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Using Kool-Aid For Dyeing

Spinners share their experiences about how   to dye yarn using Kool-Aid (or similar drink mix products)

Collected Wisdom from the Ashford-Spinners List


From: JFavia@aol.com (Judith)

You have to try Kool-Aid dyeing! You don't need a separate set of utensils. If you hate the color, you can drink it. It makes the kitchen smell terrific. It works without any mordants. The colors are a stitch. And if the baby gets in it, you only have to worry about burns, not poison.

We had an assignment from the Spiral Fibers Guild (a real mix of interests who are all trying to share) to dye something, anything. Some people tried spice dyeing, some used herbs, and I used it as an excuse to try the Kool-Aid I had wanted to try for a while.

Basically, you buy the unsweetened packs of Kool-Aid at the grocery. Colors are about what you expect from the names and package fronts, but what the heck, experiment!! Add one packet to about a quart of water and stir. Add your wool or yarn and submerge it. Simmer on the stove, or in the microwave (covered) until it is the color you want or the solution has become clear because the fiber has absorbed all the color. Drain and let dry.

Now, here's the result of my experiment: I wet some merino roving and put it in a Corningware casserole. I filled with warm water to cover the roving and sprinkled the top with one package of Man o Mango. I simmered it in the microwave for 20 minutes, then let it cool. The roving was a wonderful space-dyed coral. I drained it, wrapped it in a towel then hung to dry. To spin it, I pulled the roving out to separate any fibers that had clung together due to the dyeing - and voila, coral space-dyed yarn.

I also did this with Kiwi Lime, which created an amazingly brilliant chartreuse. I hated it at first, but decided that it was like anchovies in a caesar salad: a little bit in the right place is perfect. A fellow guild member calls this "a bit of poison" to liven up the work. You can reduce the intensity by 1) reducing the amount of Kool-Aid and 2) by simmering for a shorter time. You can also add a pinch of another color to tone it down, or create space dyed roving or yarn.

I also dyed a commercial white wool (one of my estate sale finds of Red Heart worsted). I wound it into a ball on my ball winder. I used a sauce pan and made a solution of Man o Mango that would come to about half way up the side of the ball. I simmered it for about 10 minutes (much faster on the stove), then took it out, dumped the solution, and made another one of Pink Swimmingo (bright pink) and dyed the other side of the ball. I kind of squished the water through the ball to get the dye dispersed to the inside, but the outer section was still much deeper. Again, I really liked the result, a wonderful variegated yarn from pink to white to coral.


From: Elleknit@aol.com

I've taken a class with Susie Hodges of Straw Into Gold (Berkeley, Calf.) and also taught this procedure to my local handknitting guild. To make either Kool-Aid or Easter Egg dye FAST, you MUST use vinegar. Following are the basics of using these dyes:

EQUIPMENT:

1) Kool-Aid, Wylers unsweetened mix
2) White distilled Vinegar, 5% Acetic Acid
3) Protein Fiber yarn, fleece, fabric (wool, silk, alpaca, mohair, nylon)
4) Candy/meat thermometer
5) Stirring tool (no aluminum)
6) POT for heating dye stuffs: NO aluminum, cast iron (reacts with dye) YES glass (Pyrex), enamel, stainless steel

PROCEDURE:

1) Make yarn into skeins, collect fiber, etc.
2) IMPORTANT! Always wash to "wet out" fiber before dyeing. Fill a basin with hot tap water and a squirt of IVORY. Immerse yarn/fiber and soak for 30 minutes.
3) Prepare dyepot. For each one ounce of fiber, put in pot:

2-3 cups water
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1-3 packets unsweetened Kool-Aid

4) Dissolve Kool-Aid thoroughly in dyepot liquids.
5) Add "wetted out" fiber to dyepot.
6) Slowly bring heat to simmer to reach 180F for wool, 170F for silk. Check with a thermometer. Then simmer for 1/2 hour or until water becomes clear.
7) Turn off heat and let fiber cool in the dyepot.
8) Rinse thoroughly and dry.


From: pcpets@mail.daka.com (Pamela)

I have done a lot of Kool-Aid dyeing, and think it is easier than the commercial dye. In 2 quarts water add two packages of UNSWEETENED Kool-Aid and one cup white vinegar, bring to boil and add protein fiber (wool, angora, mohair, etc) reduce to simmer and within a few minutes the color will suck into the fiber and the water will be almost clear. Best thing is the smell afterward too. I have not had any problem with colorfastness.

