The Kool-Aid dyeing project

No, this isn’t a re-enactment of that Kool-Aid project. And anyway, Jim Jones apparently used Flavor Aid, which was cheaper or something. Incidentally, the late Shiva Naipaul (VS’s little brother) wrote a fantastic book on that very subject, so please read it if you ever get the chance.

The lovely Gethan came to me with a scheme to buy some Kool Aid off the Internet and create our own multi-coloured yarns. I said:”Umm..OK…” (you don’t say no to Gethan), and off we went to get wool and colours. The next thing we did was wait for a nice sunny day so that we wouldn’t have to work in either of our tiny kitchens. So here it is, a blow-by-blow account of dyeing wool with Kool Aid.

Our process was based on the one outlined in Stitch & Bitch, ed. Debbie Stoller.

We used Jaeger Baby Merino 4-ply in white. The reason we chose 4-ply is because we want to make socks out of the results. Baby Merino was the cheapest wool around at the time. The instructions say that Kool Aid will only work on animal fibres,but the nice lady in the yarn shop was pretty certain that bamboo fibres take the colours pretty well.

The first step was to unwind the wool from the balls and make up hanks. If you dye the wool in balls, it might not make it all the way to the centre, which would leave you with great white splodges all over the place. This might be what you want, though.

Gethan calculated that a row of sock knitting took up about 1m of yarn, so she created a long hank by stringing the wool around two chairs set at about 2m apart.

My project was less calculated than Gethan’s. I decided to to for the random look in complementary shades of blue and green with a splash of contrast here and there. I put my chairs about a metre apart and wound the wool fairly loosely

Wool winding was mildy tedious, but Ceej enjoyed trying to limbo under the wool until she realised that spreading the new fridge’s packaging all over the lawn was lots more fun.

Once the wool had been wound and tied, we soaked it in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes, which was about as long as we both could stand to wait.

When the wool was good and wet, we removed the hank, gently squeezed out the excess water and spread it on some cling film arranged in a circle on the table.

Now for the fun bit. You will need

Lukewarm water

A measuring jug (we used one of my American baking cups. You needs something that can measure out around 8 fl oz or 1 US cup of water)

Lots of lovely Kool Aid sachets

Old jam jars and plastic containers for mixing.

Something to mix with. We used an old plastic spoon.

To make up the dye, add 8 fl oz water to one sachet of Kool Aid. Stir well. If you want to increase the intensity of the colour, add more Kool Aid.

For example, Gethan used two sachets of Mango to one cup of water to create a very intense eggy yellow. I mixed a lemonade with one mango sachet to create a more ummm…lemony hue.

Here are my colours.

  • The yellow one smells of Lemsip and Mango-flavoured Magnums.
  • The blue one smells vaguely strawberryish
  • The green one smells of cherryade. Mr P asserts that it was actually Old School Play Doh in liquid form

Combined together, they whiff like crazy. I couldn’t identify the smell until I took the dyed wool into the bathroom. Bending over the sink, I had a Proustian moment and remembered that it’s exactly like hair relaxing solution. Now that stuff strips everything out of your hair and leaves it poker straight. God only knows what the combined Kool Aids would do to your insides.

Where there is mess, you will find my daughter. Ceej came up with the very bright idea of using a spoon to apply the dye. This helped us control the splodginess to a degree.

We alternated between blue and green splodges. Then I created a huge splodge of yellow on one side. Hopefully this will create random blocks of yellow to lift the background colours a little.

We rolled the clingfilm around the dyed wool to make sure we kept as much of the dye in as possible. Then carefully rolled the hank into a microwave-safe bowl, and stuck the whole thing in the microwave on full power for about four minutes. This fixed the dye in the wool.

We then let the wool cool down until it was warmish, and rinsed it out in lukewarm water.

We tried not to handle the wool too much (agitated wool leads to felting. Not good), and I filled the sink with water before lowering the wool into it. I don’t think running water would do it much good either.

I let it lie there for about 15 minutes or so and then hung it on the line to dry in the sun. I’m sure this was the wrong thing to do, but I live in a flat with a lovely husband and inquisitive toddler, so outside is probably the safest place for the wool to dry.

While my wool was doing its thing, we got on with Gethan’s project. Gethan arranged her wool in a wider, wavier circle, and created blocks of pure colour using double-strength dyes. So for example, her double-strength “rainbow” powder dye came out a lovely British Racing Green (actually, G would probably prefer to call it Irish Racing Green).

Here’s Gethan’s hank after we’d finished spooning on the dye.

By the way, WEAR GLOVES when applying the dye or you’ll have very interesting hands. We wore some lovely Waitrose gloves that were very smooth and not at all icky and difficult to put on like Marigolds.

This is Gethan’s project, drying on the line. Lovely, isn’t it?

We’ve still got a load of pinks and reds left over for the next batch. I’m working on the idea of doing some Rothko-style socks: intense red, intense pink, intense red stripes. My mum would like them anyway.


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