Tag Archives: dyeing wool roving

A New Twist on Wool Dyeing

Lesson samples in the stockpot
Lesson samples in the stockpot

Last weekends dye session was surprising and interesting to say the least.

The actual dyes for the most part were little different from the previous two sessions, only the pre-treatment techniques changed.

This time the Merino roving was twisted, knotted, tied and clamped to see what the application of a few Shibori techniques would produce with acid dyes.

As an aside, the Procion MX dyes that were made up two weeks ago to “age” were brought into play in a demonstration of using the chemically reactive MX dyes as acid dyes.

Twisted, knotted, tied and clamped.
Twisted, knotted, tied and clamped. (click to enlarge)

Pieces 1 to 4 – normal acid dyes

Four lengths of Merino roving were either twisted, knotted, tied with twisty-ties or clamped between solid blocks prior to soaking in cold water. Once prepared they were transferred to their respective containers and the dye applied.

The first 3 roving pieces used the same amount and colour (blue with a dash of red) of dye, and dyed in jars that were placed inside the stock pot.

The clamped piece had to be dyed in a small saucepan as the clamps, ties and blocks made it too bulky to fit in a jar. It *just* fit in the stockpot with the rest of the jars. It had what was left of the mixed up blue dye so it got a bit more dye than the other three. It has also picked up a little tannin – the brownish colour – from the wooden blocks. Forgot that … should have used plastic or glass.

Procion MX Dyes – an interesting experiment

Delineation (click to enlarge)

The Procion MX experiment however proved most intriguing. Two colours – orange and purple – had been mixed up two weeks prior and left to “age”. I had a long piece of roving, folded in half, with one half in the orange dye jar the other half in the purple dye jar, sitting side by side in the stockpot. Both jars were filled to the rim with extra water, and the roving was deliberately dragged from one jar to the other and back to blend the colours.

During the steaming process however, the colours seemed to “unblend” and form quite a distinct hard line where they “met”. Most curious.

Merino MX blend line
Merino MX blend line (click to enlarge)

As the wool cooled the line became less distinct as some fibers pulled one way and others moved the opposite, but even dry there is no “brown” blended band.

Cool down

All pieces were left in the stockpot to cool overnight – a precaution that has saved every piece from felting since the first lessons learning experience.

The results once untied, rinsed and dried were pleasing across the board. The Shibori pieces exhibited their distinctive contrasting areas of dyed and undyed wool, and the Procion MX experiment continues to intrigue with little to no blending at the colour change point.

Merino roving dyed with Procion MX dyes using the acid dye method.
Merino roving dyed with Procion MX dyes using the acid dye method.


The Procion MX dyes did not produce the intensity of colour expected of them. This may have been a result of the cooler ambient temperatures slowing down the “ageing” process, or possibly a result of the extra water added to fill the jars. The remaining MX dye water has been preserved and bottled to “age” some more and will be re-used in a month or so.

The orange and purple MX experiment will be repeated in the coming months with some variations and at longer intervals to determine whether the delineation is repeatable and whether extra time and/or warmer ambient temperatures help in the dye ageing process.

Dyed Wool Spectrum

This week marks the second week of my Quilt University on-line Wool Dyeing course with Marjie McWilliams.

Week 2 – Lesson 2

Wool Roving SpectrumFirst thing Saturday morning I read through this weeks lesson instructions over a hot cuppa, printed them out and inserted the pages in my Wool Dyeing display book. The plastic sleeve pages are invaluable for situations where water (and dye) is likely to get splashed or dripped around.

Saturday after lunch is the first opportunity I get to start the next lesson.

The notes for the first exercise in Lesson 2 suggested dyeing one colour or multiple colours in separate pots or jars, and gave recipes for making eight pastel colours from dye stock. I could fit eight coffee jars in my big stock pot, so what the heck – do all eight!

Making up the stock was easy-peasy. I *love* acid dyes! Mixing the pastels from the stock was a little time-consuming but otherwise a simple job. All the  jars loaded with pre-soaked roving and dye go into the stock pot, water added to the stock pot up to the level in the jars. Pop in the thermometer, light the gas and we’re away.

Eight jars a simmering
Eight jars a simmering

After last weeks final success the smartest thing to do was follow the same successful procedure. The temperature in the Dye Room was no better than last week, and heating the stock pot to just below simmering took a while even with the lid on the pot. Then the room temperature vinegar was added to the jars, and 30 minutes of occasional pot-water stirring later, the heat was turned off and the pot was left till the next morning.

Sunday Morning

First task – bring the stock pot up to the house and gently wash the roving in cold water – the whole pot and contents were quite cold by now. As expected, the roving did not felt at all. The colours looked wonderful even while still wet!

Wet roving and wash water.
Wet roving and wash water.

The most amazing thing is the dye jar water remaining had virtually no colour left in it, and no colour came out of the roving when it was washed. In this photo, the water in the tub is a combination of the roving rinse water, and the dye water from the jars. The roving is still wet, but the water dripping off it is clear. For those of us coming from an MX dye background, even natural dyes, with cotton and silks, this is simply amazing!

Although the lesson notes called for solid pastels in the first exercise, I’m far more interested in mottled colours. Apart from an initial stir and poke to get the dye colour through the roving in the jar, the jars were not stirred during the process. The roving came out mottled and I love it!

On to the rest of the lesson.

Eight jars in the pot again.
Eight jars in the pot again.

The remaining parts 2 and 3 of Lesson 2 were basically the same as last week, just using the pre-mixed stock dye instead of mixing powder. I decided to try gradations of brown for the 2nd exercise, and variations on purple, blue-purple, purple and red-purple, for the 3rd exercise – 3 colour ways.

Exercise 4 was mottling, which I’d already done albeit slightly differently. So I decided to experiment with two colours inspired by the spectrum from exercise 1. Colours I felt were “missing” – an apple green and gold – by adjusting the ratio of stock colours.

Dyeing multiple colours in jars in the stock pot was working well so we stuck with that method.

Sunday was even colder than Saturday, and the pot element only made a small difference to the dye room temperature – took it from a chilly 10.2C to 12.3C over the hour of warm-up and simmering.

The jars with the (chop)sticks in them were the gradations and 3 colour ways. They got an occasional poke and stir when the pot water was stirred. The pot water was stirred fairly frequently to ensure no hot-spots developed and the heat was spread as evenly as possible around the jars.The orange and green jars at the back were the mottling samples. No stirring, no poking, just soaked roving squished into the jar, and dye poured over the top.

Again, at the end of the 30 minutes pre-simmering, the element was turned off, and the pot left with the lid on to cool down. Sunday evening the pot was brought up to the house and the roving washed and hung to dry.

Saturday's roving (top), and Sunday (bottom), hanging to air dry.
Saturday's roving (top), and Sunday (bottom), hanging to air dry.

The results with mottling pieces were interesting, with quite a lot of white un-dyed wool. As per the lesson instructions these jars were not stirred, and the dye and vinegar was simply poured over the soaked roving. In the first exercise I had added 1 cup of water to the jars, soaked the roving in this water *in* the jars, added the dye and poked it around to make sure it penetrated the roving and I could see no white spots left before placing the jars in the pot.

The brown gradations resulted in 3 shades of a lovely peaty brown colour. I was particularly pleased with the purples – from blue-purple, purple and red-purple.

In summary, a particularly pleasing result, with some interesting observations.

More to come yet in Week 3.

Lesson 2 - exercise 1(top), 2(botom left), 3(bottom right), and 4(middle).
Lesson 2 - exercise 1(top), 2(botom left), 3(bottom right), and 4(middle).

Dyeing Wool

3 colour way merino roving.
3 colour way merino roving.

As a designer and mixed-media artist, I relish the opportunity to learn something new, and this week marked the start of my Wool Dyeing course run on-line by Marjie McWilliams through Quilt University.

I had purchased some wonderful 19.5 micron Australian merino wool roving in late 2009 with the intention of either felting or dyeing it. This seemed like the ideal opportunity to put it to use.

The Dye Room

My “Dye Studio” as I loosely call it is a small room attached to my aviary complex. The room is used on a daily basis for aviary maintenance, cleaning food containers and storing all manner of useful things. It has a great, long, multipurpose workbench, a sink with running cold water and lots of storage space. Since my Batik It! class with Marjie in June of 2009 it also has a small LPG stove running off bottled gas. Great for melting bees wax and stewing natural dyes.

The beauty of using this space as my Dyeing room is that I can mix, paint and splash dye around to my hearts content without making a mess in the house. The workbench is covered in plastic, the sink bench is all tile and porcelain, the floor is tile and concrete or tough 2nd hand laminated “timber” flooring. It doesn’t matter if I spill, as it cleans up easily, although it doesn’t really matter if it stained, it would just add “character” to the room.

Day 1, the first Lesson part 1

Armed with Acid Dyes in the basic colours (red, yellow, blue and black), wool roving and lesson instructions I launched into an afternoon of simmering dye with enthusiasm.

