I love this process because it uses kiddo safe ingredients. Everything is non-toxic and you can use your kitchen tools to do it. Plus it's the totally lazy way to dye yarn. Just like with slow cooking food, you set it up and forget about it for a few hours.
- Yarn made from at least 50% animal fiber like wool, alpaca, etc.
- Waste yarn (yarn scraps not made from protein fiber. Cotton or acrylic are great)
- Food coloring (I like Wilton's food coloring paste)
- Vinegar (use the cheapest white vinegar you can find)
- Slow Cooker
- Salad spinner
- Gloves (if you don't like having blue hands)
- Crockpot liner (if you don't like having a blue crockpot)
- Disposable silverware for handling and stirring the dye.
Important Things Before We Start:
What kind of yarn this is going to work with?
This process will only work on protein-based fibers....meaning a fiber that came from an animal. Wool, alpaca, silk, etc. This process will not work with plant-based fibers like cotton, flax, bamboo, etc.
It can be a mixed fiber (the yarn in my photos is a 75% wool, 25% nylon blend) but it needs to be at least 50% protein fiber.
What kind of food coloring should you use?
It's important to note that for dying yarn, you really should use synthetic food dye (as in, NOT veggie-based natural food dyes). I use Wilton's food coloring paste because it is concentrated and not watered down (plus it comes in dozens of colors). If you're switching to natural food colors in your pantry, this is a great way to use up the synthetics you have had on hand but don't want to put in your food.
Some other important things to know about working with yarn...
You have to be nice to your yarn to get it to behave ("behave" meaning not end up in a wadded up, felty mess). Three things make yarn felt:
- Temperature Shock (going from very hot to very cold quickly and vice versa)
Let's get started!
Step 1: Tie the Yarn
My yarn came conveniently wrapped in a big circle called a hank. If your yarn came in ball or skein, you'll want to get it into a hank by wrapping it around the back of a chair or the end of your table. Got your hank of yarn ready? Great! Lay it out in on the table and grab your waste yarn.
We want to secure the yarn in 4 different spots around the circle using the waste yarn (the pink yarn in the pics) to help keep it from getting tangled while messing with it. You want to tie it loosely so that all the dye can still get under it. Like so:
Step 2: Pre-Treat
Now that the yarn has been tangle-proofed we need to pre-treat our yarn with an acid (vinegar) to help the color stick. Pour about 2/3 cup of white vinegar and 8 cups of warm (but not hot) water into a large bowl. Place your yarn on top of the water and push it straight down. Hold it down until the yarn has been saturated enough to stay under the water. Let your yarn sit in the vinegar water for at least 30 minutes.
Step 3: Set Up Slow Cooker
While the yarn is soaking, you can get your slow cooker and dye solution prepped. Set up the liner in your slow cooker if you're going to use one. Scoop out some food color paste (about a knife tip full) and stir it into about 4 cups of warm water in the bottom of the slow cooker. Use more or less color depending on how dark you want the yarn. And remember....you can always add more dye later if you want your yarn to be darker.
For this batch of yarn, I'm using "violet:" Wilton's food color paste. The purple dye splits up a bit when you're dyeing and make some areas more blue and some more purple. I like that. Their other colors don't split as badly and will give a more uniform result.
Once your yarn is done soaking in the vinegar water, pick it up out of the vinegar solution and lay it in the bottom of your slow cooker. Don't worry about wringing it out or messing with it....just pick it up out of the bowl and move it over. Add more warm water until there is enough pretty dye water in the slow cooker to cover the yarn
This is what is will look like once the dye is exhausted:
Once the dye is exhausted, you can decide if you want to add more dye to make it darker or alter the shade. If you want to add more dye, take the yarn out of the slow cooker and put it on a plate or in a bowl. Mix more food coloring (you could even get adventurous and use a different color!) into the water and return the yarn to the slow cooker. Let it cook until the dye has been exhausted again.
Step 5: Drain & Rinse
Once you are happy with the color of your yarn, remove the yarn from the crockpot and place it in a colander in the sink. Allow it to sit in the sink to drain and cool off for about 15 minutes (or longer). If you have something to do, go do it and come back once you have about 10 more minutes to mess with it.
Depending on how long your yarn sat before you came back to it, it may still be warm or it may be rather cool. Before you rinse your yarn, it's very important to touch it and see how warm it is (remember, temperature shock = felted yarn). Run some water from your tap and get the water to match the approximate temperature of your yarn. Once the water temperature matches, run the water over the yarn to rinse out any excess dye that may be lurking. Keep rinsing until the water running out the bottom of the colander is clear.