How to Dye Yarn the Frugal & Fun Way

How to dye yarn, the frugal & fun way

With Kool-Aid, hot water, and a microwave, you have everything you need to dye your yarn unique colors

My sister gave me a wonderful Christmas gift this past year: a skein of 100 yards of 100% worsted weight alpaca yarn.

Yummy alpaca yarn

It was soft. Beautiful. And it made my heart sing.

It was also white.

I don’t have anything against white yarn, personally; in fact, I love having white yarn in my stash because it’s great for stripes and other kinds of colorwork. But I knew that with this special alpaca yarn, I’d want to knit something special with it alone.

Until I was looking through old articles on this very blog, and found a yarn-dyeing tutorial from 2008, I didn’t know what I would do with it.

But when I found that tutorial, I knew exactly what I’d do.

I’d dye it!

The tools You Need to Dye Yarn

This old article featured simple and super-cheap yarn-dyeing ingredients. Items like Kool-Aid, hot water, white vinegar, a casserole dish.

You’ll also need a microwave. Not really cheap, but I don’t know of any American family, at least, that doesn’t own one already.

(I understand you can also use a steamer basket above boiling water, if you don’t have a microwave.)

One more thing you’ll need, and of course it’s the most important ingredient: yarn! You’ll need an animal-fiber yarn like wool or alpaca.

This isn’t as cheap as the other ingredients, of course. But if you’re like me and received some as a gift, or if you happened to score an amazing bargain on white or natural-colored yarn, you can create whatever color you fancy!

Also, Lion Brand has terrific prices on animal-fiber yarn, so you might want to see what they have to offer!

(This is an affiliate link. If you make a purchase after clicking, I may receive a commission. Thanks for supporting Knitting for Charity!)

Step 1: The Presoak

First thing you’ll do is take your yarn and gently wrap it around two chairs set between 1 and 1.5 yards apart.

Unless, of course, your yarn is already in hank form. Then just untie or cut one of the strings holding the hank together, then loosen it and slip the long loop around a couple of chairs. See the photo below to see what I mean.

Yarn dyeing

If it’s not already tied in a couple of places to keep the loop in place, get a couple of pieces of yarn and tie it securely. You’ll want to tie the ends against the rest of the loop, to keep the yarn from unwinding (and possibly tangling.)

Now, put the yarn into a pot large enough for it to lie in a single layer. Pour 1 cup of vinegar on top of the yarn, then add enough very hot water to cover the yarn. Let it sit for a half hour.

Remove the yarn and wring it out. Now you’re ready for step 2!

Step 2: Bring on the Kool-Aid!

Now, my children are no longer Kool-Aid drinkers, so I had none in the house to try. So I headed to the grocery store, hoping to find a fun color.

One thing you’ll want to know about this process is that you do NOT need Kool-Aid brand drink mix powder! A quick Google search told me that you can use any drink mix that contains citric acid (that does the heavy lifting in this project). You do also need to find a mix without sugar.

Something I learned in my search: Kool-Aid is hardly the only player in the drink mix market these days!

I really wanted to dye my yarn dark green, and I was a little sad to see so few green choices. Jolly Rancher’s Green Apple was my choice. I figured it probably wouldn’t be the least bit dark! But I love all shades of green, so I was hopeful.

Back at home, I wrung out my yarn and put it in a casserole dish. Then I measured 2 oz of white vinegar and 6 oz of warm water, then added a packet of drink mix.

You can see here what I saw: barely ANY green in my yarn! I decided to abandon caution and sprinkle more drink mix over my yarn.

And more… and more… and still more until I had used the entire box of drink mix packets.

I flipped the yarn in between drink packets, as I was trying to get as much “dye” onto the yarn as humanly possible.

It didn’t look super green, but I still liked it, and I decided to go for it.

Step 3: Microwave time

So now it was time to hit the microwave!

Intrepid dyers, please don’t make the mistake I made. Try putting your casserole dish into the microwave before you add your yarn. Otherwise… yeah.

As you can see, I picked a casserole dish too big for my microwave. Oops!

Whew. Much better.

Before you put your casserole dish into the microwave, cover it in plastic wrap and poke several holes into it. Poke far more than you think you’ll need to. These allow steam to escape, which in turn keeps the plastic wrap from exploding. No one needs that.

Next, microwave in 2 minute spurts until you’ve microwaved for a total of 10 minutes.

Now, the original tutorial said that the color would, over the course of the microwave time, leave the water/vinegar mixture and lock itself into the yarn. To be honest, I never actually saw this happen, because my yarn soaked up all the water/vinegar/color from the get-go.

I couldn’t even see it pooling at the bottom of the casserole dish!

I assume this was the case because I was dyeing 100 yards of yarn. If I had, say, 50 yards, I would probably have seen a actual pool of colored water. And then I would have gotten to see the magic happen.

Step 4: Rinse and Dry

Be very, very careful with your casserole dish and plastic covering when you remove it from the microwave. First, use pot holders to remove it from the microwave — it’ll be VERY hot.

Second, use tremendous caution when removing the plastic wrap. The steam built up under it? VERY hot, and that kind of steam has been known to cause serious burns. If at all possible, start from the side of the casserole dish furthest from you.

From here you can do one of two things. You can let the yarn cool in the casserole dish. Or, if you’re impatient, carefully tip the yarn into your sink, and rinse it with warm water, and then cool water, until it’s cool enough to handle.

(I let it cool while I had lunch with my husband. Both because I enjoy his company and because my sink was too full of dirty dishes to rinse yarn in!)

Pretty dyed yarn

Once your yarn is cooled and rinsed, gently wring it out. Then place it into a towel and roll it up to dry. After rolling it, squeeze gently to soak up excess water.

Unroll the towel and hang your yarn from the chairs again to allow it to dry.

yarn drying

This, by the way, would be a good time to remove or untie the yarn bits used to secure your loop. This will help the yarn dry faster.

Also, you might want to gently pull apart the yarn. One thing about animal fibers: they like to felt. Although we’ve been agitating our yarn very little, we’ve still been using a LOT of heat during this process, which will make your yarn naturally want to cling together.

oops, a little felting

It shouldn’t be enough to make it impossible to pull apart, though. Just use as little force as necessary.

Once your yarn is dry, just roll it into a ball and knit it up!

freshly dyed yarn

The two things that surprised me most about this process is how easy it was and how quick it was. I expected this to take at least a couple of hours. But really, only the drying time took that long.

I hope that, if you’ve ever wanted to dye yarn but found it intimidating, this makes you want to give it a try.

Have you ever dyed yarn? If so, tell me about it in the comments! And if not, tell me what color you’d like to try dyeing yarn!

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  1. I have dyed yarn using Kool-Aid, vinegar and a crockpot. It takes a little longer, but I’ve found I get more intense colors.

    Also, darker colors can be difficult to get with Kool-Aid, but if you were to mix the Green Apple with a packet of say…Blue Raspberry and a packet of a yellow flavor such as lemonade…then you will get a darker green. Same with purple…start with something like grape, then add a blue and a red colored flavor.

    1. Danielle, you are brilliant. What great ideas! It’s really not too much different from dyeing my hair… that’s a good thing to remember for future yarn-dyeing excursions, lol. Thanks for the terrific tips!