Dyeing with Food Colouring Tutorial

I knit, I sew, I spin, sometimes I even crochet. It was really only a matter of time before I started to dye. Strangely enough, it was the one part of my Textile Art degree that I really disliked. It was messy, time-consuming and frankly, I wasn’t much good at it. Perhaps because I didn’t persevere for long enough.

Recently I have been frustrated that I can’t find the right colours in commercial yarn that I want for my projects. The green isn’t lettuce enough, the blue has too much yellow undertone, or there is always the same  mustardy brown in every variagated colourway of Noro (I dare you to tell me I’m wrong on that one).

I decided to take another look at dyeing. It seemed the only way. Knitty have a good tutorial on dyeing yarn. I adapted this and mixed in some elements from a 1970s handicraft book of my Mum’s to come up with my own recipe for dyeing using food colouring. It is cheap, fun and doesn’t require any special ingredients or equipment.

You will need:

  • Wool yarn (light coloured)
  • Large microwave-safe bowl
  • Jugs for mixing colours
  • Cup measures
  • Colander (optional)
  • Teaspoons
  • White vinegar
  • Food colouring (liquid kind)
  • Water
  • Access to a stainless-steel sink and a microwave*

*You can also do this on the hob, but I’m not sure of the timings.

This recipe dyes about a 50g skein of wool, but you can always adjust the measurements for more.

1. Make the yarn into a skein for easier handling. Use either a niddy-noddy or wind it round the back of a chair. Tie it loosely in four places.

2. Soak the yarn in a mixture half and half of white vinegar and water for a couple of hours, making sure it is completely wet. The vinegar acts as a mordant which keys the yarn to take up the dye.

3. Mix 1 1/2 cups of water with 1/3 cup of vinegar and your food colouring. Depending on the colour intensity required, use up to about a teaspoon. If like me you want to use multiple colours, divide the water and vinegar mix into smaller jugs before adding the colouring.  Test the colour with the corner of a piece of kitchen roll and adjust as you need.

4. Before dyeing, gently squeeze out the yarn and place it into the bowl. If you are using mutliple dyes, arrange it as you see fit.

5. Pour on the colours as you wish. If using only one colour you can turn over the skein a couple of times to ensure even coverage.

6. Microwave on full power for 5 minutes. Allow to cool before repeating for another 5 minutes.

7. After cooling, drain and rinse the yarn in cold water in the sink until the dye is out.

This may take some doing, especially with yellows, it seems…

8. Gently squeeze the excess water in a towel and air dry the yarn flat.

Ta-Da! The finished product. It has been nicknamed ‘Piccalilli’ by my Mum after the violently coloured condiment that my Nan was so fond of making.  Personally I prefer ‘Nasturtium’.

This yarn will go on to be used for knitted brooches and probably some cat toys. I haven’t tried washing any of the yarns that I’ve dyed in the machine as yet, so I can’t tell you how they fare. I probably wouldn’t recommend knitting socks out of it unless you were sure about the washing! The combination of heat and vinegar is meant to make the dye colourfast, but never say never.

I hope you have fun making your own colour combinations or overdyeing those boring wools in your stash to recycle them into something vibrant and new.

P.S. If you are messy like me, you can get the food colouring off your hands (or face) with biological washing powder.


2 responses

  1. Sue

    Great tutorial – I’m glad you went to the trouble of taking pictures as it makes it so much easier to understand. I have just dyed some yarn and I am thrilled with it!!! Thank you!

    27/08/2009 at 7:23 am

  2. ingridnation

    Thanks very much, Sue! What colour did you dye?

    30/08/2009 at 12:33 pm

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