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I Knit Around

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Electric Kool-Aid Dyeing Test

Today, I present you with the results of my latest experiment. Forgive me if this research paper is not in proper format for scientific purposes, but, well, I'm more artist than scientist.

A few months ago, I spent some time at my now-archived fiber blog writing about how I wanted to start my first lace project. I never got more than ten rows into it before realizing A) I was going to keep making errors as long as I didn't spend longer lengths of time working on it, with shorter intervals between work sessions (both forcing me to forget what I was doing and have to find my place all over again), and, B) I really didn't like the yarn color.

The Undyed Yarn Ball
Merino Bore-o in Ecru

I had purchased the one lace yarn that I could afford at my LYS, and had been forced to settle for, not a color I actively liked, but the least offensive of the colors available. Other choices had included dark forest green, navy blue, brown, and white, that I can recall. Bleah.

I should have realized that if I didn't love it, I wasn't going to enjoy working with it. But no, I plunged ahead, got as far as 10 rows on the shawl I hoped to make, then gave it up and frogged the whole thing.

The yarn ball has since then been sitting in the little hand-basked I dedicated to the lace knitting project, taunting me. Finally, I resolved I would do something about it.

Skeins and Balls

I'd read plenty around the blogs about dyeing wool with Kool-Aid, and saw many encouraging examples of colorful results. Okay, I can't afford a handpainted lace yarn right now - but maybe I could simulate one by dyeing my dull ecru? It seemed worth a try.

Of course, having gone through much headache getting the ecru yarn wound into a nice center-pull ball, I now had to undo that hard work and make it back into a skein. Not having any tools specially for the purpose, I resorted to the ones attached to my body. The skein got wound over my left hand and elbow. All 1700 yards of it. It took around an hour, by my best estimate. My guess may be off, though, because by the end my upper arms were complaining about having to work non-stop in a way that was not normally asked of them.

Finally, though, I wound up with a loosely tied skein of yarn. And two very, very sore arms. I took Tylenol, and called it a night.


A day later, my arms were still complaining, but only slightly. Time to move on to the next step.

I'd read many different blogs and web sites and their guides to the Kool-aid dyeing process. The only solid conclusion I came to was that there were as many approaches to this as there are dyers!

Common elements, however, seemed to be present.

  • a dye-proof container
  • warm water and vinegar as an initial soak
  • Kool-aid in various colors, preferably several packages of each color
  • heat

The methods of providing each of these elements varied greatly. Here's what I settled on:

Undyed Yarn Soaking In Dye Pot
Ecru Yarn Soaking in a Pyrex Casserole (2 qt.)

The yarn was laid out in a 2-qt. Corning Pyrex casserole dish. The skank just fit, sort of folded into a "C", in a single layer. I pour warm water over it to cover - it took just 4 cups - and added a big splash of plain white vinegar. A very mild amount of swishing helped to assure that the vinegar traveled a little around the pot.

The Dyes - Five Flavors of Blue and Green Kool-Aid
(l. to r.) Ice Blue Raspberry, Lemon Lime, Watermelon Kiwi, Berry Blue, and Arctic Green Apple

The colors on far left and right are a little milky in nature because they're intended to make a "frosty" looking drink. As you can see from the stirring sticks that I laid on top of the cups, I had an initial indication that the Arctic Green Apple, far right, wasn't likely to take as well as the others.

I didn't measure any of the water I used to mix with the Kool-Aid - I just added a splash until it "looked right". I think most of the colors wound up being between 1/4 and 1/3 cup in volume.

Yarn in Dye Pot, Ready to Microwave
Dyed in the Pot

I applied the Kool-Aid by directly pouring it over the yarn in the pot. I had more of some colors than others - there were some that I only had one package of, and some I had as many as three. As a result, some of the colors that I had in larger quantity wound up being poured over several areas.

The picture above is what the pot looked like after I poured on the Kool-Aid. I'm sorry I can't give exact details about how many packages of Kool-Aid I used to achieve these results. I was pleased with how the assortment of three greens and two blues went together, though. And I held back some packages of color in case I wanted to add more later. I turned out to be happy I did.

Yarn in Dye Pot, Water Clear
Dye All Used Up

I put the glass lid on the casserole, and popped it into the microwave. (Ours is an 1100-watter, fyi.) Two minutes on high - still some color in the water bath. Two more minutes, and the water ran clear. I know it looks milky above, but you have to account for the fact that two of my colors were "frosty" ones, which had a milky component added to the mix. Since the color itself was all used up, I didn't worry about the milkiness, and it didn't seem to affect the yarn.

Yarn Hangs Over Sink After First Dyeing
Done for the First Time

I let the yarn sit in the casserole until it reached room temperature, then rinsed it lightly in lukewarm water. Then it was ready to pull out and look at for the first time. I hung it from a cupboard handle over our kitchen sink, so it would have a basin to drip directly into.

My first impression - far too much of the ecru still showing through. And that's why I was happy I still had some packets of my blues and greens left. I started the process again, only this time I didn't bother adding the vinegar to the initial bath. I poured additional color onto some of the paler areas, cooked the yarn again, and let it sit to cool.

Yarn Hangs Over Sink After Second Dyeing
Much Better

Way better, even. There are still some ecru areas, but now it looks more like green and blue with some ecru accents than ecru with green and blue spots. Much better balance of color.

I had originally conceived an image of doing the dyeing in two broad areas of color, green and blue, overlapping. Obviously, that's not really what I got. The result we're seeing here is more of a tie-dye effect.

Dyed Yarn Hangs in Bathroom for Final Drying
Still Damp, Hanging in the Bathroom Now

Not that I object to tie-dye, as you can see from my favorite bath towel.

This morning, the skein of now colorful lace yarn was dry enough to be moved from over the kitchen sink, where it could drip freely all night, to hanging from the shower rod. Our bathroom now smells fresh and fruity.

Which prompted Gryphon and I to briefly consider Christmas gifts of handknit, Kool-Aid dyed, fruity air fresheners for all our loved ones.

Don't panic - we immediately overcame the fruity high and realized what a bad idea that was!

I look forward to the point where this is completely dry, and I can once again wind it up into a nice, center-pull ball. Then I just have to come up with a pattern for my first finished lace piece, something that will suit the colors I have here. Free is required by the budget, so it'll have to be something available on the web. Any suggestions? We're working with 1700 yards of lace-weight merino, and a knitter with the courage to try almost anything.

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