My first attempt at dyeing wool was… interesting to say the least. Keep in mind that I’ve never dyed anything except Easter eggs before, but I assumed it couldn’t be much more difficult. I was so excited to get started because I received the fiber package from Woolgatherings, and it was even more incredible than the photos on their store site! They didn’t do the actual fibers justice. Even the superfine merino felt almost as soft as angora. What a difference 3 microns can make! And this wasn’t even their softest Merino, they had another from Australia that was 3 less microns… at double the price of course. Mae and I also happened to be spending the whole day together, and one of the things I wanted to make with the merino was a pair of thrummed slippers for her for Christmas… but I couldn’t keep it a surprise, because I couldn’t resist the fun of having her dye it with me, and pick out the colors herself. So we skipped off to the grocery store to purchase some kool-aid. I was expecting to see a wide assortment of flavors, as I remember that aisle holding many as a kid. Our needs weren’t great, just some purple (grape)… and maybe some red to add a slightly different shade of purple. Alas! Imagine our dismay when we only saw 2 flavors in that aisle! Cherry and wild berry punch… both red. I can hardly believe I live in America right now!!! Maybe it’s because we live in Portland… we are too
snobby “weird” for kool-aid. There were many other drink mixes in the aisle, but all of them with some sort of fake sugar added, or some vitamin enhanced nonsense… not gonna work for us. We quickly came up with a backup plan: food coloring. It would be a little more tricky, as it would also require vinegar and more soaking time, but they just happened to have some in purple, so we grabbed that along with the cherry kool-aid.
We decided to dye half of the merino, 4 oz., hoping it would be enough, and also not wanting to do all of it at once in case something went wrong. We were going to do it all purple, but given the unknowns of the differences in the colors, we decided to do half in pink (a lighter shade of the cherry) and maybe use that for the thrums. I had read many blog posts about dyeing with both options, but it was a bit confusing as to which method would work the best. We ended up soaking both in water first, and the food-coloring version in vinegar as well. Then we slowly added the colors until we liked the way they were looking, then microwaved them for 2 minutes each, rested a few minutes and did another 2 minutes. Then we let them sit for almost 2 hours to cool.
I wasn’t sure the best way to get them from the sink after rinsing them, to the drying rack I set up in the laundry room. I knew that I shouldn’t wring them out completely… but it seemed crazy and messy to go from sopping wet to the rack. I assumed it was a bit like drying wool yarn, to squeeze it gently, then roll it gently but firmly into a towel. But when I did this with the pink fiber, it looked like I had just felted it! Oh no!!! So with the purple I didn’t squeeze it at all, and barely pressed on it with the towel. But I also had to spend more time rinsing it, because it was bleeding a lot of color from the food coloring. The pink from the kool-aid didn’t bleed at all, and it soaked up the color completely. When I hung both up, they definitely looked felted. I must have been too rough with the rinsing, or maybe the water temperature wasn’t cold enough? I didn’t want to shock it, so I tried to match the temperature of the fiber, which seemed lukewarm. Or maybe our problems started earlier when Mae was soaking the fiber. She couldn’t resist swishing it around in the water, she enjoyed the feel of it so much. At the time, I didn’t think of what she might be doing to it, she was having so much fun. Also the colors are not as dark as they looked before rinsing… not enough dye? Here it is, partially dried:
As it was drying, I felt pretty disheartened, do I decided to console myself by spinning up some of the undyed merino we had left. It drafted and spun like a dream! I have hardly ever felt anything so soft… almost as soft as my chickens’ fluffiest feathers. And it spun so smoothly as well, so different from my first merino… and I thought that was incredibly soft at the time!
Here’s what it looked like as a single:
Washed and drying:
I really like the way it looks overall, but I’m wondering if I may have plied it a bit too tightly in some places. Thoughts?
I have never felt merino this soft in the stores. I can’t wait to knit with it! Is it partially because it is undyed? Does dyeing change the amount of softness, or the feel of the fiber in general? If so… I’m very hesitant to try it with the rest of the fiber I bought. Believe it or not, the baby alpaca feels even softer… if a bit denser and shinier, and it has a much longer staple length than any of the other fibers. And don’t even get me started on the luxury fiber sample packs. I’m so excited to try spinning all of them! They are an even higher level of heaven to sink my fingers into… especially the cashmere and angora… far beyond what imagined they would feel like!!! I pulled out a tiny bit of each fiber to compare their staple lengths: superfine merino, baby suri alpaca, cashmere, angora, baby camel, yak, cultivated silk, and kid mohair. Then I couldn’t bear to throw them away after, so I twisted them all up into a little ring I can play with on my finger while I dream of spinning it all. I wonder what it would be like to spin all of it together? Or would that even work?
Meanwhile, the dyed roving had been drying away… for 2 days, and this is the final result. I tried fluffing it out a bit, and I was able to finally tear it open to get to the insides:
I may be able to salvage a tiny bit of it, but this might be about it… not really enough to make slippers:
So, dear expertly dyeing friends… where did we go wrong? Was it just too much agitation? Any tips before I give up on dyeing completely? And what shall we do with all of this felted merino roving? Is there any way to salvage it, or maybe a felted project we could use it for? It actually looks like they could almost be scarves… just like this: