Dyeing Yarn & Roving with Food Coloring

I am co-teaching an afterschool program at a middle school for the next few weeks.  For the last 2 days we have been dyeing some fibers to use in other projects later on.  Last week was yarn with koolaid, Tuesday was roving with food coloring.  For the koolaid, I let the girls just try things, but with food coloring (and roving which needs a little special handling) I wanted them to have more of a plan.  I decided to have them dye with food coloring and to mix their own colors.  So I went looking for a color chart, figuring someone had put together a chart with the recipes for making all kinds of colors with your basic palette of food colorings.  But I didn’t find one.  I found versions for coloring frosting, for select groups of colors and lots of cool experiments but not something I could hand to the kids like a recipe with examples of the colors they would get.


So I made one.

I did a little experimentation by first writing down all of the various recipes I could find in a scattering of tutorials and charts.  I made up mini skeins (about 4 yards each) of wool yarn and mixed up each of the colors with McCormick food colorings (assorted and neon) in a plastic yogurt cup with a splash of vinegar and about 1/2 cup of boiling water.  I let them steep for about 10 minutes and then rinsed.  I did 25 colors total, with a few I dyed over again and tweaked the recipe because I didn’t like the color (or it was too close to another color).  In the end, I kept 23 and put together a chart that you can use.
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You can download my Dye Color chart here.  (You are welcome to print it for your own use or to use for classes, youth groups etc.)

The colors with a * are the straight food coloring colors. An “assorted” box has red, yellow, green blue.  A “neon” box has neon pink, neon green, neon blue and neon purple.  All of my colors are created from those 8 basic colors.  The “dye” colors are across the top, the numbers are the number of drops of food coloring.  The colored bars are an approximation of the colors.  The calibration of my monitor/printer makes these pretty close for me, but yours may shift the colors.  If in doubt, do a swatch.



dyescolorchartA few things to note if you try this yourself.

  • The mini-skeins are the super-saturated version of the color.  There was a lot of dye and not very much fiber.  You can get lighter colors by using the same amount of dye and a lot more fiber (and more water.)  Or to explain it another way:  10 drops of food coloring is enough to dye about .5 oz of yarn to a pretty saturated color.  If I used 10 drops of food coloring and 2 oz of yarn I would get a more pastel shade.  The amount of water only matters so that the dye has enough room to move around.
  • Food-coloring and koolaid are “set” when you have exhausted the color.  That means that the yarn has grabbed all of it and the liquid is completely clear in your container.  Your goal should always be to heat it long enough to exhaust the dye.  I try not to dump extra dye down the sink, but get it all in my fiber.
  • I dyed all of my samples on superwash merino.  Your mileage may vary.  Superwash wool tends to soak up dye like nobody’s business.  Other kinds of yarn may not be as saturated; our roving was lighter colors. Water chemistry will also effect your colors.  I taught in Idaho once and I was shocked at how much different my go-to dye colors turned out in the very different water there vs. my house.
  • I have heard mixed results about the long-term colorfastness of food-coloring and koolaid (from sources I trust.)  If in doubt, I wouldn’t use koolaid dye for something I hope would be passed down from generation to generation.  But for new mittens that I will wear out after a season or two?  It will definitely work for that.


Here’s my method for dyeing yarn and roving.

  1. Soak the fiber in plain white vinegar for about 1/2 an hour.  I did this at home before I went to join the afterschool kids.  That way we didn’t need to wait for it.  Drain out most of the vinegar.  (Don’t wring it out very aggressively or you can felt your fibers.)
  2. With the koolaid/yarn, we immersion dyed, so I had the kids put the koolaid powder in small tupperware containers and I filled them with boiling water.  (These are 6th graders so they could handle that.)  Add your fiber (no stirring!) and let it sit until it is cooled.  There was enough heat from the boiling water that it exhausted the dye.  (To make 2 color skeins, we just stretched the yarn across 2 containers and put a towel underneath to catch the drips).
  3. For the food coloring/roving, I didn’t want them to work hot.  So we just mixed the drops of food coloring in squeeze bottles and filled with water.  We put the roving on plastic wrap and they squirted the colors and gently pressed it down to get the color all the way through the fiber.  When they were done, we folded the long ends of the plastic wrap over the roving and rolled the whole thing up like a cinnamon roll and popped it into a ziploc bag.  When I got home, I put each one into the microwave and steamed for 2 minutes + rest 1 minute + 2 minutes until the dyes were exhausted.
  4. After the fiber was completely cool, then I immersed the yarn/roving in a sink full of room temperature water to soak for a few minutes and then drained and put it on drying racks.

The spots and splotches in some of their yarn colors are because I let them try sprinkling dry koolaid powder in a different color over the yarn once it was immersed in the dye container.  It was a cool experiment!


I Spy, Public Art & Everyday Objects


I have been working quietly behind the scenes on a new project for a couple of months.  The neighborhood that is home to Textile Center, Weavers Guild and where I spent a large part of my life during the last 15 years has a really enthusiastic neighborhood association.  And they decided to do a call for artists to make wraps for six (3 pairs) of the utility boxes in the neighborhood.  The City of Minneapolis has a program which allows artists to design these wraps and I was selected as the artist for Prospect Park.  Here are what some of the finished ones (by other artists) look like from the cover of their instruction booklet.  The idea is to bring some art into the community and to help discourage graffiti.

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I usually work in fabric and garments, as you all know, but the design skills for these utility box wraps are basically just the same.  I am making a 2-D design and shaping it around a 3-d object.  My first public art!

