Kool-Aid Dyeing Pre-Felt

Teaching classes in my studio allows us to work on messy projects that require more elaborate preparation and/or clean-up. I imagined this project when I first started teaching classes to younger children off-site, but the logistics made it too complicated.

My goal was to take students through the steps to make their own colored felt. Rather than purchasing industrial wool felt for our projects, I wanted to show them how we could create our own. Since young children often struggle with the finesse required to draft fine shingles of roving sliver, starting with needlepunched prefelt allowed us a shortcut while still working with wool we could wet felt.

One type of prefelt is created in an industrial process using many needles. Wool is fed between two vibrating metal plates, one of which contains hundreds of tiny barbed needles. What emerges is a loosely held together fabric which can be cut, layered and wet felted to create sturdy felt fabric. Many feltmakers use prefelt to create custom garments with lots of drape without the weight or rigidity more common with thick felt.

Starting with an 80″ x 60″ sheet of prefelt ordered from Outback Fibers, I cut it in to 12″ x 10″ pieces. The total weight was a little over 8oz, so I purchased 8 packets of Kool-Aid unsweetened powder. Each packet was mixed with approximately 6oz of water in small mason jars. Kool-Aid is an inexpensive and non-toxic way to dye a small amount of wool as it contains citric acid. In order for acid dyes to bond with wool, vinegar or citric acid must be mixed with the dye. Buying the Kool-Aid packets saved me the step of calculating and measuring the correct dye/acid proportions.


The prefelt was presoaked for 30 minutes in water with a drop or two of dishsoap added to help breakdown the surface tension. Some of the pieces were wrung out so they had very little water left in the wool, while others were sitting in standing water. Varying the amount of water in the prefelt affected the results we achieved.

Recalling my favorite sibling-annoying method of stealing sips, we used straws to pick up a small amount of dye from the jars. Stick the straw in the Kool-Aid, place your finger over the tip and lift. The vacuum created will keep the liquid in the straw. Drip on the prefelt. Leaving the prefelt slightly wet will allow for more of a watercolor effect.


It wasn’t long before the students decided it was more fun to splatter and flick than to drop a single bead of Kool-Aid on their wool.


Once the students were done with the wool, we put each piece in a separate ziploc bag. Towards the end, we used the last pieces of prefelt  as sponges to sop up the remaining bits of Kool-Aid in the trays. These pieces, which were various shades of mossy earth, were put together in a single ziploc bag. The ziploc bags were loaded into the two trays of a bamboo steamer sitting over a large pot of simmering water. We steamed the sealed bags for fifteen minutes. After the bags had cooled a little, we rinsed the prefelt sheets one at a time. For the most part, they held their color very well. Some of the prefelt pieces were thoroughly felted, as they had received so much vigorous attention during the dyeing process. If you plan to dip dye the prefelt in the jars, or submerge them in trays, do it with a gentle hand, minimizing agitation as this can lead to inadvertent premature felting.


Ombre T-Shirts

Can we just pretend that I haven’t been ignoring my blog for the last three months? That I didn’t sneak away for the summer and then turn my back on writing when I returned home? I’m sorry. I wish I wasn’t so easily sidetracked. Discipline is not my middle name. Whether it is exercise, writing or even sewing, if I don’t stick with the routine, I lose my momentum and then off I slide down the muddy slope.

So how do I make amends for being such a slacker and does anyone care? I’ll start by posting some of the projects I completed before leaving Seattle.

There are two very lucky boys in our family who have the good fortune of sharing a birthday, born within several hours of each other though we lived several states apart. Not only that, but both boys were born on their due date, and my son was born on his sister’s birthday. Crazy. I’m not sure if that has anything to do with it, but these cousins are really tight. They like the same sort of play and seem to share part of a brain. In the past we have made freezer-paper stenciled shirts for their birthday, so I thought it would be nice to try something different.


We tried a little ombre dyeing in a friend’s back yard, setting up several different containers with cold water and mixing in acid dyes. Dipping strips of fabric in the mason jars of dye concentrate, we gauged the relative shade of each color and proceeded to add them in small amounts to the containers. The middle shirt was dyed yellow, then placed in an orange bath with half the shirt hanging over the edge and half of the shirt floating in the dye. Once the color had started to creep above the water line, I reversed the shirt and dangled it into a red bath. I used a similar process for the green/turquoise shirt and the reverse flame shirt, though I skipped the overdyeing, prefering to use two colors instead of three.

