Fun with food colouring

I joined a really nice spinning group a couple of weeks back, and it has motivated me to spin about 23 hours a day. While I’m fleece obsessed and on a little fleece dyeing kick, I’d thought I’d show the popular easy peasy food colouring method that I use on combed top. (As usual, not exactly a tutorial, just a description of the way I do stuff.) 
The results are vibrant, and there are the major benefits of no really toxic chemicals or fumes, no mask, and being able to use normal kitchen utensils.
Oh, and economy. One bottle of food colouring: $1.06. One packet of dye: $10-$15.
This method also works for dyeing yarns, and there are some great YouTube videos on getting special effects like ombrΓ© and gradients. 
Me, I just reeeeeeeeally like rainbows. And then spinning the top fractally. Which apparently is not a word according to spell check, but spinners will understand what I mean. 

I use combed top, but carded roving works too. This is fine merino (19.5 micron) from Nundle Woollen Mills. I like to buy from them: their top is gorgeous, but mainly I like saying the word ‘Nundle’. I don’t use super wash wool, so have to be very careful not to felt it.
I braid it first, as it makes a nice tie-dye sort of effect. If you haven’t done this before, all it is is a crochet chain that you make with your hands. Make a slip knot at one end and chain to the other end.

I use these food colourings, because that’s what the supermarket had. But there are many types. I bought colours like pink and green, but of course just the primaries, red, blue and yellow are all you really need to make virtually any colour using basic colour theory.

I bought some sauce bottles from a discount shop just for ease of use (and so I feel like a super professional dyer). 3 for $2.50. But a jug works too. You also need white vinegar.
I’m not great with taking measurements, being a kind of intuitive (lazy) crafter. But I would say about 1/2 cup of vinegar in a kitchen bowl, the rest filled with water. Then soak the braid in the solution for at least 2 hours. One drop of detergent may be added if the braid is extra water repellent. 

When you’re ready to dye, mix them up. I wear disposable latex gloves for the dyeing part.
I use about 1-2 teaspoons of food colouring to one cup of water and one teaspoon of vinegar. Roughly. This might require a little experimentation, I tend to just wing it. The colour that the fleece goes on application is not exactly indicative of the finished product, which makes the whole thing even more exciting! πŸ™‚ You can dip a little paper towel in the dye mix to check your colours too.

Incidentally, I have kept the mixed dyes and used them days later, and they still work.
Obviously I’m using grey top here, I like how it tones down the vibrancy of the food colouring.
Lay cling wrap along a bench. I use two thicknesses. Drain the braid. I wrap it in a towel and stand on it to soak out excess water. Don’t rinse it or let it dry out completely.
Lay it on the cling wrap, and paint it with dye! I trickle the dye on and press the wool gently with my fingers until that section seems completely saturated in the dye. Check that it has made it through to the back. Repeat until all done. (You have to kind of trust the colours you mixed up, as they don’t look too awesome on the fleece at this stage.)

Fold up the cling wrap over the braid once or twice, fold the ends it, and keep rolling to make a sausage. Roll it up loosely like a Swiss roll and put it in a microwave safe bowl.

The heat setting component can be done on the stove, in a crock pot or even in a hot car apparently, but I use the microwave because I am impatient.
Microwave on high for about two minutes. It should be piping hot, if not, do it for a few more seconds at a time until it is. Let it stand for a few minutes. Microwave on high again for thirty seconds. Let it stand again. Do one or two more 30 second hits/few minutes standing.
That’s all I do. If there is any liquid in the bottom of the bowl, it should be very close to clear. If not, the dye is not exhausted and it will need reheating.
It is hot, so I leave it to sit for a few minutes, then snip off the end of the cling wrap sausage and pour the fleece out.

Yay! Rainbow!
I don’t want to shock it, so I use very hot water to gently rinse (careful not to felt it), blot in a towel and dry.
That’s it. 

