Saturday, April 5, 2014

Breaking Black Food Coloring: Wilton vs McCormick

I have been dying (lol) to compare the difference between Wilton's and McCormick's black food colorings for a while now.  I decided that I would do a side by side comparison of the two food colorings in a dyeing experiment.  I knew that the food colorings contained different types of dye; both contain Blue #1 & yellow #5, Wiltons contains Red #3 and Yellow #6 whereas McCormicks contains Red #40.  

Shortly after adding the food coloring to the pot.  Wilton's is in the big pot on the left, McCormick's is in the smaller pot on the right.  
I added 27 g of wool fiber to each pot with 6 cups of water + 3T of white vinegar.   In the video (see the end of the post), I added black food coloring to 1/4 cup of plain water.  

McCormick's Black - a few minutes after adding the dye.  It is hard to tell, but there are some distinct blue and red tones mid a lot of block tones.  
Wilton's Black - a few minutes after adding the dye
In the middle of the experiment I started to have doubts about how this was going to work out.  Unlike my Breaking Delphinium Blue video where I added dry fiber to a pot of dye,  I wanted to add the dye to a warm pot of fiber.  I wanted to demonstrate a different way you could make dyes break.  Now, this is a technique that I KNOW works (as you can see clearly from the Wilton's food coloring samples), but I think I may have added too much black food coloring to the McCormick's so that we won't see the breaking super well.  Of course, I added the dye to the top of the pot, so the colors could be different in the bottom layers.  There is no way to know what that looks like until I wash the fiber, so I will ultimately have to wait and see.  

After 15 min of light simmering.  Wilton's is on the right, McCormick's is on the left. (I know, I switched orientations when I took the picture, whoops!)
What a difference!  The Wilton's food coloring broke into reds, purples and teal.  The McCormick's food coloring broke into a reddish brown with hints of blue.  These different blacks can be used based on what kind of breaking (or not) you hope to see in your fiber.  

Completed fiber: Wiltons (left) and McCormick's (right)
Completed fiber: Wiltons (right) and McCormick's (left)

Make sure you check out the video of this dyeing experiment!


  1. Dying fiber and whatnot isn't usually super interesting to me, but I really enjoyed reading this post! That's so cool that two different food dyes that are the same finished product can break down so differently. I love the colors from the Wilton pot. Now I need to go back and read some of your older posts to really understand this dyeing thing. But I will ask a newbie question: is this the way that all variegated yarns are dyed? From breaking apart other colors?

    1. No. Most variegated yarns are dyed by using multiple different colors of commercial dye. These dyes have been optimized specifically for dyeing fiber. Food coloring based dyes contain molecules that are safe to ingest, so there are fewer options. It just so happens that the red molecules bind to the fiber faster than blue molecules, and if you take advantage of diffusion then you can get the colors to break apart and see cool things like in this tutorial.

      You CAN also get breaking with commercial dyes, but I believe* that it can be "easier" to get a "truer" color.

      *I have not yet tried commercial dyes

  2. I'm confused by the labels on the last two pictures. It seems that you were saying that Wilton broke with teal in it which would make sense from the previous pictures and the composition of colors in the Wilton. However, the labels on the last two pictures of the fiber indicate that McCormick's broke with the teal in the fiber. Is that correct?

  3. Wow, you would think that by 30 I would be able to tell my left from my right. I did totally mess up those labels. I'll go fix them now. Thank you so much for pointing this out!

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