Updated date:

Dyeing Yarn With Food Coloring


I love spinning, and I love dyeing my own yarn and fiber to create unique yarns and garments.

Using food colors to dye wool is fast, fun, and reasonably inexpensive. It’s a great way to brighten up a dull day and produce unique items. Microwave dyeing is just one of the many techniques used to dye with food colors.

The advantage of using food coloring is that you probably have some in your pantry. If not, it’s readily available at supermarkets and cake decorating stores. Also, food coloring is edible, so you can use your everyday kitchen utensils and pans for dyeing. Other dyes, including acid dyes and some botanical dyes may be toxic. It’s recommended that you have a set of dedicated dyeing utensils when using these types of dye.

It is important that you use wool, or a blend with a high proportion of wool. Wool is a protein fiber and will take up the color well. Plant fibers such as cotton and linen require different dyes and techniques to obtain effective results. Man-made fibers will also react differently to wool, although fiber with some nylon or acrylic can be used.

I have dyed both roving (tops) and spun yarn with food colors. If using spun yarn, its best to wind it into a skein to ensure good contact with the dye. I enjoy dyeing roving prior to spinning it into yarn to create unique color effects.

What you'll need

What you'll need

What you’ll need, and why

White vinegar: Vinegar is mildly acidic and helps the dye bind to the wool fibers.

Food colors - I prefer to use Wilton’s food coloring when possible. They are a concentrated gel form and there is a good range of colors. Other brands of food color can be used but you may need to use greater quantities.

Containers to mix the dyes. I keep my empty dish washing liquid bottles to use when dyeing but disposable cups or empty glass jars are also great to use.

Gloves – to prevent your hands being stained.

A clear work area. If working in your kitchen, it’s a good idea to cover the surface with plastic to protect it from staining.

Plastic wrap – food grade wrap is suitable.

A microwave oven

Two plates

A bowl

A salad spinner (optional)

Okay, let's get to work

  • Fill a bowl or other container with sufficient water to cover your wool. Add two tablespoons of vinegar and place wool in the bowl to soak for 30 minutes.
  • While you’re waiting mix up your dye colors. Place a small amount (1/4 teaspoon if using gel colors) in a disposable or non-porous container. Add hot water and mix thoroughly, then add hot or cold water to make up to about 100ml. I like to use several colors, but you may prefer to use one or more.
  • Lift the wool gently from the bowl. If you have a salad spinner, you can place your wool in this and spin to remove excess moisture. Otherwise simply squeeze the wool gently.
  • Lay out a sheet of plastic food wrap sufficient in size for you to place your wool and wrap it fully once the dye has been added.
Soak your yarn or roving in water with a splash of white vinegar

Soak your yarn or roving in water with a splash of white vinegar

The fun part

  • Place your wool on the plastic wrap and apply the dye solution. Different effects can be achieved by how you choose to apply the dye.
  • For example, if you are using one colour, you could apply this evenly to the wool. Alternatively, you can achieve variations by adding the dye only to some parts of the wool.
    If using more than one colour, you may like to keep them separate, leaving white sections between. Or you can apply the colours close together so they bleed into each other and create additional shades and colour variations.
  • Check the underside of the wool to ensure the dye has penetrated through. You can work the wool gently with your gloved fingers to mix the colours, or to ensure it has soaked through.
  • Wrap your wool, sausage like in the food wrap, by first folding the ends over, then rolling it up and smoothing the food wrap so the wool is sealed inside.

Roving ready to be dyed

Roving ready to be dyed

Roving after dye has been applied and squished gently to blend colors

Roving after dye has been applied and squished gently to blend colors

'Setting' the dye

  • Place the ‘sausage’ on a microwave proof plate, curling it. Pop it in the microwave for 2 minutes, or the time it would take for your microwave to heat a cup of water.
  • When the timer sounds, remove the plate and your wool. Hold a second plate above the wool and gently flip so your wool ends up on the second plate.
  • Return it to the microwave and set the timer for a further 2 minutes.
  • When the timer sounds, remove the plate from the microwave. Leave the wool on the plate to cool naturally. This is important. Playing with the wool while it is still hot could cause it to felt.
Yarn being wrapped

Yarn being wrapped

Wrapped and ready for the microwave

Wrapped and ready for the microwave

Now, to see the results

Congratulations on completing your first food color dye. Once you have mastered the technique, experiment with colors and methods of applying the dye to achieve different effects.

I used loads of pink and orange on the yarn - ready to be knitted into fun slippers for my youngest grand-daughter. For the roving I used brown and violet leaving white spaces for a muted color which will spin up into a variegated yarn. It could become a scarf or a beanie.

Completed yarn and roving

Completed yarn and roving

© 2021 Nan Hewitt


Nan Hewitt (author) from Albany, Western Australia on March 09, 2021:

I'm sure you'll get some lovely colors. I haven't tried Kool Ade - I may have to experiment with it.

Faythe Payne from USA on March 09, 2021:

I will have to try it..I have dyed yarn with kool ade..I think you will have more color choices with food color.

Related Articles