Dye Alpaca, Dye!


Dyeing Alpaca Fleece with Kool-Aid and Wilton Icing Colors 

 

alpacas

Meet our alpacas! White – Tanjiro, Beige (standing in back) – Becka, Beige (in foreground) -Asuka AKA Curly Sue, Brown – Herbert Houdini AKA Herbie

 

With my latest fixation of creating soaps to enter into Amy Warden’s Soap Challenge Club, I have ended up with a lots and lots of soap, some pretty, some not so much. Those in the “Not So Much” category seem to be sitting on the rack just mocking me. Since they are all my babies, ugly or not, I just can’t bring myself to throw them out, or chop them up for re-batching. I had to find a way to make them prettier. 

We have owned a small herd of alpacas for about 15 years. I have always loved fiber arts and knew I wanted fiber animals at some point in my life. In an attempt to convince my hubby to jump on board my crazy train, I presented the possibility of owning alpacas as a possible business opportunity. Because he loves me so much, he jumped right on board!

Our initial plans had been to create a business breeding and selling them, in addition to selling raw fleece and fiber products. Unfortunately, our daughter became ill shortly after we bought our first alpaca and our lives quickly became focused on the aspects of the day-to-day instead of pursuing long-term business plans. Even after our daughter’s full recovery, dealing with everything for so many years just didn’t allow us to bring the alpaca business to fruition.

Every year, the alpacas were sheared and over the past 15 years, I have managed to collect an enormous stash of fleece. I have learned to spin the fleece and then to knit it…okay, loom knit, and have also done some felting, but the stash isn’t diminishing much.

hats

Some of the yarn I spun and loom knitted into hats.

 

Now that I have added a massive collection of soaps resulting from the endless soap making ideas constantly popping in my head, my passions are quickly taking up much-needed space. I had to find a way to justify to my insane ideas and all of my creations to my hubby so what do you do with endless bags of fleece and a gaggle of ugly soap babies? Why you make felted soap, of course!

 

All the Colors of the Rainbow

Sadly, we never discovered a way to breed rainbow-colored alpacas, so I needed to come up with ways to dye the fleece. There are many types of dyes and countless ways in which to use each dye to color different materials. One type of dye that is particularly well suited for protein fibers such as animal fleece is an acid dye. While you may have immediate thoughts of dangerous, flesh-dissolving chemicals come to mind at the mention of acid, in reality the acid dyes available to the home dyer are non-caustic and very safe to use. In fact, some are even safe to eat! Dyes used for coloring foods, or packets of unsweetened powdered drink mixes, are very well suited for this type of dying. The “acid” part of the dye comes from the addition of distilled white vinegar or citric acid which lowers the pH of the dye bath, allowing the dyes to bond more fully with the protein in the fiber.  

I am just beginning to expand my use of natural dyes in soap making and would like to learn more about natural dyes for fiber as well. I am also very intrigued by a more eco-friendly dye product I just discovered called Greener Shades. Until I get a better handle on the art of dyeing, I’ll settle for my icing colors and my 25¢ packets of Kool-Aid. 

 

The Process of the Process 

I know many experienced dyers have precise and defined procedures for dyeing their own fleece. For me, I tend to just wing many things and this was really no exception. After searching the Internet for information about dyeing fiber using this method, I discovered there are +/- 1,000,000 different ways to accomplish it. I ended up not using one specific method, instead combining info from several different places. 

As for the fleece, I chose to use our white alpaca’s this time because I felt it would be a little easier to gauge the resulting colors. Next time, I will try it on our beige and dark brown fiber to see what different hues I can achieve. 

 

Supplies and materials:

  • Packets of Kool-Aid (store brand works just as well) UNSWEETENED drink packets, Wilton Icing Colors or any kind of food coloring used for baking
  • Alpaca fleece (or other animal fiber, raw or spun into yarn)
  • Citric acid
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Liquid dish-washing soap
  • Quart size glass canning jars with lids
  • Large bowls
  • Glass measuring cup
  • Latex or rubber gloves to protect hands from dye

 

Method:

For those unfamiliar with the felting process, the procedure typically involves the following equation: fiber + soap + fluctuating water temps + agitation = felt. Given that all of these elements would be used at some point or another in this dyeing process, I wanted to limit the chances of inadvertently felting my bundles. 

I had read that carded fleece could help achieve a more even color disbursement throughout the bundle, but I felt carding it could increase the chances of it felting. I also thought the color variations in each could add a nice touch. 

I took uncarded fleece straight from the bag and created 1 oz. bunches for each color I wanted. 

fleece-bundles

One ounce bundles of fleece

 

I poured hot water into a bowl, squirted a little liquid dish soap in, then submersed each bundle of fleece. Supposedly, wetting the fleece with a soap solution that is not rinsed out helps the color to take better. Regardless, my fleece wasn’t pre-washed so I wanted to add the soap anyway. I also thought wet fiber would allow the dye solution to flow better.  

soak

Soaking fleece in hot water with a squirt of liquid dish soap

 

I left each bundle soaking for about two hours. The only reason I soaked it for that amount of time was because I got caught up with something else and couldn’t get back to them! Next time, I will probably only soak it for about one hour.

After the soak, I removed each bundle from the water and placed them into individual glass canning jars. 

