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by Kristi Porter

I must confess to a feeling of postmodern nostalgia for what-never-was tinged with some sort of tweenage pop-icon fandom when I scoured the city's grocery stores in search of the elusive lemon-lime. I felt sheepish as a paid for my 16 gaily colored packets. And I felt giddy when I added water and the bright colors and fruity smells issued forth.

But I wasn't making Kool-Aid for myself or even the kids to drink. It was for my yarn. You see, Kool-Aid is an easy, fabulous and fun way to create your own hand-dyed yarn.

Since powdered drink mixes are readily available and reasonably non-toxic, it makes a great entrée into the world of fiber dyeing in your own kitchen. No specialized equipment is needed. I will, however, offer a few words of caution. First, avoid inhaling the powder; that wouldn't be good for you. Second - perhaps obvious since you are dyeing things - it stains! Avoid getting it on clothes and wear rubber gloves if you don't want your hands to evidence your work for a couple of days. A little bleach or baking soda should take care of your work surface, though spreading out a garbage bag before you begin is not a bad idea.

What fibers to use:
Kool-Aid dyeing works only on animal fibers: wool, mohair, alpaca -- even human hair! It doesn't work on cotton or synthetics, though, so use pure wool yarn for best results. Blended yarns containing a high percentage of wool do work, but the non-animal part of the yarn won't take the dye and you won't get very saturated colors. You can use this to your advantage: a cotton-wrapped wool boucle will come out colored with a white wrap. You need not use only uncolored yarns, either. Start with a natural tweed or over-dye a pastel. You can also dye rovings to great effect with this method. Just card and spin a few colors together once they're dry. You'll feel like an artist in no time!

What you'll need:

Wool yarn tied loosely in skeins so dye can penetrate
1 package of unsweetened drink mix per ounce of yarn
[for saturated colors]
Large pot or microwave-safe dish

Optional equipment for variegated or hand-painted yarns:
steamer basket for pot
plastic cups
large syringe or turkey baster

What to do:
To get your yarn ready, wash it lightly in mild soap and then let it soak in the sink as you continue your preparations. You don't need to add vinegar as you would with other dyeing techniques because Kool-Aid is very acidic!

If you want your yarn dyed a single color, either straight from the package or using your own special blend of flavors, empty your packages of of drink mix [important: use no sugar!] into your pot or microwave-safe dish with some water. Stir to dissolve. Add your yarn and enough water to cover it. The amount of water doesn't matter; the ratio of dye to yarn does. Use less Kool-Aid for lighter colors, more for darker colors.

There are two basic methods of setting the dye: stovetop or microwave. For the stovetop, heat the yarn-filled pot to nearly boiling. Turn it off and let it sit, covered, for at least half an hour, stirring a few times. If you prefer the microwave, zap your yarn-filled dish for two minutes. Let the yarn rest for a few minutes, then zap it again for another two minutes. With either method, you'll know your yarn is ready if the water is mostly clear. [This means the yarn should have absorbed all the dye.] If it's not, you might want to heat it again. Let it cool.

When the yarn has cooled, rinse it thoroughly in water the same temperature as the yarn [shocking wool with cold water could cause it to felt]. Wash the yarn in mild soap, rinse again and hang to dry.

Hand-Painting:
Hand painting your yarn is as easy as finger-painting and at least as much fun! Prepare your skeins as you did for the basic method above. Then lay them out flat on a plastic bag.

Choose the colors you want to use yarn and mix each one in a plastic cup with a few tablespoons of water per package. You still want to use roughly one package of Kool-Aid per ounce of yarn. You can use as few as two colors or as many as twelve, but you will want to be careful about contrasting colors running into one another unless dirty brown is part of your aesthetic vision.

Suck up some of your beverage mix with a turkey baster or syringe and squirt it carefully onto the yarn. If a variegated yarn is what you are after, imagine your skein to be a pie and apply the dye in wedges, or stretch it out lengthwise and apply the dye in stripes. Rinse the baster/syringe between colors to prevent unwanted mixing. If a more subtle, mottled color effect is what you want, pour or squirt the various colors as the spirit moves you.

Depending on how big your skeins are, you might need to turn them over carefully and dye them on the back side, too. Then, with plastic gloves or baggies on your hands, gently press on the yarn to move the dye through all the layers. Keep an eye out for white spots, particularly where the skein is tied.

Now gently pick up your skein and place it in the microwave dish or steamer basket. Microwave as above or steam for 30-45 minutes over hot water (you can turn the burner off and just let it sit, covered, after it's good and steamy). Cool and wash your yarn.

top row [L to R]:
strawberry
changin' cherry
pink lemonade
mandarina tangerina
strawberry starfruit
lemonade
lemon lime
tropical punch
bottom row:
blue moon berry
grape illusion
switchin' secret
black cherry
slammin' strawberry kiwi
blastin' berry cherry
orange
ice blue raspberry lemonade
cherry
grape

Rest assured, your finished products will be washable. Follow the directions for the yarn you've used. If you've washed the yarn thoroughly after dyeing it, you don't have to worry about the colors bleeding in the wash. Just give them the care you would any hand-knit item. Some fading may occur over time, particularly if they are exposed to a lot of sunlight. Though the fruity smell will fade, the bright colors will last for years!

 

Story and images 2002 Kristi Porter
Kool-Aid name, packaging and logos © KF Holdings. You knew that, though.