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Published on November 24th, 2015 | by Angie

15 comments

How to Dye Yarn with Kool-Aid

Growing up, it was a staple for summer picnics and temporary hair dye. Today, we’re learning how to dye yarn with Kool-Aid!

Dye yarn with Kool-Aid: tutorial on LoveKnitting

There’s something beautiful about the crystallized powder when you consider its potential. Teenagers have been using Kool-Aid to dye their hair for decades, and many yarn crafters have discovered the simplicity of dyeing wool with it. I love standing in the drink aisle at the store, looking at all the packets of drink mixes and thinking about the possibilities.

how to dye yarn with Kool-Aid: read more on LoveKnitting

As we discussed in last week’s “Science of yarn dye” post, Kool-Aid is a great way to dye animal fibers. The pigments in the drink mix form Hydrogen and Ionic bonds with the protein molecules in the yarn, aided by the presence of the citric acid in the powder. Because of that citric acid, no vinegar is necessary to set your dye, and the yarn will still be washfast and lightfast.

To get started, you’ll need to wind your yarn into a loose circle. For yarns like the ones in this feature that already come wound into a skein, you’re ahead of the game! For other yarns, you’ll need to make them into a large loop, and use a contrasting yarn to tie them at at least 4 points. Make sure you don’t tie them too tight, or you risk white spots on your yarn.

How to dye yarn with Kool-Aid - read more on LoveKnitting

The first yarn I started with was Classic Elite Yarns Mountaintop Chalet, a scrumptious chainette construction yarn. It’s an interesting blend of 70% baby alpaca and 30% bamboo. As we learned last week, this kind of dye is not effective on plant fibers, so I was interested to see the result. This can be a very effective dyeing technique, if you’re after a more variegated or mottled effect. First, you need to soak your yarn. Note: do not add vinegar! Kool-Aid is acidic enough. 

How to dye yarn with Kool-Aid: read more at LoveKnitting

Use just enough cool water to cover the yarn. Do not use hot water, or you will shock the yarn and cause it to felt. Chainette yarns can be especially susceptible to felting, so please be careful! Let your yarn soak for about 20 minutes before you begin the process. Next, place your yarn in a stainless steel pot, and cover with water. It’s important to not use an aluminum pot, as the presence of aluminum can affect the chemical reactions. If you want one color for yarn, add that dye and gently (gently!) move the yarn in the pot to distribute the dye.

how to dye yarn with Kool-Aid: learn more at LoveKnitting

If you want to dye like I did, use one color on one side and a different color on the other. For this method it’s important to use analogous colors (read our post on color theory if you’re confused), otherwise you risk having muddy, unsatisfying colors. Turn the heat on low, and let the water come to an almost boil, slowly, prodding the yarn a couple times to disperse the dye. If you heat the water too quickly, it might felt. Take your pot off the heat, and leave it to cool to room temperature. Do not touch it while it’s cooling. At this point, the water should be clear – the yarn has absorbed all of the pigment. If some pigment remains, reheat the yarn slowly and let it cool again.

Once the yarn is room temperature, you can rinse it and hang it to dry. Don’t use cold water, you could felt the yarn – use room temperature water instead.

While my aqua-colored yarn was “cooking,” I started on another dye, using Blue Sky Alpacas Sport Weight yarn, which is 100% baby alpaca and super soft. I had a vision for a warmer shade, more like a sunset. I used the same method as above, using more than one analogous color.

dye yarn with kool-aid: read more at LoveKnitting

While this new yarn was “cooking,” I rinsed my first batch and hung it up to dry. Here was my result. I used one packet of Mixed Berry and one packet of Lemon Lime.

dye yarn with kool-aid: read more at loveknitting

As you can see, the color took heavier in some places more than others. This is due to a combination of factors, including placement of the yarn in the pot, the fact that I did not agitate the yarn much while cooking, and the bamboo fibers in the yarn. I am still very pleased with the result! This is a good method if you like gradual and unpredictable color changes or a tie dye effect.

For my sunset shade, I used one packet of Peach Mango, one packet of Orange, and 1/3 packet of Cherry.

dye yarn with kool-aid: read more at LoveKnitting

If you want a more controlled dye, hand painting is a good choice. I chose to make a rainbow yarn, painting in wedges. For this method, you’ll dissolve your Kool-Aid into some warm water in a squirt bottle. Caution: wear gloves! It dyes animal fibers, so it can dye you too. I used Plymouth Yarn Happy Feet Dye For Me sock yarn – after all, who doesn’t need some rainbow socks? This yarn is specially formulated to allow for DIY yarn dye, so it’s a great choice for first-timers.

dye yarn with Kool-Aid: read more on LoveKnitting

After you paint your yarn, it needs to be heated. Some people have chosen to microwave their yarn – if you do so, please be careful not to burn your yarn! Microwave in short bursts. For a safer alternative, you can use a steamer basket: place your hand dyed yarn in the steamer basket, cover with a lid, and let cook for about 40 minutes; then take it off the heat and proceed as normal.

I bet you’re wondering, “But Angie, how do I know how much dye to use, and which flavors/colors?” To make it simple, think of it this way: the amount of water present doesn’t matter – only the amount of dye does. You’ll want less powder for lighter colors, and more for darker colors.