Here’s some spun up. (Yup, I totally painted one of my spinning wheels gloss black, for no obvious reason. M calls it the ‘Morticia’ wheel now). 

And here is some chain/Navajo plied and crocheted into a slouchie hat.

B πŸ™‚

45 thoughts on “Fun with food colouring

  1. It’s such fun to see how you take a project from something basic and commonsensical to a lovely finished project. I like the sound of “Nundle” too, so I googled it for more information. Very interesting, though I was slightly disappointed that it didn’t turn out to be a bundle of nuns after all.

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  2. OOOHH!! Look at all the lovely colors! I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for the end of the story, and hoping that the gray wouldn’t tone down the colors too much, but they’re beautiful.

    Cynthia Jobin, your comment got me wondering about the term for a group of nuns, so I googled. According to one source at least (, the term is: Convent, Murmur, Flap, Pray, Superfluity.

    The jokes just write themselves sometimes. πŸ˜‰

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  3. That is just the best way I have ever heard of to use food colouring! [That is not a good sentence – but I got really excited and I’m sure you can work out what I mean] πŸ™‚ The hat is wonderful and the colours are so inviting. But I do really want to see what happens with a creamy fleece……… And I’m so impressed with the evenness of your spinning. You are such a clever yarnite!! ❀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Pauline…yes I was very happy to find a use for it, food colouring has never seemed in any way edible to me either, migraine in a bottle! I do happen to have a half kilo of natural cream fleece (for a cardigan) that I’ve just braided up, so I’ll post a pic when I’ve done that πŸ˜€ it is so hard to decide on a colour scheme though!! Even when I try to stick with a couple of colours, the others look left out so I feel guilty and they get added in the end anyway….pretty much everything I dye ends up rainbow! πŸ˜€πŸ­πŸ­πŸ­

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  4. Again I am prompted to say “WHERE IS THE LOVE BUTTON!” I am all over, in the middle of and out the other end of this blog post. I remembered that a friend who lives just down the road used to spin so I asked her (via Steve who was painting their kitchen for them) if she would show me how to do it. She declined as it was SO long ago and she thinks she has forgotten more than she remembers but her partner said that he can spin and will teach me so I guess I may not have to paint my own spinning wheel rainbow colours and display it as “art” in the lounge room (whereby Earl would either pee on it or chew it. Take your pick. Either option is highly likely). And now I can dye rainbows? Cheaply? And I don’t even need Coolaid?! You are my yarn heroine. I save every one of your posts and you have your very own folder in my precious craft files. I am now going to mercilessly hoard food colouring until I am able to dye my own yarn. If you read about a strange shortage of food colouring in Tasmania please don’t dob me in O.K?

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    • Oh you always make my day lovely narfie, thanks so much!! I think the rainbow wheel would rock!! πŸ™‚ I can’t wait to see you start, do it do it do It! I have a mental image of you spinning away happily all winter next to Brunhilda…yeah I have to admit I still don’t actually understand what koolaid is anyway…I’ve never seen it in my whole life….😳 I imagine it is pretty similar, food colouring is sooo easy, and like all these fibre crafts, once you start you can’t stop…😊

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  5. That hat is really wonderful, and as for your dyes, I can’t think of a superlative that hasn’t been used. I just love that someone does this and knows how to figure it out and has a dark, dangerous spinning wheel and belongs to a spinning group. I imagine those folks are getting some cool tips!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks very much Lisa, I LOVE the ‘dark and dangerous’ description, it appeals to the latent nineties goth in me….spinning group is so enjoyable, I absolutely love it, can’t understand why I never joined one before! Who would have suspected how much fun it would be to hang around people with exactly the same passions! πŸ˜ƒ

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Amazing! Your slouchie hat is gorgeous, and I love that it’s all completely your own work! I’m very tempted to try a spot of food colouring dyeing myself now… I have real trouble trying to get decent colours for Beastie hair, and this just might be the solution! Thanks very much πŸ˜€

    Liked by 1 person

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