dyeing wool with food colouring
Using Food Coloring as a Fiber Dye
I’m always looking for a cheaper or easier way of doing something, which is how I started using food coloring to dye fibers. To me, Kool-aid was hard to control, and too expensive to use on a regular basis. I also questioned why I needed all that other stuff in the ingredients list of the Kool-aid. But I did want something that I could use to dye small amounts of fiber in a variety of colors that was not too toxic to work with around children. Mine always want to help when it comes to the dyeing parts. The thought then came, what is the active ingredient in Kool-aid that I am using?—food dyes. What is another way to purchase food dye easily and for less cost?—-those little bottles of liquid food coloring I have always used to dye my Easter eggs with. The wonderful thing about them is they come in just blue, yellow and red. I now have at my disposal the three primary colors in an easy to see form and the bottles are even designed to dispense a drop at a time. Now here comes the great news, food coloring dyes don’t need much heat to set.
The process I use requires:
–old glass quart jars, (glass gallon pickle jars can also be used)
–four color box of food coloring
–wet wool or other animal fiber
Fill the glass jars 1/2 to 2/3 full of warm water. Add 1/4 cup distilled vinegar to each quart jar. Now take the bottle of liquid food coloring and add drops of color in the jars of water until the water is very dark or just experiment . I usually figure at least 20 drops of color to a jar. The drops do not have to be all the same color and there is no limit to the combinations possible. If you want to get very scientific with the process, the number of drops of each color can be recorded and then it could even be repeatable, I think, thou I have never tried. After the color is in the jars, add wet wool to the jars. The fiber can either be loose uncarded fibers or small skeins of yarn. The first wool in will be the darkest and the shading will decrease until the dye is exhausted. If the wool is wet with a soap solution and the soap in not rinsed out before adding it to the dye, the colors take even better. The process of setting the dye or getting darker colors can be assisted by putting the jars in a hot water bath canner for about 30 minutes. The water in the canner needs to only be level with the top of the water in the jars. If the jars are covered, there is a chance the color from one jar will migrate to another jar. Another way to darken the color is to set the jars in the sun for a day and watch the color exhaust in the jar. Neither of these hot treatments is really needed. I actually just set the jars on the table overnight and had dyed fiber when I pulled the wool out the next morning. I have some fibers which were dyed this way as surface designed on my felts which are now going on 5 and 6 years old with no major color fading. I have also used paste cake dyes. The problem I found with them was the same one encountered with Kool-aid. The dyes are a mix of different colors and the results were less predictable. The paste dyes were also harder to get dissolved in the water in the jars. The advantage of using cake dyes is they are more concentrated than regular food colors and the amount of wool it was possible to dye with one container of cake dye was well over a pound before the pot was exhausted. It is fairly easy to have a special place to put a case of quart jars to reserve them for dye use only which can also address the issue of dye fibers out of the same containers in which food is prepared. This way of dyeing is also fun to do with children, because the color combinations are so unlimited. It even teaches color theory when they aren’t even thinking about it.