I have a problem.
For some reason, hand-dyed, varigated spinning fiber – especially in a soft, fluffy merino or blend – just gets me. Every single time.
The problem, of course, is that that stuff is expensive. And I spin pretty fast.
Luckily, my problem has an easy solution – buy natural roving and dye it. (Or yarn! Any kind of wool works). My favorite method of dyeing is using kool-aid. It’s cheap, smells good, and makes gorgeously deep and subtle colors. You also don’t need any special pots or equipment for it, unlike most chemical dyes, because it’s food safe – a blessing for my small kitchen.
Today I’m going to talk about dyeing on the stovetop, which is great for making fairly uniform colors, or different shades of the same color. You can also dye with kool-aid in the microwave, which is best if you want very different colors on the same wool.
The process is pretty simple.
To start, you’ll need natural (undyed) fiber or yarn. Alternately, you can use something that’s already dyed, as long as its fairly pale – just be prepared for unpredictable results. The most important thing is that it has to be wool, silk, or another natural fiber for the dye to take and actually act as a permanent dye, instead of just a stain.
For the braid in the top picture, I used a pound of merino roving from Paradise Fibers. I love this stuff! Super super soft, and takes dye very well. A pound is a lot of fiber – if its your first time dying, you’ll want to use less.
(Plus a bonus cat! They’re attracted to wool for some reason.)
First, fill a really big pot with water. You want it to be large enough that you can completely cover your wool, with enough room for it to swirl and move freely. The pot that I used really wasn’t big enough for my roving, and I got a bit of felting as a result. Put your roving in. Try not to agitate it – that’s a recipe for felting.
If you want a consistent color throughout, let it soak for a while (at least an hour). I didn’t presoak mine, which contributed to the paler blue at the core of the roving. It takes longer for the dye to absorb into the center if it’s not already wet.
Next, add your color. Be prepared for some experimentation – how much you’ll need will vary a lot based on your fiber. Your best bet is to go into this with a general color in mind, but not an exact picture! It’s hard to get precise results without lots and lots of practice. If your pot is small, you might want to take your fiber out before adding the coloring – if you’ve got room to move, just add it right in. (I didn’t take it out. I’m a rebel).
I started out with about ten packets of blue (blue raspberry), four of purple (grape), and one of dark red (black cherry). I wound up adding about thirty packets total by the time I was done, and just played it by ear.
Bring your pot to a gentle simmer. You really, really, really don’t want to agitate your fiber, so try to stir as little as possible. However, you’re going to need to stir a little bit just to make sure the center gets exposed to dye – be super gently and slow. Keep adding dye as it absorbs until the fiber looks about like what you want. Remember that the core will be lighter than the outside.
Once the water is simmering gently and you’ve added all the color you want, let it simmer until the fiber reaches your desired color. You can tell when all the dye is gone because the water will be clear. Different colors absorb at different rates – you can see here that the purple has absorbed all the way, but some blue is still in the water.
When you’re done (because all the dye is gone or because you’re happy with the color), turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let it rest for about twenty minutes. This will help to fix the color.
(Here’s the wrapper carnage from my dye job. I even added a bit more after this!)
After it has sat for twenty minutes, remove the wool from the water. (I like to dump it into a colander). Let it drain for a bit, then hang it up (I put it over my shower rail, or outside in summer) until it is completely dry. This will probably take about a day. Don’t wring it out! It’ll felt.
When it’s completely dry, fluff it up a bit, and make it into a braid – I do this by making a crochet chain with my hands. Done!
Spin or use as your heart desires.