I’d worked previously with wool before – a Felting workshop in Corowa and Needlefelting / Whisper Felting course also through Quilt Universtiy. I’d previously dyed cotton, silk, myself and assorted other fabrics and objects with chemically reactive Procion dyes and natural dyes. This was my first attempt at dyeing wool roving and my first serious occasion to use Acid Dyes.

The Acid Dyes we use come in powdered form, and as is Marjie’s way of teaching, we learn to mix our own colours. I found the Acid Dyes strange to mix at first. Cold water instead of the warm water I was used to with Procion Dyes, and unlike Procion Dyes which dissolve reasonably easily, the Acid Dyes behaved more like cornflour – going through a curious semi-gel stage before dissolving in additional cold water.

Roving and orange dye.
Roving and orange dye.

Getting the dye pot up to and stable at optimum temperature appeared as the first challenge. Just under simmering point eh? Not as easy as it sounds. LPG burns hotter than town gas. The little trivets on my 2nd hand stove top weren’t high enough to keep the pot under the simmer point, which at our altitude (approx 1000′) was happening at somewhere under 180F in the small dye pot. I found I had to keep lifting the pot off the heat to let it cool down. Things were not going too well.

Felted roving.
Felted roving.

Still, at the end of the 30 minutes the roving has taken on a wonderful orange colour from the Dye, and was ready for it’s cool down process. “Gradually” the instructions say. I’ve deliberately felted wool before so I know rapid temperature changes will turn roving into felt. So quickly move the wool from the hot pot to a bucket of hot water … but it doesn’t feel right. It’s felted already 🙁

Back to the class discussion room to ask for help.

Day 2, first Lesson reprise

Heat Spreader
Heat Spreader

Knowing from Day 1 we had a problem keeping the heat down, we’d managed to find a piece of rusty steel plate to use as a “heat spreader”. This worked quite well sitting on top of the trivets, keeping the pot further away from the flame. The dye pot wanted to start simmering at 165F, so that became our target. This time I had a lovely sunflower yellow piece of roving that looked really good, that is “un-felted”, in the dye pot.

Felted again!
Felted again!

BUT the process of moving it from the hot dye pot to the hot-but-not-as-hot-as-the-pot water bucket, no more than a second or two, was enough to send the roving into shock and it felted! Again!

Ok, challenge number 2 – cooling the roving without it felting. The ambient temperature in the Dye Room was 12.5C (55F), ok, pretty cold. Well, it IS the middle of winter here.

The Options

The first thoughts to come to mind was either adding slightly cooler water to the dye pot, or immersing the whole pot in the hot water bucket, then progressively cool the bucket. Neither likely to be terribly practical with parts 2 and 3 of Lesson 1 which involved gradation dyeing and 3 colour ways with 3 separate jars per roving piece each.

One of the articles Marjie had directed me to from her blog included a comment about leaving the brew for over 3 hours, and that it did not seem to change the dye colour much. Ok, why not leave the roving in the dye pot to cool?


A pot full of dyes.
A pot full of dyes.

Lesson 1 take 3 was a marathon effort – all 3 parts of lesson 1 in my big stockpot at the same time! A solid orange dye/roving; a gradation in shades of green; and 3 colour ways! Each colour had it’s own jar, and the pot itself was filled with water to the highest point I could without the jars trying to float or tip.

Simmering dye pot, lid "on".
Simmering dye pot, lid "on".

The temperature was fairly easy to manage, and got up to nearly 180F without boiling the pot water. I was concerned about the exposed roving between the jars getting chilled so I kept the lid mostly on the pot, only taking it off to check the temperatures, stir the pot water and spoon (used a 1/2 inch paintbrush actually) the dyes over the exposed wool from time to time.

The orange 3rd attempt at Lesson 1 part 1 did not get much of a stir as I already had two good solid (if felted) colours and wanted to see what not stirring would result in. A little mottling but good colour take-up over all.

Felted and unfelted roving
Felted and unfelted - the same amount of roving in each!

It took about 7hrs for the big pot to cool to nearly ambient, but it was WONDERFUL to finally see my Australian 19.5 micron merino roving come out of the wash buckets unfelted!!

Now it’s dry it is just so wonderfully vibrant, soft and warm to the touch.

Great result even if it took a while to get there! Looking forward to Lesson 2 next weekend!


Lesson 1 completed - sucessfully!
Lesson 1 completed - sucessfully!