On the Making of Art Yarn, warm fuzz & whirled fleece

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

TUTORIAL: Dyeing Yarn with Food-Colours

:: Non-toxic wool dye Tutorial with Wooldancer! ::
With this tutorial you will discover the fabulous & colourful world of non-toxic dyeing in the Kitchen: even your 3year-old can join in! A perfect activity to do with children, dyeing with food-colouring is a fun rainy-day activity. So, why not grab some yarn & create colour with your kids - it's truly a ball of fun! har

- examples of yarn dyed with food colours by my 4year-old!

If you don't have professional acid dyes on hand, the good news is you can use a few simple ingredients from your Kitchen & still achieve vibrant, colour-fast results!

In fact, if you are starting out with fiber-dyeing food-colouring will give you truly rich, exciting, & light-fast colours to play with, & can be used to dye a range of fiber types: wool, silk, synthetic nylon, & soysilk fibres.
Note: Food-colours will not dye cotton or other plant-based fibres with the same vibrancy or light-fast results.

Herein lies the proceedure for your dyeing pleasure!
The following instructions are for MICROWAVE DYEING, or use SOLAR heat in the boot of your car!

The BASIC Process is to colour your fiber with food-colouring. Vinegar is an acid fixative. To ensure colourfastness the dye is set into the fiber with heat using either a microwave or steam on a stovetop.

STEP 1: GATHER your ingredients ..

Fortunately everything you need will most likely be in your kitchen:

  • Liquid Food Colours : we use Queen brand
  • white vinegar
  • wool detergent
  • plastic gloves - food-colours will stain
  • a large bowl for soaking
  • small glass or plastic jars for preparing the dye
  • HEATSOURCE: microwave / car boot + hot sunny day.
  • microwave safe bowl / plastic wrap / garbage bags
  • 250ml measuring cup
  • turkey baster, sauce bottle, medicine dropper for applying dye
  • yarn / roving / washed fleece / anything woolly really!
It is a good idea, but not essential, to put your yarn into a skein if you can, tie in a couple of places & very loosely twist into a skein. If using roving, make a coil onto the bag or bowl.

STEP 2: PRE-SOAK your fibre..

  • Place a tiny dash of wool detergent into vessel of choice (the detergent helps the fiber take up the vinegar)- I use a saucepan which helps retain heat during pre-soaking, but a large salad bowl would be fine;
  • Pour lukewarm tap water into vessel, enough to cover fleece plus a little extra for swelling;
  • Add a glug of vinegar to the water (1 glug = approximately 1/4cup/60mls/3fl.oz's).
As a rough guide I used, 1 litre water: 60mls vinegar for 100grams/3.5oz fiber.
  • Slowly push all the fiber into the water, gently submerging until all the little air bubbles dissappear. Be sure not to agitate the fiber at this point, it can felt.
  • 4. Soak for about 1/2 an hour'ish.
  • 4. Gently squeeze water from fleece, being careful not to rub the fiber.
  • 5. Place fiber onto plastic wrap/garbage bag, or into a large microwave safe bowl. I split the garbage bag in half when dyeing quantities of 100gr or more. Ensure there is enough overhang to wrap up your fiber parcel tightly.
STEP 3 : ADD COLOUR - the FUN part!!


  • make up the dye: Mix food colouring + water + vinegar. A good guide ratio is 1 cup / 250mls fluid dye-colour per 100gr/4oz fiber. When using multiple colours, evenly distribute 250mls water between the colours.


  • Put 20mls / 2teaspoons food colour into small jars, one jar per colour.
  • Mix tap water & vinegar to a ratio of 4:1 [ 200mls H2o : 50mls vinegar per 100grams/4oz yarn]
  • Pour some of the H2O mix into the colour jars - evenly distributing though each colour.

  • Apply the dye to the fiber using any of the above applicators by pushing the colour into the yarn, ensuring you get into the middle & underside.
  • If using roving or fleece, I like to pour the colour on to the fiber & gently push the colour into the fiber with my gloved hand. Keep the fiber steady, there should be no need to move the fiber around as you do this. Children love to use droppers to apply dye!
Prepare fibre for heat-setting:
  • Wrap the sides of the plastic over the fiber, making a tight package. Fold the package in half or thirds, or roll up if using plastic wrap.
  • If using a microwave safe bowl, cover your bowl with plastic wrap & stab in a few small air holes with a skewer
  • If SOLAR CAR BOOT heating: cover bowl with tight lid.
STEP 4: HEAT SET the colour
SECRET TIP: to work out how long you need to heat your fibre in the microwave, place 1 cup of water into the microwave & heat to boiling. Take note of the time it takes to bring the cup of water to boil. This is how long you need to heat your fibre. If you used more than 100gr wool / 1cup dye liquor, then increase the time to match your quantities.

  • Place in Microwave for half time; let rest for a few minutes; repeat until boiling temp reached & liquid goes clear - usually 8-10MINUTES in total, depending on the wattage of your microwave.
  • :: do not overcook as fibre will burn if too dry ::
  • ****Caution : steam can burn ****
  • Take out of microwave, allow to rest on the bench until fiber has cooled.

STEP 5: RINSE the fiber..
  • Fill sink with water (same temperature as the fiber)
  • Place cool yarn into sink to rinse. Do not agitate.
  • Soak the fiber for a minimum of 15minutes;
  • Repeat Rinse Bath until water is clear.
  • Gently squeeze fibre, & hang to dry in the sun & fresh air over a coathanger (the wooden ones are great), or on a bamboo hook or a handy tree branch.

STEP 6: HAVE A CUPPA! & congratulate yourself for bringing more colour into the world!

voi la!! Yes handdying is addictive YAY!!


steph said...

I love this, so simple, yet beautiful and you can do this with children which would be magic.

wooldancer said...

YES!! it is wonderful to share your love of fiber crafts with your little ones too.. food-dye will stain their fingers tho, but only for a few days! it's also great diluted with water as a paint for paper.

Crafty Ash said...

wow thanks for this! i was getting tired of only kool-aid colors, i'm going to try this on the stovetop!!!

Murfomurf said...

The colours look lovely- I must give it a go. I've done one or two bits of dyeing with synthetic dyes, but I'm scared of the fumes- food dye will be much less anxiety provoking!

gardengal said...

OOh.. have to try this.
But is a 2tsps or 20ml of dye in the fluid?
A tsp is 5ml, so 2 would be 10ml.