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Easy Way to Hand Paint Yarn with Kool-Aid, Not Just for Wool!

Editor's Note: This post was updated on July 11th.

How to Hand Paint Yarn with Kool-Aid | Lion Brand Notebook

Have you ever come across a yarn that you loved the feel and gauge of but couldn't find the color that you wanted? Well, being the savvy crafter you are you don't have to let that stop you! I found myself in a similar predicament shortly after I started working at Lion Brand. The smooth softness of the Casey yarn made me melt but it only comes in confetti colors suited for baby items. Since I rarely make baby projects, I tried to put the yarn out of my mind. But occasionally I would be digging through the yarn closets in the office and my fingers would brush a skein of Casey yarn and I would fall in love again. Then it hit me, I could dye it to make it fit my needs!

Yarn dyeing can seem like a daunting project but it doesn't have to be! There is very simple way to dye yarn using Kool-Aid. Kool-Aid is easy to get and you won't have to deal with harsh chemicals--it essentially works as an acid dye and it's food-safe.

Since this was my first time dyeing with Kool-Aid, I looked up tutorials online. All of the tutorials that I found on dyeing yarn with Kool-Aid only referred to wool yarn. But did you know that it is actually possible to dye any natural protein (animal) fiber and even nylon? Here are some useful facts about dyeing yarn with Kool-Aid:

  • Kool-Aid will work for use as a dye on any protein fiber such as wool, silk, mohair, alpaca, and camel hair. It will also work on nylon which is a synthetic protein fiber.
  • Since Kool-Aid is an acid-based dye it won't work on plant fibers such as cotton and bamboo. Other natural and commercial dyes will work, but these fibers will need to be prepared differently. Jenny Dean's Wild Color is a great resource for this information, as is this online article from Knitty.com.
  • If you are not sure about how a certain yarn will take dye you can (and it is strongly recommended that you do)  test a small portion of it. As long as your dye to yarn ratio is the same you will get the same outcome with a full skein.
  • Synthetic/natural fiber blends (as long as the majority of the percentage is a natural fiber or nylon) can be dyed. Only then natural or nylon fibers will take the dye so you might end up with a mottled effect or a more pastel color.  You will see this in the experiment that I did. Since Casey is a 60% rayon from bamboo/40% nylon blend, only the nylon fibers took the red dye and the yarn came out looking pink.
  • You can dye yarn that has previously been dyed as long as it is a light color. Once again, you can see this with my project. The yarn already had flecks of blue which accepted the dye (creating a darker indigo), and the blue did not run.

Important Note: Check the care instructions for your yarn before starting to make sure it can be set. Certain yarns cannot be subjected to high temperatures or they will melt.

Now that you've gotten the basics, let's dye some yarn!

How to Hand Paint Yarn with Kool-Aid | Lion Brand Notebook

I'm pretty pleased with my first attempt at Kool-Aid dyeiing, and I hope you'll share some of your dyeing experiments with us in the comments!

  • Regula Bartholdi

    Very usefull, indeed. Thanks for sharing! I'll try it out. So good that I am coming to the US where I can buy the Kool-Aid. :-)

  • Jill @ Being Spiffy

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing this!

  • Judith

    You might want to try a vinegar and salt rinse before washing. It should help set the color and help with less "bleeding of color" when you wash it.

  • fiberfondler

    What do you use to "set" the koolaid dye? and how do I wash it after with out the colors running?

  • ballewal

    Having dyed before, I was under the impression that it was nylon that reacted like animal fibers and took acid dyes whereas rayon from bamboo would need a procion dye (like used for cotton).

  • Sherry W

    How much hot water should you use to mix the Kool-Aid?

  • fiberfondler

    Should I wash it in Warm or Cool Water? Do you rinse the soap out after 1st wash? How do you keep it from getting tangled?

  • CheezePoof

    For those who don't have Kool-Aid - ANY food coloring will work on wool (or part-wool - I've never tried Rayon or Cotton - was under the impression it wouldn't work). Just add a small amount of vinegar (the Kool-Aid has Citric Acid, which serves the same purpose) and use heat to set (just like in this tutorial). It's Tons Of Fun!

  • Kevin Wilson

    My experience is that cotton does not take Kool Aid (or other food-coloring based) dyes well - it just washes out. That's why I use it or acrylic for ties on wool skeins, it makes them easy to find again.

  • Deborah Hale

    I have a huge collection of bedspread cotton, will the mercerizing affect my ability to dye? I'm too afraid I'll go through all the work and hate the result!

  • LK

    It is hard to believe that the orange and yellow kool aid you used above came out with the pink white and blue of your knitted sample. I guess you only dyed about 2/3 of the hank of yarn leaving the rest for contrast. Is this correct?