You can do interesting shading by putting in spun hanks and do not stir the pot, with purple it will turn blue, light purple, and purple. I have spaced dyed with it with hanks by suspending hanks into pot (hanging onto end) using different colors and different strengths of color. This turns out very nice and has many different effects. There are numerous red/pink colors and this method can create interesting looks.


From: tdbull@aol.com (Mary)

I do Kool-Aid dyeing a lot (I've got small children in the house), and it's fun to do with them. We also live in a pretty small apartment, and all I need is to have to pay for replacement of the whole carpet because I've spilled "industrial strength" dye on it.

You have to play with the colors. The grape (3 packets/1/3 lb. wool) gave me a muted, soft purple. The black cherry (1packet/1/3 lb. wool) created a very pretty, deep strawberry pink shade. It's a great alternative for someone in my situation.

I also use Rit dyes. They're inexpensive, fairly easy clean up, and don't have nearly as many nasty warnings. (Hope I haven't offended any dye manufacturer or retailer with that...but I can't afford the space to have an entirely different set of pots, etc. to do dyeing.)

Another brand of drink mix, Flavr-Ade, makes a blue called "Berry Bunch". It's bright!


From: RPatter927@aol.com (Pat)

The way we did the Rainbow Kool-Aid dyeing, was to start with well wetted fleece in the hot water. We then sprinkled the different Kool-Aid colors over different fleece parts (either 3 sections or 4) and very gently pushed the fleece and color under water to spread it. The fleece came out variegated both in colors and in shades. We then dried it and put it through the drum carder.

My favorite way was a handful of grape, followed on by a handful of blueberry etc. so the batts came out sort of striped and also with the color gradations. When spinning you can feather in different colors together (barber pole) or can end up with purple shading into blue into raspberry or whatever. I have found the color to be surprisingly fast.


From: pharmrew@muccmail.missouri.edu (Ruth)

Despite what others have said, I have never found it necessary to add vinegar to Kool-Aid. The point of the vinegar is to make the dye bath acid; however, the Kool-Aid itself is quite acidic (at least as low as pH 2, which is 100,000 times as acidic as neutral pH), probably about the same acidity as household vinegar (4-5% acetic acid).

There's no reason not to do Kool-Aid dyeing in your food pans or in your kitchen microwave. It is a food stuff, after all. (Although at my house it's used strictly for dyeing, much to my 8 year old's dismay. I actually bought it for her to use because she always wants to dye the same time I'm using my Lanaset dyes. But she'd like to drink it, too.)

I have not tried dyeing in the sun--have always simmered on the stove or in the crock pot or in the microwave. I have always had the bath exhausted and have not had dye wash out or fade.


From: brannen@kdsi.net (Elaine)

I've been dyeing with Kool-Aid for a couple of years, and have never used vinegar. No problem with fading at all. I use 3 packs of Kool-Aid to a skein or about 4 ounces of fleece, bring to simmer in my spaghetti pot, cover and turn off.

If it needs more color, I add more packs. If I want a consistent color, I remove the fleece and stir in the packs. If I want a variegated look, I just dump in the packs. I find that the smell will go away very quickly of its own accord, or in the first wash of the skein. I never use vinegar as the Kool-Aid is acidic enough.

I love those bright, neon Kool-Aid colors. Colors seem so grayed to me, and the pure brights are so refreshing. I've made tons of rainbow colored socks and hats, and they are such fun to knit and wear during our gray, midwestern winters.


From: baglady@mail.awinc.com (Sarah)

After all the discussion lately about Kool-Aid dyeing I finally tried it!! I thought it might be fun while the in-laws were here visiting Brianna (parents don't visit their children anymore once the grandchildren are born, have you noticed that?) They looked after Brianna and I put some of the stuff I spun when first learning (very uneven, thick and slubby) in the pot with water and Rock-a-dile Red.

Kool-Aid dyeing is not for the faint at heart, is it? This stuff is REALLY red. What am I going to do with this god-awful colour?!! Oh well, it doesn't matter 'cause I wasn't going to do anything with the stuff to begin with anyway. Sure soaks up the colour neat though, doesn't it? The water was clear after 20 min. simmering, no boil. No colour came out in the 1 rinse I did. I used 4 oz. to 3 packets. Perhaps this was a bit much on the Kool-Aid end of things?