We did loads and loads of dyeing that day: underwear, white crew socks, more t-shirts splatter painted, cloth diapers, some nunofelted silk fabric and a pile of woven cotton fabric. We let the kids paint, dip and play with the dyes (with supervision of course). Some combinations were more pleasing than others, but it was enormously fun to have the freedom to try anything and everything. Thank you Rima for opening up your home to us.

Any Experienced Wool Dyers?

I’ve made plans to spend this weekend in Vancouver with my mother sewing my cape with the felt blanket I scrounged from Goodwill a few weeks ago. Beautiful beige that it is, I thought it would be perfect for dyeing a bright color using food coloring. I’ve tried Kool-Aid and was only moderately pleased with the results. Food coloring sold as a paste, used by Melissa the Baker, gave me much better results, with the exception of the purple shades.  


Exhibit A: the freshly dyed hanks of Lamb’s Pride dripping dry outside


Exhibit B: a fulled bag that spent five weeks pool side last summer; by the end of Sophie’s swimming lessons, the vibrant magenta and purple tones had all but disappeared, though the turquoise stayed true and the green color was started out pretty subdued.

With that experience under my belt, I’m approaching the process of dyeing my wool blanket with trepidation. I want to make sure that the color is even and that it doesn’t fade. In the past, I dyed the wool on the stovetop in the biggest canning pot I could find. However, I need to leave the blanket in fairly large pieces because of the pattern I’m going to use, so I’m tempted to try dyeing it in the washing machine. Will the hot water that comes out of the faucet be hot enough? Will the dye bath cool off before the dye has set? How much vinegar do I add to a large load in a conventional washing machine? On Pat Sparks’ list, I read a recommendation to add 1/4 cup of vinegar for a quart of water, but how many quarts does my washing machine hold? I’m looking for some feedback and suggestions.

Tie-Dye Gumbo

Cross another WIP off my list: Owen’s tie-dye duvet cover is complete.





shirts.jpgThis project gives me more satisfaction than most of my other projects because it was such a deparature from my comfort zone. I am not comfortable driving a sewing machine; when I was seven, my mother helped me to sew a dress for my doll; it was the ugliest piece of work I’d ever seen. I promptly discarded the doll with her ugly dress, never to touch them again. Clearly, I come by my perfectionist streak honestly; it started way down in the depths of my being. My mother has always been a talented seamstress, sewing her first suit and her wedding outfit. She continues to make fantastic outfits for Sophie and Owen.

For that reason, I’ve left the sewing to my mother and tried out other creative pursuits. I have sewn over the years, but it was always through clenched teeth and with a lot of swearing thrown in for good measure.

Owen’s duvet cover was a little different. My mother recently gave me her old sewing machine since she upgraded to a professional model, and I approached this project with an enthusiasm I hadn’t felt before. Don’t get me wrong; there was a moment when I needed to calculate some measurements that I started to vent a little frustration because I couldn’t just plunk down at the machine. Lance started to question why I was tackling yet another new project, but I explained that beauty can not exist without a little pain. I knew the pride of completing something so large and so functional would be worth it in the end.

When I finally sat down in front of the machine, the sewing went smoothly; the machine operated without a hitch and I actually enjoyed it. Good thing I did, because the pieces for Sophie’s duvet cover are ironed, cut, measured and folded in our dining room waiting for their turn at the machine.

Bright Colors

tiedyedrobe.jpgDon’t we have enough projects? Why are we doing this?

Lance was skeptical when I told him I wanted to tie-dye flannel instead of buying fabric to sew a duvet cover for Sophie and Owen. Then I told him I wanted to perfect my technique on some old white t-shirts; well, that changed everything. It wasn’t long before we were both stained with dye up to our elbows.

After we had tied up all the clean t-shirts, jogging bras, underwear and sports socks we could find, we started to hunt around the house for new material. My bathrobe was thelargest canvas we could find. It really looks great here. We left it sitting for four hours; actually it was doing more dripping than sitting; the dark shapes seeped in every direction making the edges pretty blurry. The turquoise and green faded in the rinse, but the reds and pinks stayed bright and the unpainted spots didn’t end up tinged with pink.

Sophie had so much fun she wants to have a tie-dye party in the backyard for her birthday. I love the idea of buying white t-shirts for everyone instead of cheap, plastic goodie-bag toys.