Monday, 10 September 2012

Tutorial: Dyeing with food colouring in the microwave

Do you ever look round and wonder where on earth the time has gone? I seem to do this continually lately.  It's almost a month since I posted -again, but so many  new and interesting things are coming into may world at the moment it's hard to keep up, and I'm not sure if I'm coming or going. My desk is full of books on psychology, social science,  baking, needlework and anthropology (not necessarily in that order!) My course begins on 6th October so I am  a bit ( ha, a lot!) nervous, but also very excited.

To add to this excitement on 4th and 5th October I am  going to an  embroidery workshop in the beautiful city of Bath  with  mother and daughter  team Leslie Turpin Delport and Nikki Delport Wepener . It's being held at the workshop of Lynne Roche.  This should stop me worrying about studying for a couple of days! I will take my camera  along. I've no WIPs at all at the moment, although I'm just about to design another baby sampler for the next impending arrival in the family, and  I am making  mini Christmas cakes.Never let it be said I don't like a bit of variety in life!

Now ages ago I  promised a tutorial, and it's yonks since I did one. I enjoy hand dyeing threads , but don't have a lot of room, and I'm not fond of using chemical dyes. Being a lover of anything 'green' this method is one I hope will be of use to dollmakers, embroiderers and mixed media lovers:  dyeing  protein fibres in the microwave with food colouring*. Fun, economical, a bit random but (relatively) environmentally friendly!

You will need:
  • *liquid or paste food colouring, I just used cheapie stuff from the supermarket( I  hear Kool Aid is brilliant for this, but I couldn't get hold of any!)
  • white distilled vinegar
  • water
  • a large microwaveable bowl
  • protein fibres
  • old towel
  • kitchen roll
  • plastic pipette or an old paint brush for adding colour is handy

Your fibre must be animal protein based - that is to say silk, fleece or pure wool,  cotton or linen won't work, you'll need to use another method.

Place your fibre in the bowl and soak in a mixture of warm water and distilled vinegar (about 50/50 worked for me) until just covered. Some people do this overnight, but I found half an hour was fine, as long as the fibres were well soaked. I'm using mohair fleece here, about 15 grammes, I  think.
Add your food colouring.Here I've  mixed green and blue to get a  nice turquoise and added it to the fleece with a pipette to get an even spread of colour. If you want a stronger colour use more colour (see note below)* You  could also use a mix of colours to get a rainbow effect (lovely on stranded silk embroidery thread).

Pop it in the microwave (ours is a 900 watt) for a couple of minutes. I  took mine out to check the colour change regularly, but found 5 mins was the absolute maximum I needed for this amount of fleece.  You may need to alter this time depending on your microwave.

Health and Safety note! Do please make sure that you protect yourself from the heat and use oven gloves as the bowl/fibres can get very hot - as I can verify!

When all the colouring has been taken up the remaining liquid will be clear. Just like magic!


Allow the fibres to cool, drain the liquid and then rinse them really well in cold water. If you are using curly fleece use your hand to protect it so  that it keeps it's shape.

You will find that the colour becomes less deep as it is rinsed* Gently squeeze out the water and leave to dry on an old towel.
That's it! You can achieve lots of different colours with  just red, yellow and blue food dyes. You can test out your colour mixes on a piece of damp kitchen towel to get an idea of the colour you have achieved, although part of the fun is you never quite know what you will create! Here's a selection of my fleeces.
These fleece fibres are great for doll hair, but also felting,  projects on the embellisher, embroidery and mixed media work.  Small quantities of pure wool work well too.

Sorry for any typos etc but Blogger spellcheck tells me it's having a day off today!x


  1. Great tip, Jules!! I had been collecting different color skeins for doll hair and as I really don't make a large number of dolls and I also don't crochet or knit, I was amassing quite the stash which took up too much room. I had begun to resort to planning the doll around the "hair" I had on hand. With this method, I could just get off white and make what I need!

  2. Great tutorial Jules! Thanks for sharing.

  3. It was good catching up with you on your blog this morning. You are the busy one. So much excitement with classes and more classes. Your tutorial is really precise and interesting. It's hard to find time to do everything we'd like to so I am going to keep this one in mind for the future. Thanks so much.

  4. Good to hear from you.I have been busy dying this week with chemical dyes.Much prefer the use of yours.Have plenty of white fleece so will have a go your way later this week.Good luck with everything.
    hugs jill

  5. Wonderful tutorial thank you very much

  6. Fantastic tutorial! Your colors are gorgeous - especially the turquoise. Enjoy your embroidery workshop - sounds like so much fun!

  7. Sounds busy! I hope the course goes well, how long will you be studying for? :)

  8. I would never have imagined you could do this with a microwave ~ love the blue!

  9. Great tutorial !!!!! need to try once.

  10. Спасибо за идею, и за хорошее изложение материала


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