I have purchased many skeins of rainbow colored yarn for my children. They’ve used it for their knitting projects like the purse my daughter made (below) and we often use it to wrap up gifts or watercolor journals. As a follow up to my recent post on dyeing, I wanted to give a “dye rainbow yarn with food color and microwave” tutorial. It’s an easy and quick way to keep rainbow yarn on hand. As a note, I am using WOOL yarn. This method however will also work for other natural fibers–including wool fleece or roving.
The first step is to prepare your undyed yarn. Some yarn is prewashed and ready to dye. Other yarn is often oily or treated (with chemicals, etc) that will often hinder the dyeing process. If you are unsure, the safest route is to scour your yarn–which is really easy. I like to use “Kookaburra” wool scouring soap because it all natural and plant-based. (without phosphates, peroxides, etc) If you don’t have wool scouring soap, just use a small amount of liquid dishwashing soap or shampoo with a touch of vinegar. Remember that heat and agitation felts wool! In the soaking and rinsing process, never run water directly onto the wool and fill your bucket with tepid water (with soapy to scour or with clear to rinse) before placing your fiber gently in.
The second step is to soak your yarn in a vinegar solution. Again, prepare your water/vinegar solution in your bucket first and then add the wool. I use one part white vinegar to 3 parts water–which is pretty strong. (I save my vinegar solution to use in my next dyeing session) Make sure that all of your yarn is completely submerged in the vinegar solution and soak for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, carefully lift out your yarn to drain–a colander works well.
The third step is to prepare your dye. Using food coloring is great because it’s safe to do in your kitchen. One of the drawbacks of food coloring (to me) though is that the colors are often bright. (I need to experiment more with mixing colors to tone them down) For one skein of rainbow yarn, you only need about 1/3 cup of each color dye. (red, blue, yellow and green) I used 1/4 teaspoon of food coloring to 1/3 cup water, but you can experiment and make your colors as dark or light as you want. I’ve found that a good way to test your color is to put a small amount on a piece of paper towel.
The fourth step is to prepare a bowl or tray to dye in. I use a large aluminum bowl (2 feet in diameter) with a small (6 inch diameter) overturned bowl in the middle. I place a small plastic garbage bag over both to create a circular well. I lay the skein of undyed wool directly into the well.
The fifth step is dyeing! With gloved hands, pour a small amount over a small section–3 or 4 inches of your skein. Gently massage the dye into the yarn making sure that all of the yarn is saturated. Use as little dye as possible. If you have saturated your yarn and there’s still some color pooled in the bowl, mop it up with a paper towel to prevent the dye from going to a place where you don’t want it.
Next add yellow starting from about two inches from your red. Use the same process of massaging in the color–making the yellow section almost twice as big as the red. The yellow should eventually start bleeding into the red–creating orange. You can help it along by starting to massage the red and yellow together.
You can use the same process to try to get a green (by merging the yellow and blue), but since there is a green in the Wilton food coloring set, I used green as my color next to the yellow. Blue was my last color before I started going backwards–to green–to yellow–and ending back up with red.
The sixth step is to prepare for the microwave. Again, always stopping to check that there’s not excess dye pooling in the bottom, carefully take the plastic bag off the edge of your bowl and fold onto the top of the yarn to cover. Carefully remove from the bowl and place in your microwave. Although I’m using food color which is safe to use in the kitchen, I have a thrift store-purchased microwave that I use exclusively for dyeing.
The seventh step is to start the microwave! Microwave your yarn for two minutes and then let it rest for two minutes. Microwave again for two minutes. Do not touch for at least ten to fifteen minutes or until cool enough to gently remove from the microwave and cool completely.
The last step is to submerge the completely cooled yarn in clear, tepid water to rinse. Gently squeeze out excess water and hang to dry.
I hope that you can use this “dye rainbow yarn with food color and microwave” tutorial. Enjoy your beautiful rainbow yarn!