Hand-dyeing yarn with food colouring: Sun method

hand-dyeing yarn with food colouring using the sun by @hookabeeI have wanted to dye yarn for a while now. Playing with colour and creating unique yarn that is all your own doing – so much fun! I researched different dyes, including acid dyes and natural dyes, but decided my first experiments would be with the safe and easy food colour dyes.

This post is the first in a series of tutorials on how to dye yarn with food colouring, each demonstrating a different method: using the sun, microwave, stove-top and crock-pot (slow cooker). Each method has one thing in common: HEAT. Heat is required for the dye to bind to your yarn and is necessary when hand-dyeing. Today’s method – using the SUN! But first, some prep work.

General info for hand-dyeing with food colouring:

What yarn can you use?

Your yarn needs to be made up of animal fibres, such as wool, alpaca, angora, or cashmere. Silk and nylon supposedly also work with food colouring, but I have not seen an example. Acrylic yarn and yarn made up of plant fibres, such as cotton and bamboo, will not work – the dye will not take to these yarns. If you want more of a pure colour that is most like what the dye looks like in the dye bath, you will want to use white yarn, but dying coloured yarn also works and you will get a different effect. I have chosen an alpaca and wool blend with a slight cream tone (Berroco Ultra Alpaca #6201).

What dyes can you use?

You can use any food colouring, such as those classic little dropper bottles, icing dyes, Easter egg dyes, and drink powders (eg. Kool Aid – but make sure there is no sugar added). I picked up the 12 pack of Wilton Icing Colours and will be using them for my experiments. Wilton dyes are concentrated, so you don’t need very much, there are many different colour options, and you can find them easily in your local craft store (and use a coupon!).Wilton icing dyes for dyeing yarn

Adding vinegar (or not!):

If your food colouring does not have an acid already included, which is most dyes except Kool Aid (already has citric acid), you will need to add vinegar (or other form of acid) to your dye bath.

How much vinegar do you add? I am following the ratios found on the website DyeYourYarn.com (a very helpful website, by the way!):  “a teaspoon per 8 ounces [of] water for reds and yellow and a tablespoon for blues”.

Preparing the yarn:

For my first time dyeing, I decided to keep it simple and make a skein of yarn all one solid colour. There are many different ways to prep the yarn to create different effects, such as colour gradients and multi-tonal results. In the future I want to experiment with different techniques, but I am sticking to simplicity for now!

Preparing the yarn is the same for each method of dyeing. You want your yarn to be loose so that the dye can penetrate all the fibres (especially if you want a solid colour), but you also don’t want a big tangled mess of yarn in the end. I divided my 100 g skein of yarn into four 25 g skeins using my weigh scale and a cereal box. I was able to use a cereal box because my skeins weren’t very large, but you may want to use something else to wind yours, such as the back of a chair, if you want a larger skein.

I simply placed the yarn on my scale and wound one end around the cereal box and stopped when the yarn on the scale was 25 g lighter. You want to wind the yarn in one layer, to prevent tangling. using a cereal box to wind yarn

Once I had the 25 g wound around the box, I tied the yarn in four different spots by weaving a piece of acrylic yarn through the strands. I used white acrylic yarn so it would not absorb any of the dye from my dye bath or bleed any colour onto the yarn I was dying. The weaving through the yarn prevents the yarn from becoming tangled as you handle it for dyeing.tying yarn for dyeing

Next, I slipped the yarn off the cereal box and had a circle of yarn that was ready to be dyed!yarn skein for hand dyeing

Pre-soaking the yarn:

This is a step where you can experiment with different methods. You can pre-soak your yarn before dyeing, or you can add your yarn dry to the dye bath – each method will create different effects. You also need to decide whether you want to add vinegar to the pre-soak bath or not.  You don’t have to add it to the pre-soak bath. I had read that adding vinegar at this stage results in yarn with a more solid colour, so that is what I chose to do this time.hand dyed yarn using Wilton icing colours and the sun

Hand-dyeing using the sun:

While it is already September, it is still summer here in Montreal with temps reaching 30°C each day, so I decided now was the perfect time to use the sun to dye some yarn. And what better colour to dye my yarn in the sun than yellow! Actually, to be honest I decided on the colour before even realizing this connection, but hey 😛

The idea of using the sun to dye my yarn came about when I read this post on Kool Aid Yarn Dyeing on the Knit One, Blog Two site, but I didn’t follow their protocol completely.

My sun dyeing protocol: (using 25 g of yarn)

  1. I pre-soaked my yarn for about 30 min in a bath made up of vinegar (2 tsp) and water (2 cups). I used these volumes because my dye is yellow (so needs less vinegar than blues, see DyeYourYarn.com), and the total volume was able to cover my yarn fully.
  2. In a one pint mason jar, I mixed 1.5 cups of water with 1.5 tsp of vinegar and some Lemon Yellow Wilton icing dye. I just estimated the amount of dye, but used no more than 1/4 tsp because I didn’t want extra, and therefore wasted, dye that wouldn’t be taken up by the yarn. I based this on the info found on the DyeYourYarn.com site for Wilton dyes: “[Use] 1/16 teaspoon Wilton® Icing Gel on .2 oz Lion Brand® Fishermen’s Wool. This amount of gel produces a saturated dyebath. Using more gel will leave food color in the dyebath that will not bond.” With the Wilton’s concentrated gel, I did find I needed to wisk the solution for some time before it all completely dissolved and was no longer clumpy.
  3. Next, I transferred the wet yarn from the pre-soak bath to the jar, closed the lid, and set the jar in the sun! Make sure that your two baths are not drastically different in temperature when you make the transfer. This reduces the chances of your yarn felting.hand dyed yarn using Wilton icing colours and the sun
  4. I then kept checking the jar every so often to see how it was doing. You want to leave the jar in the sun until the dye bath is clear – this means all the dye has been taken up by the yarn! I had my jar outside in the sun at 10:30 am, and it took until the late afternoon for it to become clear, but the duration will vary depending on the weather. When you check up on your yarn, you can shift the yarn around gently in the jar to make sure it dyes evenly, unless you want a more mottled effect, in which case leave it alone.
  5. Finally, once the solution was clear, I removed the yarn, rinsed it so that any extra dye was removed, and then hung it to dry outside in the shade. When handling the yarn while rinsing, make sure you are gentle and don’t agitate it too much or wring it dry or your yarn may felt.

And that is it! Once my yarn had dried I twisted it into a little skein and admired my work. It looks so yummy!! I smile whenever I look at it 🙂

hand dyed yarn using Wilton icing colours and the sun

Next method: slow cooker dyeing!
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Until next time,

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