Monday, January 18, 2010

Dyeing To Spin

One thing always leads to another. First you want to crochet, or knit. Then you want to make your own yarn, so you learn to spin. Next comes the desire to make yarn with custom colors. I even secretly want to raise my own wool - but David draws the line at live sheep. (Not to worry...I'll wear him down like water on limestone.) But for now, I enjoy the fruits of other people's sheep - scouring, rinsing, carding, spinning, and sometimes dyeing. Here's a little sample and tips on how I go about it.

This is raw fleece from an Icelandic sheep. It has dirt, grass, and poo caught in the locks, but has a lovely soft texture and springy curls. It must be teased apart with a little shake to get the finer particles out, then washed in a bath with shampoo. No agitating, or it will felt (fuse) together!

The fleece has been washed, rinsed, and spread out on a towel overnight to dry. It is now a lovely frothy white, and even softer!

Grab a good handful of wool and drop it in the pot! You need a good size stock pot, filled with 2 inches of water, 1/4 cup of vinegar, and heated to a simmer.

Press the wool into the water, making sure the water never comes to a boil. (You've heard of a boiled wool coat? That's not what we're making here.)

Sprinkle the dye over the wool and press lightly into the water. Don't forget to wear gloves, or you'll be wearing your new colors for a few days. Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes. You can carefully press the wool down into the water occasionally to ensure total saturation.

Now you can add another layer of wool, enough water to cover, and a sprinkle of dye. You can use the same color, or a different one.

Press the wool into the water, cover and simmer for another 15 minutes. Repeat this process until you have dyed all the wool you want, or the pot is full. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. (This can be left to sit overnight.)

You can now drain the pot (on a gravel driveway is good - just not over a septic tank or garden area). Fill a bathtub with a few inches of lukewarm water and place the wool into it. Let it soak for a few minutes, drain the tub, and repeat until the water is reasonably clear. Carefully press the wool to squeeze out excess water and lay out on a towel or rack to dry.

Here's the finished wool! A gorgeous Apricot and Rose variegated color - ready to card and spin!

And another attempt - this time in Deep Violet, Bahama Blue, and Sky Blue.


  1. Thanks for the post. Very nice. I haven't tried dyeing this way. When I was dyeing years ago I gathered wild dye plants like goldenrod, walnut, onions, lichens & such but I always simmered a dye solution first. I'm unfinishedknits on Ravelry and I just friended you.

  2. I enjoyed reading your post! I have only tried Kool Aid dyeing once but I want to try more dyeing this year. You are inspiring. Love reading about your spinning and dyeing efforts. And you are so right in saying that one thing often leads to another.