On the face of it, it’s not that crazy of an idea: it’s the same food grade acid dyes that are in the different packets of Kool-aid, along with some extra sugar, etc., that can be washed out in the rinse. After some test runs, I’m happy to report that, yes, you can dye yarn and roving with candy, and get some pretty cool results. There are some caveats here: some candies work great, some work not-at-all, and some are just not worth the trouble. It’s going to be cheaper and more controllable if you just use your favorite acid dye, but if you’re looking for something to do with candy besides eat it, this is a thing, and a pretty interesting thing at that. This would also be a great Valentine’s gift for the knitter/spinner in your life who has everything. (That’s a joke, they obviously need more fiber.)
I went to my local supermarket and shopped in their bulk candy aisle, which is extensive, and bought things I thought would be cool/effective in dyeing: jawbreakers, candy bracelets, red hots hearts, candy sprinkles, Lifesavers, tic-tacs, a bag of candy-coated, chocolate-covered sunflower seeds (yes, that did go horribly wrong. Sort of.) I didn’t buy any jelly beans (expensive!) or anything gummi (washing out gelatin) or anything else chocolate.
I started out with 2oz of superwash Merino in a just-simmering water bath with a splash of vinegar, and added a jawbreaker, some tic-tacs, and some sprinkles, and I had pretty good results. There was too much fiber for the amount of dye, and the jawbreaker left some weird candy pieces even after the rinse.
The Lifesavers were a disappointing bust. One takeaway is that translucent candy doesn’t require a lot of dye, and it just dissipates in the water without doing much of anything. Likewise the Nerds, the candy bracelets, the lemon heads, the colored sugar sprinkles, all didn’t contain enough dye to do anything. So too with the gobstoppers, the small version of the jawbreakers.
Surprisingly, the sweethearts candies performed like bath fizzies, and had a lot more dye in them than one would have thought. This is when I learned the real secret of candy-dyeing: it’s got to take a certain amount of time for the candy to dissolve in order for it to have deep color penetration, and it’s got to be in direct contact with the fiber. Just floating around in the water will result in washed out colors.
Because I had to know, I did dye some more superwash Merino with the candy chocolate sunflower seeds. Several things: I wouldn’t do this with anything but superwash, because I had to rinse it in hot dish-soapy water five times before it was reasonably chocolate-free. I inadvertently dumped the whole bag into the dye pot, and it resulted in a mostly chocolate brown colorway. When I let it cool there was hardened grease on the surface. I’m assuming it’s the palm kernel oil or what-have-you, but it was like skimming the fat off a pot roast. Also, there were sunflower seeds everywhere. (I think I was thinking, “less chocolate, less mess.”) BUT. Spinning this stuff up, it feels like cashmere. The fat content must have coated the fibers, because it’s simply a dream to spin. And it looks a lot like chocolate. I can’t not recommend this, especially if you have superwash sitting around not doing anything.
For a Valentine’s project, or a kid’s project, or just because you’re curious like I am, definitely go try dyeing up some fiber with candy.