Wednesday, February 2, 2011

I don't drink the Kool-aid

I dye with it.  I learned that protein fibers (fibers that come from animals and silkworms) will take up food dyes easily and with the addition of a bit of acid, like vinegar or citric acid (the stuff in Kool-aid) the dye becomes colorfast.  It doesn't work on plant fibers such as cotton, linen, tencel, ramie and nettle nearly as well.  I've tried it on wool before and it's like magic-it works and doesn't wash out.  Depending on the color of yarn you start out with, you can end up with very different color even using the same dye recipe.

About a week ago I started working on disassembling a handknit sweater made with what I believe is handspun alpaca.  There were several colors used in the intarsia patterns but the main color is a sort of grayed lavender.  I skeined up the top front portion (maybe 50 0r 60 yards) and tied it loosely in 4 places with waste yarn so it wouldn't turn into a tangled mess while dyeing.  I then presoaked the skein in warm water.  You can dye it dry, but the effects seem to be very uneven and mottled, and I wanted something more consistent.

I used a packet of cherry Kool-aid to start-I got a saucepan, filled it 2/3 of the way with hot water, and emptied in one unsweetened packet of Kool-aid.  Over medium heat, I stirred the pot until all the powder was dissolved, I added the presoaked and squeezed-so-it-wasn't-wringing-wet alpaca skein and gently stirred it to distribute the color and immerse the yarn.  I turned the heat to simmer and let the dye soak into the yarn, gently stirring it occasionally, paying special attention to the areas that were loosely tied with the waste yarn-I wanted to make sure the color permeated those areas too, sort of the opposite of tie-dyeing where you don't want the dye to get into the parts you tie off.

I pulled the skein out with a wooden spoon when the water in the pot was nearly clear.  I thought the color was too candy colored and wanted a more nuanced tone, so I dug around in my cake decorating supplies and came up with Wilton's food dye.  I added a bit of red and a bit of burgundy to deepen the color.  Before adding the food colors, I mixed them with some hot water and added the mixture to the saucepan, while holding the dripping yarn out of the water.  I was afraid that if I added the color into the pot with the yarn in it I would end up with a few dark spots and that's it (can you tell I've done that before?  because I have).  After stirring in the new color, I also added a glug of white vinegar to set the color.  There may have been enough citiric acid in the Kool-aid to act as a mordant, but I didn't want to take the chance.  Next, I lowered the wet yarn into the new dyebath and gently stirred, letting it soak up the color.  Still not satisified, I added the burgundy in the same manner.

In the end, the alpaca absorbed all the dye, and I was happy with the end result-it always lightens as it drys.  This kind of dyeing is also very safe.  You can use your regular cooling utensils and pots.  This is not the case with other dyes-those should be used with only dedicated equipment, far away from food preparation areas.  Because we ingest food safe dyes, they are safe to use in your kitchen.

So... without further adieu, this part of the garment was used

From this sweater:

To transform into this beautiful rosey-coral yarn.

Here's a closer shot:

and even closer:

I was pleased with the results.  I'm not sure I can replicate the color, even though I wrote down my recipe, because I wasn't at all scientific about the amounts I used, just a third of a tiny spoon of each of the Wilton's food colors.  I love that little spoon, it's got a hand hammered steel curlicue handle.  I used to have 4 of them, but we are now down to just the one.  Where in the heck have the other three spoons gone?  Three non standard sized spoons?  I'd like to think I've at least cleaned the entire house once between the time of their disappearance several years ago and now, but none of the others have ever showed up.  One of those mysteries of parenting that make you believe that The Littles aren't make believe!

1 comment:

  1. Well, I'm incredulous, even though you warned me. This is utterly amazing. You may not have drunk the Kool-Aid, but you may, at some future date, need a cult rescue if I hear that you've locked yourself into your kitchen with assorted Kook-Aid packets and Wilton food colors and are cackling over your concoctions, tending to nothing other than your cauldrons of yarn and vinegar and dyes and Kook-Aid. I think I'm jealous and need a passion like this. Have you applied for a patent?