Another Kool-aid Experiment

A word of warning: This blog post it long. It is as much for my own benefit as it is for the readers, to document what on earth I did for future attempts at dyeing.

Inspiration

First off, a somewhat silly confession: I have been fantasying about dyeing my own yarn with Kool-aid since I was about 16 and barely knew how to cast-on for knitting. I saw an article on Knitty about Kool-aid dyeing and thought it was about the coolest thing ever. I even had a few fleeting thoughts about selling this fantasy yarn to make a living. Now I know that probably won't work out... but I can still enjoy dyeing up some yarn for myself, can't I?

 I recently made my very first trip to a local yarn shop; I wasn't planning on buying anything-- that $20+ yarn is gorgeous, yes, but slightly out of my price range at the moment. Instead, I gathered ideas about how I could replicate the colors myself with some $6.50 yarn and a couple packets of Kool-aid. After all, I find the idea of creating pretty colors more appealing than just buying pretty colors.

During my visit, I spent quite a bit of time admiring the Malabrigo Sock yarn, so I had to name any one source of inspiration, I suppose that would be it. I loved the layered, multi-faceted look of their yarns, especially the deep purples (Which could just be because purple is my favorite color).

Preparations

I used Lion Brand Sock-ease in Marshmallow for my base yarn. There are two reasons for this. One, it comes in 438 yard skeins, so I would have to deal with two different hanks of yarn in my dye bath like last time. Two, it ended up be cheaper than the Red Heart Heart and Sole I used before. I actually got two skeins of Sock-ease, one of which I'm saving to dye another day.

It's Big Box store yarn, so naturally it was in a center-pull skein. I wound it into a hank using the tried-and-true chair method, but next time I need to make the skein slightly larger. I even secured the hank with some fancy figure-eight ties to give the yarn a bit more breathing room, since last time I ended up with white spots where my ties were too tight.

Also, something I learned from last time... I made sure to use a clear bowl! Last time, I used a purple bowl, which made it impossible to see if my rinse water was running clear (this becomes rather important later on in my post).

I ended up using three different colors of Kool-aid: Two packet of Black Cherry, three packets of Mixed Berry, and three packets of Grape. I wasn't planning on using more than two packets each, but I had to add more dye to compensate for a little mishap (which is why my picture only shows two of each!).

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Note: My camera did not capture the color very well, especially the redder parts. The photos look murky grey, but it isn't.

Initial Dye Bath

My intention for this yarn was to get a "glazed", layered look by adding just one or two packets of dye to the yarn and then letting the dye absorb and set before adding another round of dye. However, for my iinitial dye bath, I added the yarn after I added the dye to the bath: one packet of Black Cherry and one packet of Mixed Berry.

I didn't presoak the yarns, so it didn't really appreciate my attempts to drown it in the dye bath. By the time I got everything submerged, all of the dye was exhausted. Granted, two packets makes for a very weak dye solution (but isn't the result gorgeous... I was tempted to stop dyeing right here).

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Second Pass

My research had told me that this method of dyeing worked best if the yarn is heated so that the dyes set in between passes through the dye bath. Once I had set the dye, I drained the water out and sprinkled one packet of Grape onto the yarn, making sure to get any spots that didn't have any color to it. Because the initial bath was so weak, that made for quite a bit of white spots. As I sprinkled, I added more water to help distribute the dye. Once the packet was empty, the yarn went back into the microwave to cook.

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Third Pass... and an oopsie

I really liked the colors of the iinitial dye bath, so I went with one packet each Black Cherry and Mixed Berry once again. Except there was problem... I added the packets individually, sprinkling it over the whitest spots instead of premixing the two together. So I ended up with some rather unseemly splotches of bright red and blue. Lesson learned: premix the dye bath in a separate bowl and pour that over the yarn.

See all of those bright colored patches? Pretty, I suppose, but I was aiming for subtle... bright blue and red splotches don't quite cut it. Unfortunately, no amount of over-dyeing will completely get rid of them.

