Pie dish dyes: Quick and easy stovetop dyes to make your scrap projects sing

In my previous post about my serial Barn Raising blanket projects, I spoke about dyeing up leftovers of solid coloured yarns to make fun variegates and speckled yarns. Today I want to show how I do this using just kool aid, a pyrex pie dish, a few small glasses and a tea strainer to create fun colour effects.

In the past I’ve shared how I used microwave dye methods to create tonal and long colour stretch self striping yarns. However, I no longer have a microwave, so this is my current process for turning unloved scraps and minis into something I actively want to work with*.

These yarns were dyed for the wedding blanket I spoke about last time and not only do I have a picture of the skeins but also pictures of them knitted into squares so you can see how they knit up:

These were overdyes. I had been gifted a set of mini skeins and had used the stronger colours, the jewel tones and deep richer colours, but pastels aren’t really my thing. They did however provide a good base for overdyeing. The skeins started out as a pale blue and pale pink and I used some part packets of kool aid to build colour.

My next set of squares were knitted from these skeins:

hand dye mini-skeins dyed using food colouring and the pie dish method

Again these skeins are overdyed on a Jaeger Matchmaker 4 ply pink yarn, a mauve Sandnes yarn and a pale grey sock yarn leftover that came to me via a swap. Each mini is approximately 10g which means for the size of square i make one mini makes 2 squares.

The kool aid colours/flavours used are orange, lime, cherry, black cherry and grape. The picture below shows how this limited number of colours can bleed together to create a much broader colour palette and more subtle effects.

As well as using bleed techniques, a tea strainer can be used to dust with the dry kool aid powder to create speckles:

These have now been knitted up so again you can see how the colours transfer from the skein onto the knitted squares.

These squares are positioned in the same order as the full set of mini skeins above so you can cross reference skein with square.

So how does it work?

Kool Aid is an American made powdered fruit flavoured drink mix that also contains some really strong food safe colourings.

The Kool Aid powder sachets that you can use for dyeing are the sugar free drink mixes, the brighter the better.

If you don’t have access to kool aid, regular food colourings can also work (don’t use natural colourings for this method, you need the chemical dyes) but you do need to add a little clear vinegar or citric acid to help the colour adhere – kool aid already contains citric acid so is fine as is. How much acid you use depends on how much wool you’re trying to dye. I would start with a small amount (say a teaspoon) and only add more if the water doesn’t go clear once you add the heat.

With acid based dyes the water should go clear as the yarn soaks up the dye. As with many craft practices, the best way to learn in by doing, and if you’re not sure, just start with a small amount of materials that you’re happy to risk in case it doesn’t turn out as you hope, before scaling up.

The same goes for colour. In the skeins above I was quite conservative with the colours and experimented with mixing them before application to increase the range of colour I was working with. In the skeins shown below, dyed to demonstrate this method, I used the colours mainly as they come in the packets and at higher concentration to produce highly saturated dyes, quite different from those above to add variety to the blanket project.

So this is how I do it.

  1. Skein up the yarn to be dyed and soak it in water

2. Mix/dilute the colour. I use small glasses and make quite a concentrated mix. This allows me to apply the dye where I want it to be and the yarn to soak it up with less bleeding. Too much water can make it more difficult to manage. Single colours or mixed colours can be used. Remember to retain some powder you want to use it for additional dye effects like speckles.

3. Squeeze the excess water out of the yarn and arrange the yarn in the pie dish. I usually put 2 minis in one dish and arrange them thinking about how they will come into contact with each colour as I add it to the pie dish. While the skeins will be in the same colour family I don’t necessarily want them to come out the same. I generally want a different colour to dominate in each so I arrange them accordingly.

4. Pour the main base colours on the yarn as planned.

Optional: Use a tea strainer to lightly shake the colour powder onto the yarn to make speckles, or drip liquid colour from a spoon or dropper. (I didn’t do this with these minis).

5. Check the water level – the yarn should be completely covered by water, but only just. If you need to add a little, do so slowly and gently from the edge of the pie dish to create as little disturbance to your dye placements as possible.

6. Gently transfer the pie dish to the heat and turn the heat on low. As it heats up the dye solution should begin to clear as the dye transfers to the yarn. Once the water is clear or the yarn is the colour you want, turn off the heat and allow to cool.

7. Once cool, rinse your yarn and hang to dry.

8. When dry, twist into skeins and admire your work.

Then all that is left to do is to knit them:

The top 2 squares are knit from the the first 2 skeins, You can see the square on the right has a little more of the original yarn showing through which you can also see in the skein. The bottom 2 squares are knit from the 3rd and 4th skein and your can see how the positioning in the pie dish and the application of the dye creates one skein with stronger orange hues and the other with more red.

What these squares demonstrate is the range of colours and dye effects that can be achieved with a very limited palette of 5 base colours and with no special equipment.

Some of the overdyed yarn scraps have been in my stash for at least 10 years, while others were much more recent additions. What they all have in common is that had they not been overdyed for this project, they would have languished much longer and may never have found their place in a project.

I hope this post will convince to have a go at dyeing to revive the purpose of unloved scraps in your stash.

It’s so easy to be feel burdened by scraps that seem to have no place in our making, when they could actually be the medium through which we explore our creativity further.

Until next time, happy knitting and perhaps happy dyeing? If you do give it a try, do let me know how you get on.

Tess xxx

Note: pyrex pie dishes can be used on direct heat, if you’re not using pyrex, please make sure you dish is sufficiently heat-proof for your stove.

* As usual I want to add the disclaimer that the ease of dyeing up or overdyeing a few mini skeins for a scrap project and encouraging others to do this so that scraps are actively and responsibly used, in no way wishes to challenge or disparage the art of indy dyers who production dye to earn a living. I recognise that an ability to do one, does not equate to the other. I just want to encourage you to have fun with your crafting and making and demonstrate that doing so needn’t cost the earth, financially or environmentally.

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