 

jars

Pre-soaked fleece in jars

 

As I mentioned earlier, acid is key for this method to help bond the colors to the fiber. The beauty of the unsweetened drink packets is that they already contain citric acid as one of the ingredients. However, some of the colors I wanted to create couldn’t be created with the drink flavors I had, so for these, I turned to my icing colors. Because these obviously don’t have citric acid, I borrowed some from my bath bomb supplies.

For each color, I heated some water and filled a glass measuring cup to the two cup mark. To this I added a drink packet – or two, depending on how deep I wanted the color – and mixed it well. For the colors that could only be achieved using the icing colors, I added about 1.5 teaspoons of citric acid to the water and let it dissolve. I then added the desired icing color and made sure it was well mixed.

Some of the drink mix colors weren’t the exact shade I wanted by themselves so I added  a little bit of the icing colors to get what I was looking for. To these mixtures, I added a little extra citric acid.

kool-aid

Mixing dye colors

 

After each mixture was completely dissolved, I added it to one of the jars containing the fleece.

kool-aid-2

Pouring dyes into jars

 

*Lesson for next time: TAKE DETAILED NOTES!*

Since I was kind of flying by the seat of my pants this time I did a really lousy job of documenting the amounts of each color used in each jar. If I ever want to re-create a color from this round of dyeing, I’m kind of screwed! However, if I am trying to achieve a color close to one of the colors I achieved, I may be a little more fortunate. I managed to remember to take a piece of the drink packet I had used for that specific color mix and attached it to the lid of the jar. If I added any additional colors, I wrote that on the packet. For the colors that were only mixed from icing colors, I used a piece of tape to write the information. Unfortunately, some of the colors will forever be a mystery. In the end, I kind of began adding random colors to the water until I saw a color I liked. I have absolutely no idea what colors, let alone the quantities of each color, I used to create the final results!

 

info

Packet indicating color used

 

It was amazing to see how quickly some of the colors were absorbed into the fiber! I let them sit for about an hour and then tilted each jar to see how clear the water was. The clarity of the water gave me an indication of how much dye had been absorbed. Some already had completely clear water surrounding the fleece so I knew all the dye had been absorbed in these particular jars.

Other jars still had slightly colored water. The water in these particular jars had cooled down significantly so I decided to heat them back up to see if more dye would be absorbed. After removing the metal lids, I popped them in the microwave, and heated them back up to almost boiling. After replacing the lids, I let them sit for another 30 minutes. After this time, I was happy to see that several more now had clear water. The remaining couple of jars did have less colored water but weren’t completely clear. To the remaining stubborn and defiant jars, I added a splash of distilled white vinegar. This last step did the trick. Every one of the jars now had clear water with very little to no color remaining. 

clear2

Testing for dye absorption

finished

Dye process finalized

 

Eureka! Rainbow Colored Alpaca!

 

I removed the fleece from the jars and rinsed them in cool water. I noticed some color washing out of each one as I rinsed them but there did not seem to be any change in the saturation of color. Once the water ran completely clear, I squeezed them carefully to remove the excess water and put each bundle on a mesh sweater drying rack to dry. 

drying

Rinsed bundles set out to dry

 

I was overjoyed with the results!

(I especially enjoyed the added bonus of fruity smelling fleece!)

 

finals 

Since I didn’t document the exact amounts used to color each bundle, I can’t provide specific quantities. However, to the best of my knowledge, I charted each color and attempted to identify what colors went into each. Please accept my apologies if you encounter drastically different results should you attempt your own dyeing adventures!

  1. Kool-Aid  Strawberry (1 pkt.) + Kool-Aid Black Cherry (1 pkt.) + Wilton Violet + Wilton Rose
  2. Kool-Aid Blue Raspberry Lemonade (1 pkt.)   
  3. Kool-Aid Orange (1 pkt.) 
  4. Wilton Leaf Green  (very small amount) 
  5. Kool-Aid Pink Lemonade (1 pkt.)  + Wilton Rose 
  6. Mystery (possibly Wilton Leaf Green+ Wilton Royal Blue)
  7. Mystery (possibly small amount of Wilton Violet + Wilton Royal Blue) 
  8. Kool-Aid Watermelon (1 pkt.)
  9. Wilton Leaf Green
  10. Kool-Aid Mixed Berry (1 pkt.) + Wilton Royal Blue 
  11. Kool-Aid Cherry (1 pkt.)
  12. Kool-Aid Lemonade + Wilton Yellow
  13. Kool-Aid Berry Blue (1 pkt.)  
  14. Kool-Aid Grape (2 pkts.) + Wilton Violet
  15. Mystery (possibly Wilton Rose and Wilton Orange)
  16. Kool-Aid Black Cherry (1 pkt.) + Wilton Violet
  17. Wilton Orange + Wilton Christmas Red
  18. Kool-Aid – Pink Lemonade (1 pkt.)  + Wilton Violet 

 

And finally, here are some of my felted soaps created from this batch of dyed alpaca fleece:

felted-soaps-2

Ugly soap babies in their new wool coats!

 

I am already anticipating my next dyeing adventure. I am eager to see how the other shades of alpaca fleece will alter the colors. I am also excited to see what different color combinations I can create with the vast amount of coloring options I have available. Next time, I promise to do a better job of documenting the process!

 

Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time…

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