I sure noticed a difference in dye take up between that which was spun tighter and the looser singles. Is this a common thing when dyeing or just a Kool-Aid thing or just the nature of the double ply I was putting in the pot? I also did one skein to 1 packet of Purpleosaurus rex and liked that colour much better, but again huge difference in dye take up between the two singles within the ply.

Today I gave Lemon-Lime a try. Who mentioned this colour and liking it?!!! (Each to his own I know...) It reminds me of that awful fad awhile back which I did not partake in of the fluorescent clothing.....green, bright, ugly stuff. Wondering if I put it in the pot again with a half packet of purple what I would get. Any thoughts?

For the instant satisfaction this is neat, but there seems to be no colour control, you get a bright, violent colour and that's it. Guess I should try some powder dyes. How safe are they to use in your kitchen, I know it has been said to use a mask, but in general?

I'm still going to try more Kool-Aid - got orange/pineapple and strawberry to go just for kicks. It's so easy it would be hard to go to a more drawn out process...


From: jelliot@scican.net (Joan)

Since Kool-Aid quit selling "The Great Bluedini" flavor, which was my source of turquoise, I've been looking for another brand. I found it at the Kroger store in Franklin, Indiana.

Now, I realize that that location is probably quite inconvenient for most of you. But, Kroger is a national, maybe international brand of grocery store. What I found was probably their own brand of powdered drink mix.

It is called "Drink-Aid", and comes in several reds, an orange, and "Kangablue Brew". I got the bright turquoise almost exactly the same as "The Great Bluedini". The cost was about half as much.

The company and name and address are Inter-American Foods, Inc., Cincinnati, OH 45202. Because of this Cincinnati address, I am assuming that this is a Kroger affiliate.


From: valerie@anise.ee.cornell.edu (Valerie)

Great Bluedini (Kool-Aid's blue flavor, more like a turquoise IMO) was only discontinued this past year (the powders only - it seems they're still making it in ready-to-drink form). Some grocery stores may still have some unopened boxes of it hiding in the back of their displays.

I just found a whole bunch of packets in the discount bin at a local grocery about two weeks ago as they had just cleaned up for the summer Kool-Aid display. Shame I didn't buy them all. Anyhow, I had stocked up on it when I heard that it was being discontinued. I even tried drinking it - no wonder they decided to stop making it - Yuck.

Kool-Aid reportedly has no plans to introduce another blue flavor in the near future (Great Bluedini had replaced a previous blue flavor called Berry Blue). In other Kool-Aid flavor news (I got so into Kool-Aid dyeing, I started reading alt.drinks.kool-aid): Rock-a-dile Red (very bright red) and Purplesaurus Rex (muddy purple - of dubious dyeing value) have been discontinued in the US (at the same time as Great Bluedini) but are still available in Canada. Sharkleberry fin (pink) has been discontinued altogether (recently, though - still may be able to find some). Pink Swimmingo (pale pink) has been renamed to Watermelon-Cherry and Incrediberry (another red - with a tinge of orange if you ask me) has been renamed to Strawberry-Raspberry. Slammin' Strawberry Kiwi (pale pink - who makes these names up anyway?) is a brand new flavor (came out a couple of months ago).

The complete list of current (and extinct) flavors can be found in the alt.drinks.kool-aid FAQ at http://www.flail.com/kafaq.html


From: karyn@cisco.com (Karyn)

I was reading the Winter Spin-Off last night, and remember an article about schoolteachers instructing elementary grade students in fabric arts, and one said she put some fiber/felt in a glass jug with Kool-Aid and water and throughout the week, the students were fascinated as the fiber soaked up the color, until within a week or so the water was clear.

This, and the person on this list who said that Kool-Aid was quite colorfast because she couldn't get the stains out of her child's clothes, makes me think that Kool-Aid can dye without heat. I think heating may hasten the dyeing process, however.


From: mailto:ctn@carol.net (Carmen)

I would like to share my very easy, simple method. It is a conglomerate of other methods I've seen. I use one gallon glass pickle jars. Put lukewarm water in the jar allowing enough room for four ounces of unwashed fleece, a squirt of Dawn dish soap, one half cup of white vinegar and three packages of Kool-Aid. Stir to mix. Put the fleece in the jar, cover it and let it set in the sun all day. Dump the jar into the sink allowing the liquid to go down the sink. Let the fleece rest for 30 minutes allowing it to come to room temperature. Rinse with lukewarm water until water comes clear. Roll it once in several layers of bath towels and then let air dry. The wool will be dyed unevenly, but when carded and spun it will have a beautiful heather effect.

