Thursday, October 14, 2010

How to Dye Yarn With Kool-Aid

Prior to writing this, I decided, for the sake of correctness, to check the spelling of everyone’s favorite powdered drink. Kool-ade, I had thought, made sense. Like lemonade or limeade. Right?
Wrong! “Kool-Aid”, the package pronounced. I was perplexed. I still am. I guess it aids you… in being “kool”? Whatever that is. I’m bitter that my sensible-spelling logic didn’t work out.
Regardless of any personal issues I might now have with said drink mix, it is a fantastic color-izer of woolen stuff. I have been getting into yarn lately, and, even more lately, into wool yarn (it felts! Isn’t that awesome?!?!) and I vaguely remembered hearing something about Kool-Aid. I hit Google, found a few pages with general instructions, and within a few hours I had dyed my first batch of yarn.

I’ve dyed several batches since then, and here’s how I do it.

I have two main methods of dyeing: “Plate Yarn” and “Container Yarn”. Plate yarn goes the same way pretty much every time, so I’ll start with that one first. Container yarn has several variations.

For both types, you gotta take white wool (or other animal hair) yarn and cut it into manageable pieces (I usually do between  10 and 16-ish feet). I then drop it into some water so that the fibers can get a little bit saturated.

To make “plate yarn”, you take a plate (duh) that’s microwave-safe, and put plastic wrap over it. Fold (or randomly drape) a piece of yarn into the center of the plate. Sprinkle the yarn with (a reasonable amount) Kool-Aid.

Pour some water into the mix (or spray some on with a spray bottle), then toss the whole thing (plate included) into the microwave. Zap it for two minutes. Don’t be alarmed at the popping sounds it makes. Kool-Aid wipes right off of microwave interiors.

 Some tips on Plate Yarn:

I usually use an amount of plastic wrap that’s about double the length of the plate.

I usually use about ½ cup of water.

If you want the colors to muddle a lot, pour the water straight onto the yarn. Otherwise, I suggest pouring it straight down the side of the plastic wrap right next to the yarn, and letting it soak in.

You can also mix kool-aid with water and apply it to the yarn like that, but I find that if you do things that way you don’t get colors that are nearly as saturated. And they blend more.

BE CAREFUL WITH DOMINATING COLORS. I can’t stress this enough. I find that lemon-lime green spreads and takes over quite a bit, but the major culprit is RED. Any kind of red. Red is out for world domination, and it won’t stop at your yarn-- it mysteriously jumps onto and stains your hands as well. If you’re variegating yarn and you want some red in there, add it on sparingly, and add it far away from pale blues and yellows. If you want a gradient with blues and yellows, I suggest using pink instead of red. Also, never pour water straight onto red.

Wash your yarn well after you dye it. Be careful of your fingers: it's very hot when it leaves the microwave.
Experiment and have fun. Pretty much everything comes out at least sort of interesting.

“Container Yarn” is easier, but it usually takes longer. The simplest version of container yarn is when you take a container, put yarn in it, add water to cover the yarn, and add kool-aid to the water. Zap it for two minutes, let it sit for two, then zap it again (optional). Keep zapping, waiting, until the water is pretty much clear, or until the yarn is as saturated as you want it to be.

But that’s boring.

 Here’s where all the possibilities diverge. I’ll outline some of them.

1. Tie white yarn with rubber bands. Zap as previously outlined. Take off the rubber bands: white and color tie-die yarn!
2. Dye the yarn a solid color, then rubber-band it. Add a different color of dye to the water and zap it some more. Take off the rubber bands: two-color tie-die yarn!
3. Tie white yarn with rubber bands. Zap as previously outlined. Add more rubber bands. Zap in a different color. Take off the rubber bands: yarn with stripes in two different colors!

Et cetera.

Some tips on Container Yarn:

Mix colors! Sometimes they come out really pretty. But, again, beware of the red.

Keep an eye on rubber band placement. Due to the nature of folded yarn, if you want even stripes, you gotta put the end rubber bands a little closer to the ends of the yarn than you think you have to.

You can buy small bright rubber hair bands (ouch?) at the dollar store. That’s what I use. I get smaller stripes that way.

If you’re feeling really weird, you can combine plate and container yarn. Color a yarn via a container method, take off the bands, then pile it on a plate and variegate it. Also, you could variegate a yarn via the plate method and then dye it in a container.

Or you can put hefty rubber bands on (to make sure they don’t pop) and then variegate a yarn using the plate method.

The possibilities really are endless.

If you do try it, I’d love to hear about it.


  1. Great tutorial! I like your jewelry too!

  2. this is really smart idea..waooo

  3. I did this with hemp once! It smelled awesome.

  4. Everyone, thank you for the comments! :D

    Lindsay C.-- yeah, it does with yarn too, although some of my weirder color combinations, like lemonade-jamaica-grape-mango? Not so much.

  5. any chance this would work with bernat baby blanket yarn? i'm starting on the blanket to send to college with my oldest daughter and the colors they offer just won't cut it for her. ;) and although i can't imagine that mine would come out as cool as yours, i'm hoping for something that she will want to keep and pass down.

    1. Acrylics won't dye with kool aid :-( well acrylics aren't dyeable at all. If you want to dye your own yarn you will need yarn that is mostly made from natural fibers. My personal preference for hand dyeing is wool.