  • Deborah KirkBiden Meyer Engle

    Always use vinegar to set the color, same as you do for Easter eggs. In fact every cloth, yarn, & fabric you buy (including all new clothes) should be washed in cold water with a half cup of vinegar for two reasons. One, it sets the colors. Two, it gets rid of all the chemicals used to preserve the fibers. Most companies dip everything in formaldehyde before storing to prevent molding & to deter moths.

  • concerned dyer

    Your article is full of incorrect information. Cellulose fibers require fiber reactive dyes which this is not. It is an acid dye because the citric acid in the koolaide makes it adhere to the fiber. Acid dyes are for protein based fibers and nylon. Wool is a protein fiber btw, you can dye it with koolaide. The nylon in your yarn is what took the dye, not the bamboo. If you try to dye cellulose fiber with koolaide, all you are doing is staining it. It's going to wash out later. I feel very bad for your readers who try this based on your instructions that it doesn't work with wool or nylon.

  • Patr

    Ohh dear, live in England and no Kool-Aid

  • Wool Dyer

    Please people; don't go out and buy Kool Aid and try to dye 100% cotton yarn or rayon. It will all wash out. This article is wrong. The only reason the author's yarn was dyed was because fo the nylon content. I regularly dye yarn and the only dye that will dye cotton and rayon is fiber-reactive dye (think tie-dye). Kool-Aid (an acid dye) will dye nylon, silk and wool. It will not dye cotton, linen or rayon. If you try it, it might look like it's working, but it will all wash out when you rinse the yarn.

  • LoveToDye

    There is a group on Ravelry called "What a Kool way to Dye" which is full of helpful, accurate information regarding Kool-aid dyeing. Here's a link:
    You might have to have a Ravelry account to see the group, I'm not sure. But it's free, and very helpful!

  • Vaughnde Edwards

    You need to do more research! Cotton will NOT take Koolaid dye. You need to dye Cotton or Bamboo with dyes like Tie Dye Kits or Dylon. The Nylon content will DYE with Koolaid and so will Wool, Alpaca Fibers, and other Natural Fibers. Cotton will stain with the koolaid but comes out of your washcloth or yarn in the washing machine. You need to check in with Ravelry with more of the experienced Dyers.

  • KA

    The article has been partly corrected but now contradicts itself a little. While yes, nylon can be dyed and many people only think of sheep's wool when they think of "wool" yarn, the title of the article is a very broad statement that implies more than it should.

    More importantly, there is still a line that says "ANY natural fibre" (not true), "and even synthetic blends" (only one kind of synthetic, and again, this implies a lot more than it should.

    Your last bullet-point on over-dyeing is rather confusing and seems to be making two different points in one. The first half of the statement says you can dye yarn that has been previously dyed if it is a light colour. This is true, dye-able protein fibre of any colour can be over-dyed to create a new colour, a darker shade, tonal of variegated varieties, based on normal colour theory. However, the second half of your statement refers to something entirely different. Here you refer to the blue flecks in your yarn remaining blue. This is because the blue are non-dye able fibres, it has nothing to do with their colour, these fibres just won't pick up anything. If the blue flecks were any variety of wool, or were part of the nylon content, your red over-dye would have turned them purple.

    Finally, there's your statement that one could make "a simple gradient like I did" but your photos do not show a gradient of any kind. There is some mottling and variegation due to uneven application of the dye and blended fibre content, but there is no gradient and no evidence that a gradient was attempted.

    All in all, this was, and still is, a very poorly researched and written article.

  • KA

    For those truly interested in Kool-aid dying with Lion Brand products, the best starting point is the traditional Fisherman's wool. The Baby Wool would probably be an excelent starter yarn for over-dyeing, but I personally have not seen it in stores, so I can't say for certain, likewise the Superwash Merino, Angora, Alpaca, Cashmere, and Martha's Merino and Roving should all be successful candidates.

  • ballewal

    Thanks for the corrections!

  • Linda Conlon

    gosh....everybody gets so pissy in their remarks.....it's just fun....lighten up!!!! i've dyed my hair with koolaid too....if it doesn't work.....you're out what.....$3-5???

  • Jacquie

    what is the shrinkage rate when steaming wool for 30-45 minutes?

  • De

    Several people apparently didn't read this article closely. The article said: Since Kool-Aid is an acid-based dye it won’t work on plant fibers such as cotton and bamboo. Other natural and commercial dyes will work, but
    these fibers will need to be prepared differently.

    It won't work on cotton. She is clear. And the author also posts the yarns it will work on.