[Note: Carmen brought her method to our attention via email after the mailing list closed, but it is so delightful we decided to include it with these archives.]


From: Ixtabai@aol.com

Several months ago I found a World Wide Web site which contained details on exactly how to dye fibers with Kool-Aid or Easter Egg dyes:
http://www.woolworks.org/dyeing.html


From: m3susan@rpnet.net (Susan)

I tried my first Kool-Aid dyeing today. I had no idea how to do it, I forgot to use vinegar. What I did was take 5 packages of black cherry Kool-Aid mixed it with about 6 quarts water half hot, half not. Then I stuck it all in black garbage bags and set it in the sun.

It looks great but now I am wondering if I should put it in a vinegar bath, or do it over again? I love the look, but now I'm wondering about the color staying in it.


From: kpainter@wsu.edu (Kate)

To the woman who worried about not using vinegar: don't redo it, you're fine. Kool-Aid has plenty of acidity. I have had slight color fading over a number of years with my grape color. I enjoyed doing demos for 4-Hers.

I'd put several packets (3-6) of Kool-Aid in a glass gallon jar and fill it with boiling water. Better do this in the sink in case your jar breaks from the heat--I've had mason jars do this. Then I'd just stuff in a pound of wool or whatever it takes to fill up the jar. An hour later, you can pull out your lovely variegated wool!

BTW, I just read a great idea for dyeing balls of wool with Kool-Aid. Use a loosely wrapped ball of yarn, e.g. using a ball winder. Put a packet of Kool-Aid into a heat-proof 2-cup plastic container with a lid and add about an inch of boiling water; stir. Put in the dry ball. Put on the lid. Wrap it in an old towel to insulate it and leave for a few hours. Repeat on the other side of the ball with different colors. (Squeeze out excess water first.)

The particulars are available under dyeing on Emily Way's Online Knitting Magazine: http://www.woolworks.org/dyeing.html. There is info on dyeing with Easter egg dyes, space dyeing with Kool-Aid in the microwave by sprinkling powder onto fleece with just enough water in the pan to barely cover the fiber, and rainbow dyeing with CIBA dyes there as well. It is a wonderful web site.


From: jbbatson@ro.com (Barbara)

You can get some really gorgeous colors from Kool-Aid, and it is easy to use but... if I were doing a project that was to be around for a long time I would not use Kool-Aid. I tried the Kool-Aid dyeing several years ago when it was first popular and kept some small skeins and balls of it lying around. Over 2 to 3 or maybe even 5 years the color has faded quite a lot on the outsides and is still pretty on the inside.

I would go to the extra trouble and use a good acid dye or fiber reactive for my wool projects. Kool-Aid is fine for fun with the kids or maybe some dyeing for demonstrations but our time and efforts are too valuable to have the color fade out of our projects.


From: JLHAMER@aol.com (Joan)

I agree with Barbara in that the Kool-Aid colors fading would be a big disappointment in a sweater that you wanted to keep that color. On the other hand, what if you wanted a blue that would intentionally fade out to look like faded blue jeans? Over the years this might be just the sweater you throw on with your faded jeans for a perfectly coordinated outfit!


From: druding (Susan)

People are having a lot of fun with Kool-Aid dyeing. It's good for kids and beginning dyers who just want some quick (bright!) colors. But beyond those circumstances, consider the pros and cons involved:

Pros:
--
1. The acid dyes in Kool-Aid have passed food safety tests and are a bit more safe. However they still can be dangerous if inhaled so don't toss them around when dyeing.
2. They are easy to locate (or cheaper generic brands).
3. They leave a nice (if you like grape, cherry etc.) smell in the yarn.
4. People are amused and children are intrigued by them.

Cons:
--
1. The colors are pretty lurid and bright.
2. The colors have very poor fastness to light and washing.
3. They are quite expensive to use compared to synthetic dyes sold for dyeing.
4. You cannot use them in percent dyeing methods or for color control recipes.

I'm not overly enthusiastic about using Kool-Aid. If after your first experiments you can see you are going to like dyeing, move to "real dyes". I have some recipes for Acid Dyeing on Wool on my Web page: http://www.straw.com/sig/sigmenu1.html (also for Procion for cellulose).

 


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