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DIY, Family Values

Kitchen science: Dyed in the wool.

Yarn dyed with food colouring

Armed with this handy article from the Spring 2007 edition of Knitty, my daughter and I set up camp around the family slowcooker. It was naptime on a Thursday, and we were packing food colouring.

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at dying yarn for some time, and have had lots of typical-for-me colour combinations rolling through my mental rolodex: mostly black with a hit of vibrant red, or perhaps just a very muted blue on bare. Imagine my glee (and total lack of surprise) when my daughter insisted that purple was the way to go.

Setting aside my own predisposition for specific palettes, I mixed up a 3-year-old girl’s dream purple and dumped away. What came next was colourbased-bedlam, and some of the most fun I’ve ever had with food colouring.

Throwing caution to the wind, I gave my little Picassina the blue food colouring dropper and stepped aside. The purple was nice, but kinda boring. Our morning’s science experiment had thus far taken about 30 seconds and the slow cooker’s black ceramic bowl rendered the whole spectrum, including our purple, invisible. And a hank of yarn at knitpicks is, what, 7 bucks? Whatever. Let the kid make a mess.

A quick breakdown of the process we used:

  1. Soak yarn overnight in water with a 1/2 cup of white vinegar.
  2. Drain yarn.
  3. Place yarn in cooker and cover with water (the more water, apparently, the more the colour will spread and blend).
  4. Turn cooker to high and let heat until water is steamy.
  5. Mix your colours in about a 1/2 cup of water per colour. And by ‘colour’ I mean the colour you want to show in the yarn. You’re not mixing to make colours in the crockpot.
  6. Drop the dye into the cooker. Since stirring and yarn is a no-no, remember that the dye will ‘stay’ where you pour it. So, if you want a lot one colour it would be a good idea to mix a lot of it and don’t pour it all in one ‘pool’. if you want small patches of colour, just mix a regular amount and then drop it where you want it in the pool.
  7. Turn the cooker down to low and let the yarn ‘cook’ for an hour or so. when the water is clear the dying is done!
  8. Turn the cooker off and let the yarn and water cool.
  9. Once cool, remove the yarn and let it drain and dry. Don’t wring it out our anything. Really. Google “felting wool” if you don’t believe me. Just hang it up somewhere outside or over a bucket.
  10. Once 100% dry, wrap/cake/wind your new skein of handpainted yarn!
  11. Have your little assistant show her special yarn to all your friends/relatives/neighbors. I pretty much guarantee you: they will be impressed.

The result, other than a look of pride and fascination that really stands as the reason behind our naptime science sessions, was actually awesome. We spent a good chunk of the day testing to see if the skein was dry yet, poking at it as it swung enticingly from the ceiling in my office area.

We called our yarn colourway “Mermaid.” I may or may not make socks for myself out of it.



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