Dyeing wool yarn with food coloring powder

E once said, and I quote "Why must grown-ups clothes be so boring? Why don't people use more color?".

Well, I'm doing my part to color the world, while at the same trying to come up with something knitted or crocheted that Micke might consider OK to use. This is mainly because I still have a lot of yarn inherited from both my maternal, my paternal grandmother, my mom and one of her sisters. Some of this yarn is white or really light beige, and some of it is in really pale pastel colors. And thus not... terribly exciting to either use or plan to use. Hence the reason behind my interest in learning how to dye yarn, preferably as cheaply as possible.

On one of  the blog-sites I subscribe to, Fiber Star, I've read about how to dye with natural things like avocado pits, onion skins and flowers. There's also books about dyeing that I borrowed from the library. But like any good chemists, it really itches in your fingers to try it out yourself.

But, I distress, that there's a lot more to dyeing your own yarn than just buying some dyes and yarn.
I'm really glad that there's so much free info about it on the Internet, since you actually can get Google-answers to every possible question your dyeing process might create. Even so, I'm still writing this down:
  1. There is really a difference between the type of fibers there's in the yarn. 
    • animal fibers: wool, angora, cashmere etc.
    • plant fibers: cotton, bamboo etc.
    • oil based: acrylics, nylon etc.
  2. You have to suit your dye to the yarndirt!!!!!!! OBS!
    • wool is easiest to dye: the alpha-helix structure of the proteins, that the wool is made up of, opens up when exposed to higher temperatures, acids and salts. The fibers absorb the fibers.
      • use dye + heat + salt + vinegar (acetic acid)
    • cotton can't be dyed like wool: the dye will just coat the fibers, and then wash off afterwards.
      • use s.c. acid dyes, these can be bought from normal supermarkets and craft stores. In Finland, a common brand e.g. is "Nitor". Nitor dyes are e.g. used to dye cotton clothes in the washing machine. The acid dyes prepare the fibers by forcing them to bind
    • oil based fibers, which nowadays are combined with both wool and cotton, can't be colored like this either. In combo-yarn, the fibers might/might not stand out.
  3. You have to have good ventilation in you kitchen (or wherever it is that your dyeing your yarn), because this might stink a bit. Or a lot. Make that a lot.
  4. Lightly wash the yarn beforehand
    • dirt, fats and such can make the dye not take as good, and might make it look bad.
  5. A BIG enough pot, preferably in stainless steel, or a metallic bowl that'll fit any of your pots (thus creating a water bath)
    • some materials, like certain scraped kitchen plastics and old bowls, might get color permanently stuck to it. This is called coating in biochemistry btw, but stainless steel doesn't get coated that easily.
  6. Make your yarn into loose skeins, using either a "nystvinda/garnvinda" or a "härvel", because otherwise the dye won't get to all the fibers. (I once put tightly wound balls of yarn in the dye mix, and that did SO not work: just the outer layer got dyed.)
    • there's a whole bunch of pages online on how to wind your yarn for dyeing
  7. Many sites on the Internet are about dyeing with Kool-Aid. There's lots of info about it, since it's safe to use for teaching kids to dye.
    • Kool-Aid is a drink mixture that has food colorants, sugar and acids (citric acid and C vitamin) in it. It's one way to dye using food coloring products, but since not many places in Finland sell it...I recommend buying food coloring powder from the pharmacy.
So, once you've read up online about all things dye and yarn, then it's time to try it out. Since so much of this is found online elsewhere, I'll just show you some picture's from when I tried it out, using blue (indigo) and red (carmine) food coloring powder from the pharmacy.

My "garnvinda" - it used to be my maternal grandmother's.
Things you need to dye wool: acetic acid, dye and salt.
This is my "water bath"; a bowl with dye in a pot of water, set to simmer. I used a glass oven form to hold the yarn while I added more dye/salt/vinegar.
As you can see, the indigo powder won't bind a 100% to the wool. Using a blend of indigo and carmine red, the blue got more pronounced, instead of becoming lilac. I'd read up on the fact that red dyes bind notoriously badly,  so I was prepared to get lighter red if I only used it.
Afterwards, you lightly wash the yarn in cold water, so that the wool fibers won't felt.
Afterwards, after drying all the yarn in the bathroom, I wound it up into kinda tight skeins. These photos are of a few of the dry yarns.

Indigo glue, on light grey Novita Nalle-yarn (a blend of 75% wool, 25% acrylic). This is pure indigo.
Dip dyed Novita Nalle-yarn (a blend of 75% wool, 25% acrylic), using the carmic red and indigo blue. As I wanted lilac, but only got a pale violet, I mainly used indigo to dye the rest of the yarn.
This is another example of indigo + carmic red, on an already "effect" colored yarn. If you look closely, you can see the darker and lighter areas.

Next time, I know what to expect, so might try some other color - like bright yellow or orange. And, since I have a huge bunch of cotton yarns in horrid pale pastel colors, I will try to color them with acid dyes too. Because music, laughter and colors are things you can't get enough of in your life.