So, what to put on them?  My proposal to the neighborhood association was to create patterns from everyday objects.  Specifically, I spent several afternoons walking around the neighborhood surrounding these boxes taking photos of objects: flowers, bricks, signs, textures. I collected photos with a theme like circles or numbers and things that are iconic to the neighborhood. I tried to think of things that reminded me of the neighborhood, like the pink roses around the Prospect Park sign that are always buzzing full of bees in the summertime.  I also shot images of everyday objects that you might find in all of the businesses and houses nearby: clothespins, pencils, paintbrushes, safety pins. I have about 450 photos so far and you can see just a few of them up above.

My plan is to use these photos to create patterns, by cutting out, layering and manipulating the images to cover the utility boxes.  I also wanted a way for people to interact with the art, so along one side of the box, I am planning to include thumbnails of the original photos of some of the elements in the design.  This way you can play a game of “I Spy”, both looking for the sunflower or manhole cover within my design and looking for that same object in the neighborhood.  There are daycares, a school and community center all in this span of a few blocks, so I hope that the neighborhood kids will notice this.

I meet with my neighborhood committee this week for some feedback on the initial designs and I plan to post regularly here to document the progress of the project.  Just look for the “ProspectPark” category to follow along.  I am hoping they love what I have done so far and I can share some sneak peeks with you very soon.

I might be coming to a city near you.

RahnBatikProcessBIG News.

I have been invited to teach at some pretty awesome new places in 2016.  I am so excited about these. If you know anyone who is close to these places and might be interested in the classes, please share this with them!
I am teaching at 3-day Master Class at Spoonflower in Durham, NC.  A crash course in Adobe Illustrator and more.

I am the keynote speaker at the University Days event at the Wisconsin Museum of Quilts & Fiber Arts in Cedarberg, WI.

I will be at Arrowmont in Gatlinberg, TN teaching a 5 day class in digital fabric design.

I am teaching five seminars & workshops for the Handweavers Guild of America Convergence conference in Milwaukee, WI.


I am also working on a possibility of being in Atlanta later in the year.  How cool is that?

Photo Cheater Quilt: A tutorial in 6 parts

I put together a really fun digital fabric quilt project using a collection of rainbow-hued photographs.  The finished quilt gets lots of “oohs and aaaahs” when I bring it to class as a sample.  Spoonflower has just posted the whole tutorial to their blog and here is a round-up of the links.

How to Create a Photo Cheater Quilt

Cheater Quilt Lesson One: Developing your Theme & Curating Photos

Cheater Quilt Lesson Two: Assembling your Color Collages

Cheater Quilt Lesson Three: Creating your Canvas

Cheater Quilt Lesson Four: Placing the Blocks

Cheater Quilt Lesson Five: Materials & Finishing your Quilt


Please show us your finished quilts by sharing a photo using hashtag #SpoonChallenge on your favorite social media outlet! We would love to see them.  My friend Amy from PennyCandyHandmade took the idea and ran with it.  See her awesome Hawaii-themed quilt here.

Mini Mitten Ornaments: A free knitting pattern

mittens2I originally posted these several years ago, but it suddenly occurred to me that I had better get moving if I wanted to get some holiday crafting finished and that all of you might be in the same boat.  These are a really fun way to use up scrap yarn and they go fast.  In fact if you have taken one of my Handpainted Skeins or Intro to Dyes classes, these are perfect for the mini skeins you dyed.  They are also super cute knit as pairs of mittens and attached together with a string. So if you need a little gift for someone or a little holiday decor of your own, here you go.  And happy knitting!

I wanted to knit some tiny mitten ornaments and although I found all kinds of cute patterns using sock weight and other tiny yarn, I didn’t come up with anything for worsted weight, which I have oodles of scraps of.  These mittens knit up in about 15 minutes and are simple enough that you can add stripes and some simple patterns if you are so inclined.  The finished mitten is about 3 inches long.

Materials: Worsted weight yarn scraps, four size 3 DPN, yarn darning needle

CO 12 stitches. (I like them divided evenly on 3 needles.)

K1 P1 ribbing for 6 rows.

K1 P1 KFB P.  Repeat 2 more times.  You now have 15 stitches.

Knit 8 rows.

K2tog, K 3.  Repeat 2 more times.  (12 stitches)

Knit 1 round.

K2tog, K2.  Repeat 2 more times.  (9 stitches)

Knit 1 round.

K2tog, K1.  Repeat 2 more times.  (6 stitches)

Cut your yarn.  Thread the end through a yarn needle.  Pass the yarn end through the last 6 stitches.  Pull tight and then pull the end to the inside of the mitten.  (I don’t weave in ends on this, I just stuff the yarn tails to the inside of the mitten.)

To make the thumb, you will do a short section of i-cord.

CO 3 stitches.  Knit 4 rows of i-cord.

K2tog, Knit 1.  Cast off, leaving about a 6 inch tail.

Thread the end of the yarn through your needle.  Slip the yarn end down through the center of the i cord and use the end to stitch the thumb in to place. A couple of stitches will do it.  I put the bottom (cast on) edge of the i-cord even with the top of the ribbing.

Bury all the ends of yarn inside the mitten.


Adventure, 8×8 inches



digitally printed polyester with hand beading

8×8 inches

This piece was my donation to a fundraiser held at the art center in the town where I grew up.  The event is called The Goods and it is a silent auction for 8×8 inch pieces of original art.  The twist is that all of the art is anonymous until the evening of the event.  So I had to wait until after the event to show you this piece.  I make wall pieces very rarely, but I do like this 8×8 inch format.  This was actually a test print for one of the pieces that was in my Jerome grant show this fall.  It is a photograph of a paper origami butterfly.  That is layered over a collage of text from newspaper and the pages of a “Choose your own Adventure Book” from the thrift store.  This image was digitally printed on fabric.  Then I stitched 4 wavy lines of clear sequins to represent the path that this butterfly is flying, so it shimmers from certain angles.