The first known use of dye in food dates back as far as 1500 BC when early Egyptians are thought to have used natural extracts to improve the appearance of candy and wine. The use of dye to make food more appealing increased steadily through the ages until the industrial revolution. As jobs moved from rural to urban settings and the masses of people that flocked to the cities demanded low-cost food, traders and food producers, without any oversight or regulation, introduced all manner of dyes and additives to mask the spoiled, watered-down food they were taking to market.
…Thus, with potted meat, fish and sauces taken at breakfast he would consume more or less Armenian bole(red clay), red lead, or even bisulphuret of mercury. At dinner with his curry or cayenne he would run the chance of a second dose of lead or mercury; with pickles, bottled fruit and vegetables he would be nearly sure to have copper administrated to him; and while he partook of bon-bons at dessert, there was no telling of the number of poisonous pigments he might consume. …
~ A.H. Hassel, Pure Food and Pure Food Legislation (1960)
The use of dye and food additives has continued with varying levels of over site worldwide, in spite of reports of deaths due to the toxicity of adulterated food. In the United States, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 reduced the permitted list of synthetic colors from 700 down to seven and since then several have been removed from that list and replaced with safer alternatives.
This brings us back to Kool-Aid®, developed in 1927 by Edwin Perkins who mixed a few simple chemicals, including fool coloring, to create a powdered beverage mix. The formula for his product, now owned by Kraft Foods, has evolved to become the perfect combination for dying natural fibers and textiles, among other things. A Google search for “dyeing with kool-aid” returns pages and pages of tips for dying everything from hair to cut-off blue jeans with the mix.
We’re narrowing our focus to dyeig natural wool yarn and are passing along some of the things we’ve learned. We found lots of good information about different types of dye and yarn dyeing at dyeyouryarn.com. Since we’re taking a novelty approach to dyeing yarn with Kool Aid®, anyone looking for more scientific information about dyeing yarn and tested results should head over there.
We’re recommending and using 100% natural wool yarn since it has undergone little processing and will absorb dye more readily than wool that has been blended with other fibers or modified to be super washable. Unnatural fibers, such as acrylic, absorb very little or no dye so when they are blended or twisted with wool or other natural fibers, only the natural fibers will be dyed. This leads to proportionally lighter results. The process used to create superwash wool and the properties of the finished product cause dramatically different results when dyeing. If you are attempting to dye superwash wool, do a trial run with a small yarn sample and make sure the outcome is accepable.
Now, back to the Kool Aid®. If you remember the color wheel from grade school, you’ll recall the primary colors red, blue and yellow make the secondary colors green, orange and purple, when pairs of them are mixed together. The FDA food colors used in Kool Aid® perform the same way, however some colors are brighter and deliver better results when mixed together.
We gathered the most popular and locally available flavors of Kool-Aid® and dyed individual samples of each using our 100%natural wool. It was a messy and fun project for kids of all ages! That day we learned the dye combinations in several popular flavors produce almost the same color when used for dyeing and that the salad spinner is the best way to get excess water out of yarn.
We found the flavors that most closely approximate the primary colors when used for dyeing wool are (Red) Strawberry, (Blue) Mixed Berry and (Yellow)Pineapple.
Our results show the array of colors that Kool-Aid® straight from the packet can achieve. When you begi mixing colors, the possibilities are endless. Add a little tea to mute the bright colors of the Kool-Aid® and you’ve opened up a new palette altogether.
We like creating multicolored yarn by sprinkling several different flavors along the wet skeins and letting them blend together without too much mixing or stirring. This creates surprisingly stunning combinations.
For dappled cool colors, we suggest starting with areas of Pineapple which contains yellows 5 & 6 then adding Green Apple with yellow 5 and blue 1 and Mixed Berry’s solid blue 1 to adjacent areas and allowing them to converge. Gently disperse powder in areas where it is too heavy with a fork. Most importantly, stop tweaking as soon as you are happy with the way it looks and allow water and to cool undisturbed.