Thursday, November 09, 2006

Wilton's icing gel dyeing tutorial

I’m sharing here today a method for dyeing yarn in your microwave using Wilton's icing gels. The tutorial is very similar to the Kool-Aid dyeing tutorial I wrote, so forgive me if it seems familiar.

This process also works for carded fiber or roving meant for spinning or felting. There is some casual science involved, but trust me, you can handle it. I am more of an “art girl” so the science bits are likely to be laughable you if understand simple concepts like acidity. For me, I’m more interested in the ways the colors happen.

Roving dyed with a mixture of Kool-Aid and Wilton's cake dyes:

These directions are only suitable for natural animal fibers including different varieties of sheep wool, mohair, alpaca, and other animal fibers like silk. This method will not work on plant fibers like cotton, linen, bamboo and the like. Also, this method won’t work on man-made fibers like acrylic. My understanding is that these fibers only get stained using acid dye, and eventually the color will bleed and fade. If you have yarn that is a blend of fibers, the wool will get dyed and the acrylic will not. If you have an adventurous spirit, you may get some interesting results this way.

The same roving, spun into a worsted weight 2-ply yarn:

Wilton’s dyeing is pretty common and lots of tutorials already exist on the subject. I’m sharing my own experiences here dyeing in the microwave. Your microwave may produce different results and I’m not sure what to say about that except just do what I did, experiment a LOT. You will learn to enjoy the fragrance of wet sheep coming from the kitchen.

Roving dyed with Wilton's cake dyes and Kool-Aid:

My methods are not exact science. I told you that I’m more of an “art girl.” You must love to experiment and embrace unexpected results. This sort of dyeing is done in the kitchen, using kitchen tools and equipment, counters, sink and microwave. If you are using commercial dyes, DO NOT dye in your kitchen. This is strictly food-grade dyeing, got it? Good.

Homespun yarn dyed with aster, rose petal, and cornflower:

List of what you’ll need:

- gloves
- yarn or fiber
- Wilton’s dyes (one jar per pound of fiber or so)
- Vinegar or lemon juice
- Microwave safe containers large enough to fit yarn or fiber
- Oven mitts
- Tongs
- Towel
- Damp sponge to wipe up messes
- Plastic wrap
- Jars to measure out dyes
- Wooden popsicle sticks for stirring
- (optional) foam brush for painting (or turkey baster)
- (optional) small reusable jars for storing unused dye mixtures

Undyed yarn:

1. GLOVES: The number one rule of dyeing is to wear gloves. I know you think you will be careful but it doesn’t matter. Unless you want stained hands, wear gloves. I wear the big yellow gloves meant for household chores. And I wear them every time I handle the dyes. I’m sure the surgical style gloves are useful too.

2. YARN OR FIBER: As stated previously, your yarn or fiber you are dyeing must be an animal fiber to use this method. I don’t like to dye more than 2 ounces of fiber at a time. I have better results with smaller batches, and I’m less likely to accidently felt anything. Yarn should be in hanks, not tightly would balls or skeins. You need to make sure the dye touches all of the yarn.

3. WILTON’S DYES: I have a note to share about the difference between Kool-aid and Wilton’s. Kool-aid is already acidic and you don’t need to add the vinegar or lemon juice. Wilton’s is not acidic and you will need to add vinegar or lemon juice for this method to work. I use both Kool-aid and Wilton’s dyes all the time, and often mix them for new colors. Wilton’s colors are often made up of a few colors together and sometimes separate in this process. Learn to enjoy this because fighting it is futile.

4. VINEGAR OR LEMON JUICE: This is necessary for the Wilton’s icing gels. I prefer lemon juice because of the scent vinegar creates. The combination of vinegar and wet sheep is just a buzzkill for me. White vinegar, however, is cheaper and crystal clear. Lemon juice needs to be refrigerated and is slightly yellow in color.

5. CONTAINERS: The containers you use can still be used for cooking since we are using food-grade dyes. I use a set of ceramic bowls in varying sizes for single color dyes. I use large ceramic or glass pie dishes for multiple colors. Use what you have on hand, so long as it can go in the microwave.

6. OVEN MITTS: You will need oven mitts or towels because the bowls will get very hot coming out of the microwave. I’m not exaggerating. USE MITTS!

7. TONGS: Tongs are useful for picking yarn up out of steaming hot water to avoid burning yourself. I also use them to poke around to check if the fiber has taken in all the dye.

8. TOWELS: Towels are important for soaking up extra water that comes out of the fiber and catching little drips and problems. I lay out a big old towel on part of my counter and consider it the “towel station.”

9. SPONGE: A damp sponge is crucial to wipe up messes. No matter how careful you are, eventually there will be a big ‘oops’ and you will be glad you had that sponge handy. Wilton’s stains, trust me.

10. PLASTIC WRAP: I strongly suggest using clear plastic wrap since the colored kind will make it very hard to determine when your dye is absorbed. I use plastic wrap to cover the bowls of dye and fiber when they go into the microwave. Also, plastic wrap is good for protecting your countertops from stains. If you are using the painting technique, you will need to lay out newspapers and plastic wrap to protect your table.

