Dyeing for a Change

A little food coloring yields a brand new lunchbox.

By now you probably heard that I’ve been working on the video podcast Sticks and Stones with my friend Julia of Wee Sheep Knits. We share our creativity with the world by giving insight into projects we’re working on and providing a DIY segment for the folks at home to try.

In Episode 9, Julia taught us how to dye wool yarn using food coloring. It was right up my alley. (Truth be told: we may have burned out my microwave setting the dye, but it was still a blast.) It’s one of those projects that leaves you hunting around for other objects you can dye. And find something I did: my kid’s lunchbox. I decided to give dyeing whirl beyond the yarn when my daughter and I dyed her lunchbox.

The original light pink lunchbox that’s about to get a makeover.

The lunchbox began life as a pink LL Bean nylon lunchbox. My daughter got it when she was in Kindergarten and after 4 years of use it shows no signs of giving up (go LL Bean!).

The problem is that my now 4th grader is not the pink princess she used to be. We decide to pour on the food coloring and see if we could give it a makeover. I’m happy to report that it was a success! Here’s how we did it.

Tools:

  • Wilton icing colors, available at craft stores or online
  • Popsicle sticks
  • rubber gloves
  • boiling water
  • towel
  • vinegar
  • heatproof container large enough to hold the lunchbox
  1. Preparing your supplies: Boil the water and have it waiting in the wings for Step 3. Rinse the lunchbox so the nylon is completely saturated.
  2. Dyeing the nylon: Wearing rubber gloves (so you don’t dye your hands), use a Popsicle stick to spread the icing dye across the nylon of the lunchbox. We did this procedure in our kitchen sink to keep the dye contained so it wouldn’t color unsuspecting bystanders like the kitchen counters. We found that rubbing the dye on directly gave a brighter color. You can also dilute the color in water. Sticks and Stones Episode 9 gives more insight into this process.

    My artist painting food coloring on her lunchbox.

  3. Setting the dye:Pour boiling water and vinegar in a 1:1 ratio into the heatproof container and then place the lunch box in the container as well. I used an aluminum cake pan, adding vinegar until the pan was about 1/4 full and then adding hot water until it was 1/2 full. I poured warm water inside the lunch box so it would remain submerged. Put the lid on the cake pan and wrapped the whole thing in a towel so it stays hot longer. Once this mixture cools, I emptied the cake pan and add a new batch of hot water and vinegar to the cake pan and flipped the lunch box over to submerge the lid, as the whole lunchbox didn’t fit in the pan. Again I lidded the cake pan and wrapped it in a towel.
  4. Rinse cycle: Once you’ve set the dye with hot water and the water has cooled, it’s time to rinse out the excess dye with running water. Hang the lunchbox on the washline so it dries completely.
  5. Laundering: Finally, I washed the lunch box in the washing machine with regular detergent to make sure all the excess dye came out.

I let my daughter apply the colors to the lunchbox. She chose sky blue and leaf green Wilton icing colors. The butterfly patch did not dye at all, but the nylon lunch box did. And laundering the lunchbox removed the bits of dye that got inside the lunchbox. So now I have a happy kid and a few more years before I have to buy new school supplies.

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