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How I hand-paint using Kool-Aid or food coloring dyes

Hello KP Community! I have Good Friday off today which I haven't had off in years, but my new company allows for it - so yay!  Since it's my day off, I'm going to push off some home chores for a bit and have some fun.


Last month I hand-carded and spun up some Huacaya alpaca into a single ply yarn and had it undyed for a while. Until one day after work, I decided I missed painting so much I took out the Kool-aid and food coloring and had at it! Here are photos of my progress:


Step 1: Bathe your yarn.

I used 2 tbsp vinegar to a bowl of water and added my yarn, which was tied in about 2 places. I pushed it down and got all the air bubbles out and even had a bowl on top to weigh it down further. I let it sit for about 30 mins.

Step 2: Mix your dyes.

While the yarn is taking a bath, take out your Kool-Aid and food coloring and start mixing your dyes.

For this session, I used:

2 packets of Berry Blue Kool-Aid

2 packets of Lemon-Lime KA

Dark green = 15 drops of green coloring with 2 drops of black

Dark Blue = 15 drops of blue coloring with 2 drops of black

I also like to test the dyes on a paper towel to approximate what the color might look like on the yarn.

Here the kool-aid colors are on the left, the corresponding food-dye colors on the right. (and the speckles of black is me being clumsy with the black).

If you're going to use bottles like I do, mix the colors into little bowls, then transfer into the bottles.

Step 3:  Start painting!

Take your yarn out of the bath and gently squeeze out as much of the water as you can. Keep it damp but it should not be soaking as you want the dye liquid to go through.

Place the yarn in a flat container and lay it out in a manner that is easy for you to maneuver. I am using a Pyrex baking dish with the yarn kinda 'folded' in half.

Start applying the yarn using the bottles. I did put one glove on, but ended up taking it off (not sure why). I did have very colorful fingers afterwards, so if you don't want to have to explain to your co-workers why your fingertips are blue and green, you might want to use gloves.

When I'm done with one side, I actually flip the yarn over and apply the other side. I know some folks don't do this as it might mix the colors, but it works for me - so do what works best for you. Here's one side of the yarn:

Step 4: Set the dye.

Back in Step 1, I bathed the yarn in a Pyrex bowl. Once I started to paint, I got rid of most of the vinegar solution but kept a small amount. Now that I want to set the dye, I put the yarn into that same bowl and add a little bit of that leftover solution.

Cover the bowl with a plate so the steam won't escape and microwave on high for 2 mins. (I have a 900 watt microwave oven). Let it rest for 2 minutes in the micro. Make sure NOT to move the plate on top as you still want that heat/steam inside. Microwave for another 2 minutes. (Short version: Micro on High for 2 mins, REST for 2 mins, Micro on High again for 2 mins.)

Once the second zapping is complete, I take the bowl with the plate on top and let it cool completely. I usually set it aside somewhere I can't see it so I won't be tempted to take a peek (that means I set the whole thing on a potholder in the corner of the bathroom and close the door). I'll eventually remember and by that time it's cooled completely.


Step 5: Rinse the yarn.

Once it's been cooled and the dye set, I take the yarn out of the bowl and lightly place it in a sink filled with warm water. I let that sit for 15 or so minutes to make sure no dye is releasing. I do this one more time so it's rinsed twice with clean water, then take it out and squeeze the excess water out.

I do use the spin cycle on the washing machine to get the remaining water out then hang to dry.


Step 6: Final product!

After I dyed up this alpaca, I have leftover dyes so I painted some merino wool as well.

Here are photos of both versions.




*for this one, I used 1/4c vinegar in the dye bath. This was single-spun, then thread plied using a silver/gray thread.

This one I also just posted on the shoppe.

I hope this has been entertaining and somewhat interesting - LOL!! Have a great holiday everyone :)

Much Aloha, christina

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Comment by Beverly Roberts on April 29, 2011 at 7:17am
I Know!  Guess they are reading our postings.  I'm hemming and hawing...the book(s) I want are not on sale (I want 2 spinning books), but there is some sock yarn I want...I just hate to spend any more money; I've already contributed heavily to the fiber world this year :0
Comment by christina | AlohaBlu on April 28, 2011 at 12:18pm
Beverly - you got your wish! KP just announced a sock yarn and book sale for 1 week only :) check the site !
Comment by Beverly Roberts on April 27, 2011 at 8:52am
I've been waiting for Knit Picks to have a sale, either on books or sock yarn, at which point I plan to get some of their sock roving (the merino/nylon blend) because that's what I really have in mind for my first real spinning and actually doing something with my handspun.  I plan to use Peggy Stuart's method of solar dying because it sounds like the easiest (least messy) method and I know it has worked very well for the meantime I keep adding to my small supply of dye materials...easter egg dyes, food coloring, Wilton cake stuff, and Kool-aid.  I'm actually quite excited about it and feel ready to do it ;)
Comment by christina | AlohaBlu on April 26, 2011 at 8:37pm

Beverly - if you want to try dyeing something, you can always start by over-dyeing leftover yarn. Maybe if you have a light color that you want to darken up, you can start there. That way you don't have to use a whole skein just to experiment.


Hey Cheryl! Yes, the merino was thread-plied before being dyed and because it's polyester, it didn't take the dye colors, which is nice! This is 64ct merino so it's super soft and bouncy! Glad you like the tutorial :)

Comment by cherylbwaters on April 26, 2011 at 9:21am
What a terrific tutorial. I never would have thought of testing the colors on paper towels! One question. Was the merino already thread plied before you dyed? I assume so, but just want to confirm.
Comment by Beverly Roberts on April 26, 2011 at 9:05am
Very entertaining and interesting! Especially because I really, really want to dye something...but still so afraid of ruining perfectly good fiber. Thanks so much for sharing your creative process with us and including step-by-step with photos! Love this blog post ;-)
Comment by christina | AlohaBlu on April 26, 2011 at 7:34am
Awww, thanks Pickle. I have missed you guys. I checked and I had over 900 mail posts from you all and I know I'm missing some wonderful moments. I'm trying to get on a schedule for knitting and spinning and dyeing/painting but it does get tough balancing that with regular life. But it's still so much fun and I love seeing what everyone is working on!
Comment by PickleSue on April 26, 2011 at 6:59am
Your colors turned out beautiful!!  I love how your thicker single looks plied with thread.  Wonderful.  :)   Your actions shots are fun!!  (I have such a hard time doing those because I don't want to take time to take the pictures!  Lol.)  Nice to hear from you Christina- we've been missing your sweet face around here...
Comment by wendy on April 25, 2011 at 11:06pm
Thanks for giving such detailed notes.  I love this colorway, especially the merino.  I'm glad you played instead of doing house chores (aka - hswk!)  My girls played around with bits of bare fingering this weekend after dyeing Easter Eggs.  Really pretty colors.  I think they are excited to dye a skein of their own this summer. 
Comment by christina | AlohaBlu on April 25, 2011 at 7:37pm
thanks guys! i typed it up on Good Friday and realized no one was at work to approve it! LOL - oh well, it's here now.

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