Dying Wool

I’m a big fan of natural wool, all of the shades from creamy white through chocolate brown and coal black, but sometimes it is nice to dye that white wool to suit your (or someone special’s) preference.  You can dye wool in any form (raw, roving, yarn, fabric) and the good news is that it is much easier to dye than plant fibers!  There are two general methods for dying wool, painting and vat dying.

For both methods, the prep of the wool is the same:

  • Fill a tub with warm water and a few glugs of vinegar (that’s super scientific, I know)
  • Loosely wrap roving into balls but otherwise just put the wool in, slowly helping it submerge under the water and squeezing gently to release any air.
  • soaking fiber
  • The key to working with wet wool and not having it felt is to move slowly, gently and not change the temperature quickly.
  • Let the wool soak for 20 minutes or more while you prepare your dye and pot

Vat Dying-One Color

  • Fill a large enamel pot with water and some vinegar (like your soaking water) and heat on medium/low
  • Add dye and stir so that it is uniformly distributed
  • squeeze most of the soaking water from the wool and slowly submerge into dye pot
  • slowly move the wool around with a spoon  then let sit
  • Periodically come back and stir a bit
  • When the water in the dye pot is clear lift your wool from the dye pot and transfer back to the warm soaking water to rinse.  Be sure the soaking water is still warm!
  • If you want it darker or if it did not dye uniformly (usually only with fabric) remake your dye pot and repeat the process.
  • When it is sufficiently dyed to your taste lift it from the rinse water and gently squeeze out most of the water then place on a drying rack to air dry.

Vat Dying-More than One Color

  • Fill your pot with water and vinegar
  • Fill cups with some of this vinegar water (as many as the number of colors you want) and mix in your dye (one color per cup)
  • Gently squeeze soaking water from wool and put it into your pot
  • pour dye in different areas of your pot, it’s okay if the colors don’t touch they will spread
  • Let it cook until the water is clear, lift your wool and put it back into the warm soak water to rinse.
  • Lift and squeeze excess water then air dry on a rack.

Painting

  • Put a trivet or spiral of rolled up aluminum foil in the bottom of your dye pot with a little water in the bottom, not to completely cover your trivet
  • Lay out lengths of seran wrap on a table
  • Make up cups of vinegar water with dye for each color you want
  • Squeeze excess soaking water from your wool and lay out on the seran wrap, how you lay it out will determine the pattern of your dye
  • Paint dye on with a large brush or just pour on portions you want that color
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  • Fold long edges of wrap over then roll up from one end to the other like a jelly roll, pulling the seran wrap tight to seal it at the end
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  • Put your rolls on your trivet and cover pot for 20-30 minutes
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  • Remove rolls from pot and carefully unroll into soaking water in order to rinse the wool
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  • Gently squeeze rinse water from wool and hang to dry on a rack
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