn Good Yarn