Dyeing Yarn With Tang and Jell-O

Reader Contribution by Sarah Hart Boone
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 I had a lot of fun dyeing Easter eggs this year with my family. We used a bunch of different materials and experimented to see what worked and what failed. The problem is that the eggs were destined for the garbage can after getting cracked and kicked around and left unrefrigerated for a few days. This year, while mixing up different dyes with my children and longing for a less temporary product, I remembered how it is also fun to dye yarn using experimental materials. Natural materials like herbs and barks and roots can produce gorgeous subtle yarn colors. Unfortunately you need a lot of advance preparation for this. I decided with the Easter egg dyeing materials and enthusiasm still at hand us we did not want to wait a few weeks to continue our dyeing experiments and would resort to materials we had on hand and try the natural technique another day. 

There are lots of detailed tutorials out on the internet explaining how easy it is to dye yarn with Kool Aid. I do not have any Kool Aid in my house so I decided to improvise. The process was quick and easy and the results are stunning. I plan on trying this again with lots more ingredients.

  • Yarn – cotton or wool
  • Vinegar
  • Tang, Jell-O, gel food color, anything else you want to try
  • Small mason jars
  • Crock pot or stove top and large pan

Unwind your yarn from the ball and make a large loop of yarn. Tie in in 4 spots with a loose loop of yarn. This makes it manageable for dying and prevents tangling. I do not use an entire ball of yarn but made a skein of yarn using around 10 yards. Soak your yarn in lukewarm water with a ½ cup of vinegar stirred in overnight (for the perfectionist) or for an hour or less (for the hasty and impatient.)

Meanwhile, prepare your dye cups. Take small mason jars and fill them ¾ up with hot water. Then add different experimental ingredients to each jar. Use a few tablespoons of the Tang and Jell-O, aiming for a color that is darker than what you intend for the finished product. Use a few squirts of food coloring gel for that jar. Mix well.

The three jars go into the crock pot. Divide the yarn skein between the them. Use a spoon to force the yarn into the dye bath in each jar. Surround the jars with a few inches of very hot water. Get the water to a boil and then let it simmer for an hour with the yarn in the jars. Use a paintbrush to cover up the white parts that stick out between the jars.

After an hour, take the yarn out and rinse it carefully. If you are using wool yarn, bear in mind that heat and agitation is not good for wool. (Think about what happens when you wash and dry a wool item and it felts up.) So be extra gentle with wool. Cotton can actually be reboiled in clear water to really make sure the dye is washed out. Hang your yarn up to dry out of direct sun and it will be ready to use in no time.

Photos by Sarah Hart Boone

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