Thursday, December 1, 2016

Dyeing wool

Two 500 g cones of 3 ply white wool arrived from Bendigo Woollen Mills during the week - so it's on to wool dyeing! Very exciting. I have researched extensively on the internet when I should have been using my time more productively, and it really is just a matter of food colouring and white vinegar. So much easier than chemicals and gloves and masks for the procion fibre reactive dyes I've been using to dye cotton.

First you have to wind your wool into skeins. I did it on the legs of a footstool, which worked perfectly well, but apparently you can get actual apparatus to do this. It doesn't take a great deal of brain work though, so fine to do in front of the TV when you've finished folding the washing. The endless endless washing.

In a scarf that has a three-metre warp and 130 ends there is about 800 metres of wool (assuming a balanced weave, which is a big assumption in my case!). I was wanting to dye in 100m lots - so that about eight balls would do a scarf. Just as a rough guide to make sure I have enough before I start. There is about 2000m of wool on a 500g cone of 3 ply, according to Bendigo Woollen Mills, which means 100m should weigh about 25 g. So I skeined up my hanks and weighed them on the kitchen scales. They are a bit random because I couldn't be bothered putting them back on the footstool if it was only a bit off, but generally we are dealing with about 100 m skeins.

After tieing them up, I soaked them in vinegar and water (about one part vinegar to five parts water) overnight. Mmmm, soggy wool. Looks like noodles.

The next step is to add the food colouring and apply heat. I used the little bottles of gel food colouring (AmeriColor) which was what the nearest shop had. I got six colours (turquoise, blue, fuschia, red, yellow and black). I squeezed in about half a teaspon of the gel, with about a cup or two of cold water, stirred it until it was mixed properly and added the hank. Then I put it on the heat, and when it came to the boil, took it off the heat. Apparently you have to avoid the wool felting, which will just make a messy tangle of blah - and wool will felt with sudden changes of temperature and agitation. So I tipped it carefully into another bowl, rinsed out the saucepan and used it for the next one. A different colour! So much fun.

I also did some in the microwave. Water and food colouring mixed in a pyrex jug, add the wool, then microwave for two minutes and sit. Another two minutes and sit. The thing with food colouring is that the water goes clear when it's done - all the dye is absorbed into the wool. And if the water's not clear, or close to clear, then you heat it up again and add more vinegar until it's clear. Or until you get sick of it, whichever comes first. I only had to re-heat one lot, the rest didn't need it. I think it depends on how much dye you put in. I didn't measure anything.

Then you leave it in the dye until it's completely cool, rinse it in warm water with a bit of wool wash (or dishwashing liquid because you are in the kitchen and you can't be bothered walking ten steps to the laundry to get the wool wash) and dry it somewhere out of direct sunlight.

Aren't they pretty? It was so simple, and you don't have to worry about splashes or chemicals because it is literally actual food that you are using. The wierd thing for me is not being able to fiddle with it - I am used to smashing the cotton about to get the dye where I want it, and this is quite different. And I got a proper black! I've never done a proper black with cotton, but the wool took like magic. They are the six colours just straight, then mixes to make the orange, brown, purple and green.


  1. What lovely fun. Do things want to eat your scarves when they have food colouring?