Dye yarn with Kool-Aid: read more at LoveKnitting

You can create a veritable rainbow of shades as you experiment with the Kool-Aid. Here’s a general guide to colors, separated into shade groups, using the Lion Brand yarn.

Dye yarn with Kool-Aid: read more at LoveKnitting

From left to right, these colors were created as follows, using Lion Brand Fishermen’s Wool yarn.

– Pink Lemonade

– Cherry

– Strawberry

– Tropical Punch

– Berry Cherry

– Pink Lemonade + Peach Mango (1:1 ratio)

– Strawberry + Peach Mango (1:1 ratio)

Dye yarn with Kool-Aid: learn more at LoveKnitting

Again, from left to right, these colors were created as follows, using Lion Brand Fishermen’s Wool yarn.

– Lemonade

– Peach Mango

– Orange

– Pink Lemonade + Orange (1:1 ratio)

ka6

From left to right, these colors were created as follows, using Lion Brand Fishermen’s Wool yarn.

– Green Apple

– Lemon Lime

– Lemon Lime + Green Apple + Lemonade (1:2:4 ratio)

– Mixed Berry +Green Apple (1:1 ratio)

dye yarn with kool-aid: learn more at LoveKnitting

From left to right, these colors were created as follows, using Lion Brand Fishermen’s Wool yarn.

– Mixed Berry

– Mixed Berry + Purplesaurus Rex (2:1 ratio)

– Grape + Mixed Berry (1:1 ratio)

-Grape

– Purplesaurus Rex

– Purplesaurus Rex + Tropical Punch (1:1 ratio)

Dye yarn with Kool-Aid: learn more at LoveKnitting

There you have it –  a beginner’s guide on how to dye yarn with Kool-Aid!

 

 


About the Author

Jack of all trades, Master of Netflix and video games. A musician by passion, a gamer by choice, and a crafter by chance: I write about knitting and crochet and design fun patterns!


Last updated: October 31st, 2017.

15 Responses to How to Dye Yarn with Kool-Aid

  1. Venice Smith says:

    Thank you for sharing! I knit, I crochet, I spin (a little) and want to learn to weave. Now I can add dying with Kool-Aid, at least for beginning dying. So helpful!

  2. Cindy says:

    I did single colors with my granddaughter this summer. We mixed up the kooks is in a mason jar and then poured it over the (already wet) yarn in a ziplock bag. We set the bags out on the patio in the hot sun. Easy to do with a child. Do t know if it will affect the colorfastness…..since it did not boil.

    • Angie says:

      Hi Cindy,

      I haven’t personally tested the washfastness of “sun-dye”, but I know that some people have done that with great success. Kids certainly love this project!

  3. jo says:

    where can i buy kool aid?

  4. Kim Isner says:

    This method is very interesting. Do you disolve the kool aid first and add it to the pot, or just just put the undisolved powder to the pot?

  5. Whiskers says:

    I know just who I want to invite for a play-date to try all this fun.

  6. Jessie says:

    About Kool-Aid, when I googled it, I can only find the American drink mix. Is this what you are referring to?

  7. Jean Blythe says:

    Kool aid is cheaper than acid dyes! I can’t wait to try this! Thanks so much for the color examples. Now I just need to get some wool to dye!

  8. Meagan says:

    Hey,

    This sounds like a really fun project! I have a few questions though, probably because I’m over analysing…

    Is there any risk of staining your pot from what you’ve observed? Or would that fall under the “you got it too hot” category? 🙂

    Have you experimented with dyeing the yarn in stages? I mean, if you reheat it in the pot, do the colors completely unset, or can you add more or different colors this way to, say, throw a varegation onto a solid? I guess a pot/handpaint stage combo would suffice for that…

    When handpainting, you’ve mentioned using the pot’s steamer basket to heat and set the dye. Are you using it just to keep the yarn off the bottom of the pot, or are you actually steaming it and maintaining a water level underneath? Seems like you would need something to catch the dripping dye (still worried about staining lol).

    Thanks

    • Angie says:

      Hi Meagan,

      As the Koolaid is food safe, your pots should be safe. I’ve been dyeing in them every weekend for 2 months and no sign of stains – though I’d recommend stainless steel pots to be 100% safe.

      The colors don’t unset, but the yarn will continue to take pigment, so if you had, say, an orange/red variegated and plopped it in the pot with some purple, it would dye over it. Is that what you are asking?

      With the steamer basket, it’s the heat you want. You can’t submerge a handpaint in water to cook it that way like a kettle/pot dye, or the colors can merge and become muddy. You can’t plop a handpaint in a pot without extra water, because the yarn will burn. Hence the steamer basket, to give it the heat it needs from the boiling water underneath, to set without muddying the colors.

      I hope that helps!

  9. Christen says:

    I’ve always wondered–does the fruity smell comes out? I’m scared of smelling like Tropical Punch…

    • Angie says:

      Hi Christen,

      I have to admit, your comment made me giggle! The fruity smell goes away when you give your yarn a good rinse after dyeing. If you think it still smells odd, you can use a yarn wash like Eucalan to get rid of any lingering tropical smells. Hope that helps!

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