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How to Dye Yarn With Food Colouring

I love spinning, and I love dyeing my own yarn and fiber to create unique yarns and garments.

Create something unique!

Create something unique!

Dyeing Yarn With Food Colouring

Using food colours to dye wool is fast, fun, and reasonably inexpensive. It’s a great way to brighten up a dull day and produce unique items. Microwave dyeing is just one of the many techniques used to dye with food colours.

The advantage of using food colouring is that you probably have some in your pantry. If not, it’s readily available at supermarkets and cake decorating stores. Also, food colouring is edible, so you can use your everyday kitchen utensils and pans for dyeing. Other dyes—including acid dyes and some botanical dyes—may be toxic. It’s recommended that you have a set of dedicated dyeing utensils when using these types of dye.

Remember to Use Wool Yarn!

It is important that you use wool or a blend with a high proportion of wool. Wool is a protein fibre and will take up the colour well. Plant fibres such as cotton and linen require different dyes and techniques to obtain effective results. Man-made fibres will also react differently to wool, although fibre with some nylon or acrylic can be used.

I have dyed both roving (tops) and spun yarn with food colours. If you're using spun yarn, it's best to wind it into a skein to ensure good contact with the dye. I enjoy dyeing roving prior to spinning it into yarn to create unique colour effects.

What you'll need.

What you'll need.

What You’ll Need (And Why)

  • White vinegar: Vinegar is mildly acidic and helps the dye bind to the wool fibres.
  • Food colours: I prefer to use Wilton’s food colouring when possible. They are in a concentrated gel form, and there is a good range of colours. Other brands of food colours can be used, but you may need to use them in greater quantities.
  • Containers: These are to mix the dyes in. I keep my empty dishwashing liquid bottles for dyeing, but disposable cups or empty glass jars are also great.
  • Gloves: These prevent your hands from being stained.
  • A clear work area: If you're working in your kitchen, it’s a good idea to cover the surface with plastic to protect it from staining.
  • Plastic wrap: Food-grade wrap is suitable.
  • A microwave oven
  • Two plates
  • A bowl
  • A salad spinner (optional)

Step 1: Soak Yarn and Mix Dye

  1. Fill a bowl or other container with sufficient water to cover your wool. Add two tablespoons of vinegar and place the wool in the bowl to soak for 30 minutes.
  2. While you’re waiting, mix up your dye colours, place a small amount (1/4 teaspoon if using gel colours) in a disposable or non-porous container. Add hot water and mix thoroughly, then add hot or cold water to make up to about 100 ml. I like to use several colours, but you may prefer to use one or more.
  3. Lift the wool gently from the bowl. If you have a salad spinner, you can place your wool in this and spin it to remove excess moisture. Otherwise, simply squeeze the wool (gently).
  4. Lay out a sheet of plastic food wrap sufficient in size for you to place your wool and wrap it fully once the dye has been added.
Soak your yarn or roving in water with a splash of white vinegar.

Soak your yarn or roving in water with a splash of white vinegar.

Step 2: Apply the Dye Solution

  1. Place your wool on the plastic wrap and apply the dye solution.
  2. Different effects can be achieved by how you choose to apply the dye. For example, if you are using one colour, you could apply this evenly to the wool. Alternatively, you can achieve variations by adding the dye only to some parts of the wool. If you're using more than one colour, you may like to keep them separate, leaving white sections between. Or you can apply the colours close together so they bleed into each other and create additional shades and colour variations.
  3. Check the underside of the wool to ensure the dye has penetrated through. You can work the wool gently with your gloved fingers to mix the colours or to ensure it has soaked through.
  4. Wrap your wool like a sausage in the food wrap by first folding the ends over, then rolling it up and smoothing the food wrap so the wool is sealed inside.
Roving ready to be dyed

Roving ready to be dyed

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Roving after dye has been applied and squished gently to blend colours

Roving after dye has been applied and squished gently to blend colours

Step 3: 'Set' the Dye

  1. Place the ‘sausage’ on a microwave-proof plate, curling it. Pop it in the microwave for two minutes, or the time it would take for your microwave to heat a cup of water.
  2. When the timer sounds, remove the plate and your wool. Hold a second plate above the wool and gently flip so your wool ends up on the second plate.
  3. Return it to the microwave and set the timer for a further two minutes.
  4. When the timer sounds, remove the plate from the microwave. Leave the wool on the plate to cool naturally.
Yarn being wrapped

Yarn being wrapped

Wrapped and ready for the microwave

Wrapped and ready for the microwave

Step 4: See the Results!

Congratulations on completing your first food colour dye. Once you have mastered the technique, experiment with colours and methods of applying the dye to achieve different effects.

I used loads of pink and orange on the yarn—ready to be knitted into fun slippers for my youngest granddaughter. For the roving, I used brown and violet, leaving white spaces for a muted colour which will spin up into a variegated yarn. It could become a scarf or a beanie.

Completed yarn and roving

Completed yarn and roving

© 2021 Nan Hewitt


Nan Hewitt (author) from Albany, Western Australia on March 09, 2021:

I'm sure you'll get some lovely colors. I haven't tried Kool Ade - I may have to experiment with it.

Faythe Payne from USA on March 09, 2021:

I will have to try it..I have dyed yarn with kool ade..I think you will have more color choices with food color.