Now that the nice weather is here, and kids are out of school, I know a lot of parents are looking for great ways to keep everyone busy for an afternoon! If you have young knitters or crocheters, hand-dyeing yarn is a great way to get them involved in some DIY activities.
This is a great idea for a weekend afternoon get-together with fellow adult knitters, as well! My first experience with yarn dyeing was at a "dye party" at a fellow knitter's house. She assigned each of us to bring something for lunch and some of the supplies, as well as the yarn we wanted to dye.
The first thing you need is yarn. You will need wool yarn, since most dyes do not work on cotton or acrylic. It's best to start with a white or natural shade of yarn, although you can also dye over a colored yarn. (This is called "overdyeing," and is a great way to change or correct an unattractive skein of yarn!)
You can buy ready-to-dye sock yarn from several different sources, including Knit Picks. If you want a heavier yarn, track down some skeins of Cascade 220 or Patons Classic Wool Merino in "natural."
Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool comes in a good natural/undyed shade, but I have found that it's too lanolin-y to dye right out of the skein. If you're willing to unwind it into a hank, give it a good washing, and dry it completely before dye day, then it's a very affordable option.
Kool Aid is a great way to dip your toes into the world of hand-dyeing yarn. Kool Aid is permanent, ridiculously cheap, comes in a reasonably varied range of colors, and is non-toxic. (Although you still don't want to breathe the powder, just as with regular yarn dyes.)
By the way, don't be surprised if you find you have to check a variety of different stores before finding a particular color you may be looking for. The distribution of Kool Aid flavors is sadly uneven throughout any given area!
Equipment and Procedure
The best introduction to hand-dyeing yarn with Kool Aid is Kristi Porter's article for Knitty.com. I would add that it's best to use non-reactive materials - glass, ideally, or Pyrex - for anything that is going to be touching your Kool Aid dye. The dye process is extremely acidic, and it can cause pitting and discoloration in aluminum and plastic cookware and dishes.
This time of year, what works best is to apply the dye outside, and then bring it in for the second step (when you cook the dye into the yarn). A folding card table covered with a tarp, possibly standing on a second tarp, makes an excellent dye station.
It's also helpful to have an area outside where the skeins can hang and drip-dry in the final step. Many people hang the skeins over clothes hangers and let them drip into the tub. But if you have the space, a clothesline outside works really well for this - especially if you have guests, or a large number of skeins. (Or the need to use your shower before the skeins finish dripping!)
Image credit: Flickr/knitting iris