11. JARS: You will need something to measure your dye. You can use a bowl if you like but I prefer a jar or some other container that can be sealed and re-used. Often, I mix up a color and I don’t use all of it, so I just put a lid on and place it in the refrigerator. Also, sometimes I have just a little left over, so I use that as a base to experiment with mixing up new colors. The jar should be at least 8 oz and up to 16 oz for best results. I also sometimes use a big plastic beer cup to mix colors and then pour the leftovers into a small yogurt container to use later. When you see these in your refrigerator, remember that they are not filled with yogurt anymore.

12. STICKS: You need something to stir and dissolve your dye into hot water. I prefer wooden popsicle sticks. I actually use and re-use them a few times before they get too worn out. They are also really useful for scooping Wilton’s dyes out of the tiny pots.

13. BRUSH: If you are using a handpainting technique, you need a brush or turkey baster. I like the foam brushes that cost 15 cents at the craft store. I also can get away with using these a few times before tossing them out.

14. CONTAINERS: Like I stated in step 10, storing your unused dyes is a good idea if you don’t like to waste anything. It’s not just me. Most crafters are like this, right?

Homespun yarn with delphinium and buttercup:

You should now be ready to start dyeing. Be sure to allow yourself enough time to complete the task without too many distractions. The more you get ready in advance, the better your results will be. Once you are in the cooking phase, you will need to stay nearby and focused.

Start by soaking your yarn. Fill a bowl with hot from the tap water. Also, add a few glugs of vinegar or lemon juice to the bowl before putting in your yarn. I use about a tablespoon per cup of water. I made this number up completely, but it works for me. Use your tongs to smush all the yarn under the water but do not over-agitate. Get out those air bubbles! Once the yarn is submerged properly, don’t touch it again until you are dyeing. This yarn needs to soak at least 20 minutes, ideally 30. I usually get all the yarn soaking at once, then move on to prepping the dyes.

Now it’s time to mix up your dyes. You’ll want to use about an eighth teaspoon per ounce of fiber. I usually scoop out about half a pea size with a popsicle stick and start with that.

Yarn dyed with Juniper, buttercup and a few drops of delphinium:

Procure a separate jar for every color of dye you intend to use. You can use as many colors as you want, it’s your project, right? Put on your gloves and squeeze about a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar in the bottom of the jar first, then scoop out about 1/8th teaspoon of dye into the juice and stir. Pour hot from the tap water over the goo and stir with a wooden stick to dissolve. I usually pour in about 8 to 16 ounces of water, depending on the color and saturation I’m seeking.

The amount of dye matters more than the amount of water in terms of the final results. You want less water if you are pouring or painting bold dye on a small area. You want more water if you are dyeing the whole hank with one color, and need to have enough water in the bowl. You never want the yarn to dry out in the microwave. This is considered a disaster.

Wipe up any spills that have already happened.

Roving dyed with juniper, buttercup, and a few drops of delphinium:

Once you have all your dye jars ready to go, it’s time to get the dye bowls ready. If you are dyeing in a bowl or pie plate, get them ready on the counter in you towel station. Get the plastic wrap ready to go. I like to dye two yarns at once, because one yarn will be in the microwave while the other one is cooling. So get both bowls or dishes ready. If you are painting, lay out newspaper on your table and cover with a layer of plastic wrap. Get your brushes ready to go. Now check the clock, has it been 20 minutes yet? Good.

The same roving, spun into thick-thin singles yarn:

With gloves, take out one hank of yarn and let it drip out into the sink. Gently wring the water out of the yarn until no more water drips out of it. You can also blot the yarn in a towel to remove excess water. For dyeing with one color, pour the dye into the bowl and lay the yarn into it. Use the tongs or your gloved hands to push the yarn into the dye water, making sure everything is covered. If you need to add more water, carefully pick the yarn up and add water to the bowl, then place the yarn back. To avoid accidental felting, don’t agitate, over handle, or change the temperature of the water on your yarn. Don’t ever run water directly over your yarn. Once your yarn is properly submerged, cover with plastic wrap (with a vent hole) and set aside to do your second yarn.

If you are making a two or three color yarn with pooled colors, set the dried yarn into an empty bowl or better yet, a glass or ceramic pie plate. Arrange the yarn so that it is in a spiral, as close to one layer as possible. Avoid bunching and tangling. Pour the colors gently over the yarn and let them pool in the bottom of the bowl. Cover in plastic wrap and set aside.

To make a handpainted yarn, lay the damp yarn on the plastic covered newspaper. Using a brush or turkey baster, paint colors onto the yarn as desired. This will take longer than you think it will, but you may like the results better. For self-striping yarn, paint sections of yarn at a time. Make sure all of the yarn has taken up some dye and it is all wet. Carefully pick up edges of plastic wrap and roll around the yarn. Set the bundle into a bowl or dish and set aside.

