1. I tend to like to re-skein my yarn from the size of loop that I get the yarn in. This can be kind of annoying if you, like me, don't have a swift or something similar that you can wind the yarn around. I have found, however, that if you want to get nice, consistent loops, the end of a table works just dandy.
2. When you've got your skein the size you want it, tie around all the strands in several places, making sure to keep it very loose. Try tying the knots around a large knitting needle if you're worried about tying the loops too tight. It is important to keep them loose, or else you'll end up with tie-dyed yarn. Which is perfectly acceptable if that's what you're going for, but sometimes tragic if it isn't.
3. Once you're all tied up, soak your yarn to be dyed in water for no less than 30 min. I usually leave mine for at least an hour. I tend to also actually wash my yarn gently and rinse it very well just to get any residue left from processing off.
4. While you're waiting for your yarn to get good and saturated, you can prepare your dye stocks. With Kool-aid, it's as simple as dumping a few packets of mix into whatever container you are using. Kool-aid is totally non-toxic, as we drink it all the time, and so is pretty much safe to use in the dishes you have at home. If you're worried about chemicals in the yarn transferring to your dishes, use something you're going to keep exclusively for dyeing.
When you mix your Kool-aid dye stock, use warm to hot water so that all of the powder dissolves. TIP: don't fill your containers up all the way if you're going to use the microwave to set your dye, as it WILL boil over and make a mess.
To dye with acid dyes, which Kool-aid is, there are generally three methods that can be used. One is to take small amounts of yarn and immerse them in a small amount of liquid and microwave them until the yarn soaks up all the dye, two to simmer larger amounts of yarn in a stainless steel or enamel pot on your stove top, as these won't react with your dyes and turn them funny colors. The third is hand painting, which we'll get to.
If you want to do small batches of yarns in the microwave, first make sure your container is microwave safe, and will fit. then put your soaked yarn in your dye solution and zap it for about two minutes, then take it out to let it rest. When I'm using this method, I usually have several colors going at once in a rotation, so that one can be in the microwave while the others are resting.
This is the my yarn as I'm putting it into its lemon-lime bath:
This is after one 2 minute trip in my microwave:
This is after two 2 minute trips:
And this is after three:
As you can see, it sucks almost every bit of dye out of the solution. When this stage is reached, let your yarn sit in the dye solution to cool, (it may take even more of the dye up as it sits there), and then rinse thoroughly. Very thoroughly. Dry and you're ready to use them. The dyes are as colorfast as any other acid dye, which is pretty darn color fast. You may get some fading over time, but it won't bleed unless you haven't rinsed well enough.
Which brings us to hand painting, which is the really fun part.
First, protect your work surface and lay out a bit of cling film. squeeze the excess water out of your yarn and lay it out on your cling film.
Then apply your dye to your yarn in whatever manner you like. This time I experimented with several methods of dabbing my concentrated dye stock onto my yarn, all bought in a sampler package at my local big box store, just so I could see if there was a method I liked best. I know people have also used turkey basters, spray bottles, bulb syringes and eye droppers, so it really is up to your preference. It's important not to get too much water in your mix, or all your colors will smear together. This tutorial says to blot excess water away with a paper towel, but I'm not sure that's always the way I'd go. I like a little bit of mixing.
When you've got as much dye on your yarn as you want, wrap it up in the cling film and get ready to steam set it.
You can either microwave steam set it using the same 2 minutes, then rest method we used before, or you can do it on the stove top in a steamer basket over boiling water. If you do it this way, let it steam for at least 20-30 minutes, and make sure not to let your water boil away. Once you've steamed your yarn, let it cool, unwrap and rinse thoroughly, and hang to dry. Your hand-painted yarn is now ready for use.
NOTE: These instructions ONLY work on protein fibers, such as wool and silk, it does NOT work on synthetics or cellulose fibers like cotton or bamboo. Also remember that your hands are made of protein, and will dye, so wear gloves.
This is a swatch I knit of two yarns that I treated exactly the same; washed, soaked, and cooked together in the same jar of solution, one is wool and one is cotton.
Pretty amazing, huh? Dyeing cellulose fibers will be another post... once I've actually figured out how to do it.
I hope you've gotten some ideas here. Also go and listen to the podcast where I talk about dyeing things with Kool-aid at Here's to Ewe