A time to dye

The two packets of Kool-Aid I bought in Birmingham recently have been on my mind this week. I wanted to use them to dye a small amount of my natural-coloured silk 4-ply yarn in rainbow colours, to enable me to make a Leftie shawlette.  Having now dyed with Kool-Aid, I have to say I’ve had more fun with a soft drink than I’ve had since I was 9 years old and discovered Creamola Foam.  (For those who don’t remember it, it was also a drink mix.  We used to spoon the powder into our mouths where it fizzed and dyed our tongues lurid colours, presumably because it contained all the artificial, hyperactivity-inducing colours that are still to be found in Kool-Aid.)

I love the design of Leftie, it’s simple but clever, like the Wingspan I’ve just finished. Looking at the finished projects on Ravelry, the ones I like best are those with an off-white background and five or 6 different colours for the “leaves”. If I make leaves in all the colours of the rainbow, I’ll be able to wear it with just about anything, won’t I?

Kool-Aid drink powderBoth my Kool-Aid packets from Birmingham are red colours and probably not very different. They both contain colour E129, although one also contains E133, a blue. Several websites suggested using food colouring as dye, so I went out and bought Asda’s own-brand colours in yellow and blue, thinking that would enable me to mix orange, purple and green when used with the Kool-Aid. I should have done more research, because I have since discovered some important things about dyeing with food colours:

  • Kool-Aid (and many food colourings sold in the USA) work as dyes for protein (animal) fibres because they contain azo or other acid dyes, just like the textile dyes that are used commercially for such fibres. They will also dye nylon.
  • Unfortunately, most of the food colourings sold in the UK (including Asda’s own-brand) use natural colours nowadays.
  • Natural colours can be used to dye fibres, but they require the use of a mordant (and the end colour will be influenced by which mordant is used), and in general aren’t as colourfast and resistant to fading as an acid dye.
  • Finding out whether a particular product contains acid dyes or natural colourings (such as that from turmeric or spirulina) involves studying the label and looking up the E numbers.
  • Acid dyes require (reasonably enough) an acid environment to work. Kool-Aid already contains enough citric and ascorbic acid, but acid will have to be added to the dyebath if acid dyes in non-natural food colouring are used instead.
  • Natural food colours are best used in a dyebath of neutral pH.
  • One of the advantages of acid dyes is that they “exhaust” onto the fibre, meaning that the dyebath is left colourless (providing it contains enough fibre to take all of the dyestuff). This makes it easy to see when the process has finished, and to regulate the shade by adjusting the dye to fibre ratio. The water to dye ratio is unimportant, although a weaker liquor should make it easier to achieve an even colour.

Armed with this new knowledge, I thought I’d perform a dyeing experiment on some of the silk yarn. To use the food colourings I needed a mordant. I’ve been trying to find alum for months, without success, so I investigated alternatives. One suggestion was to make a dilute solution of aluminium acetate by steeping chopped-up aluminium foil in vinegar. That seemed simple enough so I gave it a go, leaving the foil and vinegar to soak in a jam jar overnight. Nothing appeared to have happened by morning – the foil still looked shiny anyway – so I left it on a windowsill in the sun all day. It’s been there for several days now and I’m not hopeful.  So I went back to Plan A, Kool-Aid, and found that there is an internet supplier, Candy Hero, which also has shops in Leeds, York and Baildon.

Now, I don’t need much of an excuse to visit the Baildon/Shipley area because one of my favourite fabric shops, The Shuttle, in is Shipley.  I didn’t find anything I wanted there this time, but I did come home from Candy Hero with half a dozen more sachets of Kool-Aid.

Kool-AidI set to work dyeing small hanks of the silk yarn at the first opportunity and I’m really pleased with the results so far from the first two flavours, Strawberry (red) and Mixed Berry (turquoise).  The scrap of thicker yarn in the photo below is wool that I used for one of the ties around the Strawberry hank, showing that it gives a good colour on wool too.

Dyed yarn

The whole process was remarkably easy – I’ve done a tutorial on Dyeing Silk Yarn with Kool-Aid for the benefit of anyone else who wants to give it a try – and as Kool-Aid is (allegedly) safe to drink, I was able to use food dishes, cooking utensils and my microwave oven without fear of poisoning anyone.

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About yorkshirecrafter

I live and work in West Yorkshire.  I've always enjoyed crafts of all types, from woodwork to lace-making.  I also enjoy anything mathematical, which makes knitting a favourite pastime, especially complicated designs.  I've been advising businesses and industry on environmental matters for 30 years and also have an interest in green living, especially where it saves me money. I live with my husband and our Maine Coon in a 100-year-old cottage that constantly needs something doing to it.  Fortunately, I enjoy DIY too.
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