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Fourth Pass

I initally going to do just another packet of Grape, but since my little oops left a bit too much red for my liking, I premixed one packet of Grape and half a packet of Mixed Berry in hopes of balancing it out (see... premixing, I do learn from my mistakes!).

It darkened the base enough so that the blue and red patches aren't screaming at us anymore, so I cooked the yarn and moved on.

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The Almost-Final Pass

This probably wasn't necessary, but I felt bad wasting any of the dye. I mixed up the other half packet of Mixed berry, along with whatever remained in the packets I had already used. I added a little water into the packets to get the extra dye stuck to the inside and poured that into my mix. After that, I cooked my yarn half to death (I was almost afraid I was going to burn it I cooked it so long) because I had used quite a bit of dye at that point and I wanted to make sure it set.

I thought I was done at this point, so I rinsed my yarn and started to dry it. Once it was laid out, I was able to spot some very pale parts that I didn't really like, so I tossed it back in for another round of dyeing.

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The Really-Final Pass

At this point, I had exactly one packet of Grape left, so that's what went into the dye bath. The yarn was dry enough that it fought me when I tried to submerge it again. I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I dye, because I might get an even more layered effect. With no more dye left, I cooked the yarn once more and started the finishing process again.

Something interesting happened this time around when I rinsed it... the colors ran. Quite badly, actually. I'm not sure if I didn't cook the yarn long enough during my final pass, because I ended up with quite a bit of blue-violet dye in the rinse water. This is a cup of the water after a few rinses... a little disappointing. Blue dye takes longer to set than others, I guess it never occurred to me that it applied to Kool-aid as well.

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The End Result

If you have beared with me long enough to get to this point (or you simply skipped down to see the final photos): congratulations, it's time to see the fnished yarn!

There are still spots where the bright red and blue show up uninvited, but it's still lovely. Actually, I've already started knitting with it, and the reds and blues play into the fabric beautifully. What I wanted? Not quite, but it certainly works for me!

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And what will I do with my new yarn... well, I've been itching to make another shawl, too. Earlier this week, I had made a Age of Brass and Steam in worsted weight acrylic to tide me over, but that didn't go as planned (as in, I'm tempted to send it off to the frog pond). So as a bit of a consolation, I cast-on for an Orchid Thief as soon as my new yarn was dried and wound into a ball. Amusingly, Orchid Thief calls for Malabrigo Sock... the very yarn I was attempting to replicate. How well did I succeed? I'm not entirely sure, but I love my newest hand-dyed yarn.

I still have one more skein of Sock-ease... Hm, what to do with that?

Posted by Aimee on
I love how this turned out! Despite all the work and a few mishaps, I think it looks gorgeous! And the project you picked for it is perfect.
Posted by Patty on
The skein looks lovely. Can't wait to see the finished shawl.
ps: I don't think the blog is too long. This is quite a process & you explained it thoroughly.
Posted by Justine on
I've done Kool-aid dyeing and I want to do more only I know I'll want to immediately knit the yarn! So I have to wait until I'm ready to use it.

How long did you microwave the yarn for?
Posted by Alyssa on
@Justine:
Most sources say that the dyes set at 190F. I don't have any way to test the temperature of my water, but I've read that three to four minutes on high will do the trick... I might consider going a little longer next time since my blue ran so badly. You just don't want to overcook or burn the yarn. If the water is boiling, it's too hot.
I know it's hard to wait! I actually set up a floor fan to help speed up the drying process so I can get knitting as soon as possible!
Posted by Dave Burrows on
Blues & greens dyes fix better with a lower pH (more acetic). I aim for a pH of 3.5 for the cool colors, and 4.5 for the warm ones. You'll find they rinse as clear as the reds even the first rinse. Litmus paper strips in little packs about the size of a book of matches can be had for very little on eBay.
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