Introduction: Dyeing Yarn in a Microwave Using Kool-Aid

I'm sure I'm not the only crafter out there who went looking for the perfect color combination for that one specific project (in my case, a mane/tail color for a My Little Pony plushie) and were utterly frustrated when reality didn't meet expectation.

In my case, my frustration ended with the exclamation, "I'll just have to do it myself!"

(Famous last words.)

When I first read about dyeing yarn with just Kool-Aid, I thought it was too easy. Surely there were some steps missing in the process, other than tying yarn into bunches, shoving it in the microwave, and then letting it cool down.

Surprisingly...it's almost really that simple!

Come on, I'll show you. ^_~

Step 1: Assembling the Materials

For the basic 1-color project, you will need:

  • natural, animal fiber yarn (100% wool, alpaca, etc.) No acrylics, cottons, or anything else.
  • unsweetened Kool-Aid packets (about 1 packet per oz. of yarn if you want strong, saturated colors)
  • microwave-safe bowl big enough for your yarn
  • tongs or other utensil for gently moving yarn between zaps
  • separate bowl or pot for rinsing yarn
  • mild dish soap
  • water
  • colander
  • clothesline or other hanging apparatus for drying

For the slightly more complex 2+ colors, you will need:

  • additional Kool-Aid packets
  • one additional bowl and or mug per extra color

Step 2: Unwind the Yarn and Prep It

For maximum exposure to your Kool-Aid, it's best to unwind your yarn from a compact form. For the one-color dye, the size of the loop doesn't matter, as long as you can manipulate easily with the tongs.

For two-color dyeing, the length of your loop will determine how long each section of color will be. Longer loops (such as I did around the backs of two chairs) will mean longer rows of color.

When you have your yarn all unwound and looped the way you like it, tie it off in sections using scrap yarn to keep it from tangling as you move it around.

Step 3: Quick Dunk and Dye Prep

In you non-microwaveable bowl, put a couple dabs of mild dish soap and fill with lukewarm water (enough to cover your yarn).

Note: This step is to remove any sizing or other chemicals on the yarn. This is not the same as a vinegar bath, which is sometimes recommended or used when dyeing with other colorings, such as Easter egg dye.

Thoroughly wet your yarn and let it soak for a few minutes while you prepare the microwave dye bowl.

Remember, aim for one packet per ounce of yarn. (For two or more colors, adjust as necessary.)

I like to mix the powder with the hottest water my sink can manage, and put in just enough to dissolve the Kool-Aid by whisking it around. (Do not use your fingers to mix. I may know this from personal experience.)

Once the Kool-Aid has dissolved, add water to the bowl until it's approximately half full.

Remove your yarn from it's soapy water and squeeze it out gently without wringing or twisting. Just enough to leave it damp but not dripping.

Transfer the yarn to the dye bowl and use your tongs to press it down into the dye. Add water as needed to cover the yarn.

Warning: Do not agitate the yarn, or it might felt. Move it gently with your utensil(s).

Step 4: Microwave Magic!

So here's where the real magic starts. You're going to start zapping your yarn for 2-minute intervals.

Go ahead, zap it once. Now open the door and take a look. No change, right?

Gently use your tongs or other utensil to press the top of the yarn back down into the dye, remembering not to stir.

The yarn rests for 5 minutes between zaps.

By Zap #2, you might start to notice a change, particularly with cool colors like blue and purple.

Two minutes on, five minutes off. Repeat as necessary until the color has left the water, OR the yarn has reached a color you like. (I say this because I've stopped with orange before it was exhausted, as I wanted a lighter orange rather than a blood orange.) Note that some colors might not exhaust completely, so if you get to 5 zaps, you're probably done.

Step 5: Two Color Microwaving (Or More!)

If you're doing two colors instead of just one (and your microwave is as small as mine), you'll be dyeing one portion of yarn at a time.

For the orange/red combination, I started with orange and put the undyed other half of the yarn in a smaller microwave-safe bowl.

After it was finished, I dumped it out into a colander, prepped the red dye, and reversed the yarn positions.

Tip: For smaller skeins or more colors, coffee mugs can also work for holding yarn.

Step 6: Hang It Up

Allow your yarn to cool for at least five minutes before removing it from it's final zap. I like to put mine in the colander and prod it with tongs a little to check for evenness.

Once it has cooled completely, hang it to dry. I'm fortunate to have a clothesline in my backyard, so I hang my yarn out in the sun on nice days. I've also hung it up in my shower when I dyed late at night and didn't want to break my neck in the dark. Just warn your housemates so they don't think they were attacked by a huge spiderweb the next morning.

Step 7: Wind It Up

If you have a winder, wind your new yarn right up! If you're like me, you'll use the length from your arm to your elbow and wrap it like an extension cord.

To twist the yarn into a hank, pry your now-smaller loop off of your hand/elbow, hold the loop taut between your hands using one finger from either hand.

Then, twist the yarn loop by twirling one finger in one direction. Twist it so tight that it wants to curl up...then bring your fingers together, and it should fold into a neat twist. You can use scrap yarn to tie the ends of the loop together and keep the twist secure.

Step 8: Use It Up!

Perhaps the best part of dyeing yarn is to find the perfect pattern for it. Don't let your beautiful new yarn sit in your stash; use it up while it still smells good! Or, gift it to the crafty friend who thinks you might not have an artistic bone in your body and surprise their socks off.

Whatever you do, enjoy!

Comments

author
Passion Make (author)2016-10-26

Hi Amazing write up.. If I use the same technique for acrylic yarn, what would be the consequence. Is it very particular that only wool can be done with this technique? TIA :)

author
Velvetkey (author)Passion Make2016-10-27

Thanks! The problem with acrylic yarn is that the dye doesn't stick to it very well, or evenly. I've heard of 'dyeing' acrylic yarn by soaking it in paint, but that's about all you can do for it. Kool-Aid and other food dyes don't take, or saturate so you won't get the bold colors I've illustrated.

Now, you can dye a wool/acrylic blend, as referenced here:

http://www.chemknits.com/2012/11/dyeing-woolacrylic-blends-with-food.html

You might get a more 'heathered' appearance as the Kool-Aid will not stick to the acrylic fibers, but that can still be awesome!

author
LilacLisa (author)2016-10-16

Wow! Doing this asap.! Thanx! :)

author
mole1 (author)2016-10-07

You've made the process very clear, and it really looks like fun. Once dry does the color rub off or run when it gets wet?

author
Velvetkey (author)mole12016-10-08

Hi, and thank you! The color is indeed color-fast; the heat of the microwave sets it. When I crocheted with it, I had no color transfer to my fingers from working with the yarn (the same cannot be said for the yarn I dyed on the stove with Easter egg tablets, but that's another story).

That being said, I haven't ever washed the yarn in my washing machine, as wool can felt with agitation. I would recommend light surface-cleaning only, with cold water. (I usually rinse my just-dyed yarn with cold water to make sure it runs clear, and it always has.) Thanks for the question!

author
seamster (author)2016-10-05

This is an excellent instructable. Very nicely done, and useful info that I'm going to definitely use at some point. Thanks! :)

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