Roving soaking in delphinium, juniper, buttercup and copper:

Once you have your two bowls of yarn and dye ready, it’s go time. Be sure to use your oven mitts, okay? The dye formula is as follows: microwave on high for two minutes. Remove from microwave for two minutes. Repeat until done. The reason I suggest doing two is that when one is resting for two minutes, you put the other one in to cook. The timing works out well. This process usually takes 6 to 12 minutes of actual cooking time. It could take longer if you use a lot of dye. I’ve also noticed that Wilton’s take longer than Kool-aid, and colors with blue in them take the longest. For example, with Wilton's black dye you’ll end up with some yarn that resembles bruises before you get black. The colors will separate. Embrace this. If the yarn starts to boil, stop the microwave and let the yarn cool for five minutes. Boiling will felt your yarn. Overcooking will felt your yarn.

The same roving dyed with delphinium, juniper, buttercup and copper:

Your yarn is done when the water is clear and all of the dye is absorbed into your yarn. If the water is nearly clear and you’ve gone over 12 minutes, just let the bowl sit, covered, until the dye is absorbed. This will reduce the risk of overcooking. The yarn will continue to absorb dye so long as it stays nice and hot.

The same delphinium, juniper, buttercup and copper, spun into a worsted-weight 2-ply yarn:

When the dyeing is over, remove the plastic wrap, being careful not to burn yourself. There will be a lot of steam coming out and it gets very hot. Let the bowls of yarn cool until you can handle them. Using tongs, lift the yarn and pour out the water in the bowls. If you aren’t sure that the dye has set, you’ll want to rinse your yarn. The way to do this is to fill a bowl of water the same temperature as the yarn. Good luck with this, I can’t match temperatures unless the yarn is cool. I usually wait until the yarn is cool and dry before rinsing. Some people add a bit of soap to the rinse but I don’t. Gently wring out the yarn and roll around in a towel to dry. Hang yarn on a clothes hanger and put over your shower head to dry.

Crazy novelty homespun yarn using everything:


Wendy Stackhouse said...

Nice work! And all the yarns and rovings are beautiful!

Anonymous said...

your yarn is all so beautiful! i wish i could spin like that. i think i need you to come to my house and teach me how to use my antique spinning wheel.

i actually bought some wilton's dyes a while back and i've only used them a little. i'm definitely bookmarking this tutorial for the next time i give it a go! thanks :)

Wiley said...

Hi, I found your tutorial on Google, and just wanted to stop in and say thanks! I just finished my first batch of dyed roving, and now I'm waiting for it to dry. I'm so nervous! But your directions were so easy to follow, even for a rank beginner like me ^_^

Melody said...

I am so glad that you put this tutorial up...I bought some kool-aid a little over a week ago, and some Wilton's today...had a blast in my kitchen with two of my four hanks of bare yarn from KnitPicks. Plan on doing the other two real soon(read: when none of my kids are home sick and hubby has a long work day...hehehe). I'll be posting pics on my blog if you're interested.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great tutes!

Anonymous said...

You do such gorgeous work! I'm definitely envious. On my last trip to the store, I bought some Wilton dyes, and I've been experimenting with them. Would you say 15 minutes on high in the microwave would too much for roving?

Silverstah said...

Thanks SO much for the great tutorial - I dyed my first batch of roving today, and it came out beautifully. :) Your step by step process really made it easy. Thanks!

~ Phyllis ~ said...

Your tutorial is great. It's just what I needed. Thanks so much

Anonymous said...

Thanks SO MUCH for this great tutorial! I've been decorating cakes for years and I just KNEW I could use this dye for yarn. Oh my goodness, a new addiction!

Cristin said...

Thank you so much for the tutorial - I have had so much fun trying this!

Unknown said...

I don't know if you are still posting here. will check in a minute. I need to "make" some striped yarn for a hubby project, so will need to soak, then paint, then wrap in saran wrap, but then do I need to cook it? You never mentioned the painted yarn again after wrapping it. Please reply - that would be great! g

Star said...

hey ilana - I agree 15 minutes is too long.

hey gaylen, thanks for writing.

Yes you need to cook it. the info is in the tutorial, check it again :-)

good luck!!!

Unknown said...

Hi! Thank you so much for the tutorials- I've used your kool-aid dyeing tutorial and loved it.

I have one question- you say to use 1/8 tsp of dye per ounce of fiber, then in the next paragraph, you say to put 1/8 tsp of dye in the vinegar then add water. Is this referring to the same amount (ex. 1/4 tsp / 2 oz of fiber, etc.) and then how much should the quantities of vinegar and water increase?

Thanks :)

SunDoorBeads said...

WOW this is soo cool and just what I was looking for!! I am a total Noob so I was wondering if you could help me understand the handpainting a little more I want a multicolor look but do I just paint on inch by inch- I am still a little lost- :)The technical info was bang on though and I will be getting me some yarn to try out ASAP!!!!

Lindsay said...

This was exactly what I was looking for! I've not used icing dyes in a couple of years and couldn't remember what I was doing. Thanks for the very clear instructions! (just a note though - please spell 'dyeing' correctly in the future!)

Unknown said...

Thanks to the writer of this article. I appreciate your effort in making this informational blogs. I know it's not easy to do this but you have done a really great job. I'm pretty sure your readers enjoying it a lots.