Apart from crafting with first grade, I work on wet-felting projects with 5th grade and 7th grade every week. While the 7th graders are (to an extent) deciding on their own individual projects and designing them themselves, the 5th grade class has been working on a group/class project all year. In tune with one of their main themes this year – botany – we felted pieces of a big tree, in rotating groups of about 10 students at a time. The pieces have just been dyed and are going to be sewn, patchwork style, onto a sturdy piece of fabric. The finished piece of art will adorn their classroom wall, or possibly a more public wall within the school.
After we had collected enough pieces (felted in the three basic techniques: rope, ball, flat surface) we laid them out to decide on which pieces would become which part of the tree.
The green piece of felt underneath is obviously not the one we are going to use to assemble the tree. I underestimated the size by a lot.
The next step delighted the 11- and 12-year-olds immensely: we sun-dyed the pieces in unsweetened Kool-Aid*. The drink powder acts just like an acid dye, which is what you use to color animal, or protein fiber. It is a very easy and fool-proof way, also safe to do with children, since the smell of Kool-Aid might be a bit sickening (to me at least), it isn’t toxic and the way I did it requires no stove-top heating and simmering of dye pots.
All you need are ziplock bags, the drink powder, a bit of vinegar (any white type, but cheap is fine), water and sunlight.
First make sure your felted pieces are wet. I immersed them in water the night prior to dye day, then squeezed the water out. That way the wool takes the color much better.
Place the felt in a ziplock bag. We filled the gallon-size bags about a third with felted shapes.
Mix up your powder in a separate small container with just a bit of water. Be sure to either cover your work surface before you start this, or, like we did, take that step outside. Kool-Aid dyes everything really well, not just wool.
Some color suggestions: Lemon-lime makes a good green; cherry red is a bright red; dark cherry and grape dye a dark red and purplish red, respectively; for brown we mixed blue, green, grape, red and yellow, rather randomly, until the mix looked like a decent brown. Add about half a cup of vinegar to your premix container. Pour that liquid into the ziplock bag and add water, so the gallon-size bag is about half way full, or the water is covering the felt pieces. Close the “zip” and gently squish the felt, so every piece gets immersed in the dye liquid.
The next step is waiting. Put the plastic bag out in the bright sunshine for a day, turning the bag over every now and again. The water will actually heat up quite a bit.
After a day you will notice that the water has become clear again, and all the color has been taken by the wool. This observation seemed like a magic trick and excited the kids and me equally.
Pour out the dye water and rinse the now colored pieces in clear water, before you squeeze out the water and let them dry.
And this is where we are at. The last weeks of the school year we will spend sewing the leaves and branches, tree trunk, roots and fruit into place. I am already looking forward to the delight and pride on the kids’ faces when they will have completed this!
*Note: for a second batch of brown my local store didn’t have the right colors of Kool-Aid available, so I bought a no-name unsweetened drink powder on the same shelf and it worked just as well. Kool-Aid might have the best selection in colors overall, but for the color we needed this was not so important.