I spend a lot of time messing about with fiber. I used to spin a lot and still have my wheel, just waiting there. I mostly knit these days, but long ago I did a lot of fleece and yarn dyeing. I used natural plant materials (lichen was my favorite for the smell) for dye along with chemical mordants (alum, chrome, iron, to name a few). And I still have a set of acid dyes, which are used with care.
Times have changed and there are some great ways to dye using a crock pot or microwave and non-toxic substances--food grade dyes like Kool-Aid, food coloring, and even Easter Egg Dye.
There is a wonderful article called Turquoise Dreams about the food coloring dye technique I tried out the other day. It can be found on the blog called Maiya Knits, Mayhem Ensues. Please read it for complete instructions, measurements, and timing. I'll just give you the highlights of my own experience here.
Even though it was a pretty hot August day in my kitchen, I enjoyed this first experience of dyeing with food coloring. One advantage of using food grade coloring instead of acid dyes, or even natural dyes requiring chemical mordants, is that regular kitchen tools can be used. When I used acid dyes long ago they had to be used with bowls, pots, and utensils kept separate from our regular cooking utensils.
After reading Maiya's blog, I couldn't wait for my order of white yarn to arrive, so I used a skein of light yellow fingering weight yarn from my stash. The color was Semolina.
Note: Food coloring will dye only natural fibers.
The dyeing process involves a crock pot and a dye solution made from McCormick's Food Coloring in blue and green, with some white vinegar added.
Four of the skeins go into the pot, and the fifth skein is quickly dipped in and immediately removed. After 10 minutes the second skein is removed, the dye is replenished; and this continues with different timings until the last skein is finally removed.
The drained and cooled skeins are gently washed, rinsed, and hung to dry. You can see from the photo below that I tied the skeins too tightly in several places, which gave an unintentional tie-dye effect. Lesson learned! However, the thought of tie-dying yarn is intriguing...
I wish that I had managed to get a greater color difference in the top three skeins, but I had used up all of my tiny bottle of blue food coloring. I hope the color change shows better when the yarn is knitted up.
When I wound the skeins into cakes, I started with a bit of the original Semolina color. I would have liked all the yarn in one cake but it got too big for the ball winder. You might be able to tell from the photo that the outside of the right cake is just a little lighter than the inside of the left cake, so the yarn would be used from the middle of each cake, starting with the lighter one, to make the color gradation go from light to dark.
Next time, I'm going to try some more overdyeing, only this time with Kool-Aid! I'll report back.