Lean Green Dyeing Machine

Forest Green Roving

Having recently finished my FIRST EVER sweater than I knit from yarn I spun for the project, I can’t wait to start the next. I wanted to make John an Aran pullover with a cowl neck, but apparently, he’s not enough of either an old man or a fisherman to like that sort of thing. Sigh. The pattern he picked out is Ranger by Jared Flood, and while I personally find it a touch unexciting, I do like the clean lines and sharp design.

John also likes things cheap and functional, so I’m working with the domestic top from Halcyon (I paid just over $25 for 2 lbs.). I haven’t spun it before, but I’m guessing it will be best suited for outerwear, which is suitable for this project.

Forest Green Roving
My more or less evenly dyed sweater lot for John.

Fortunately, John is happy with a solid color, so I didn’t have to mess about with trying to make two pounds of wool come out in reasonably similar ombres or handpaints or some such. Still, I’ve never tried to make yarn come out consistently from one dye lot to another, so getting two pounds of the same color out of 2 different crockpots that can’t managed much more than 4 ounces at a time was a new challenge for me.

Time to start measuring shit and timing things and writing process down. *Dramatic sigh*

My little half-exhausted jars of Wilton were obviously not up to this job, so I ordered a massive amount of Americolor Forest Green and weighed my roving out into 4 oz. increments while I waited for it to arrive. Connie at DaisyHead Creations has a nice tutorial on dyeing wool, but here’s the specific, measured process I used.

Presoak the Wool

  • Fill sink halfway with hot tap water (just barely comfortable to the touch).
  • Add 1/2 cup white vinegar.
  • Gently spool in 8 oz. wool, pre-split into 4 oz. segments.
  • Press down VERY GENTLY – just enough to submerge the wool fully.
  • Let sit for 1 1/2 hours. (Connie recommends 30-45 min., but I let the first batch sit too long and don’t dare deviate from the timing now.)

Prep the Dye Bath

In each slow cooker (I have two large-ish ones), place:

  • 1 T. Americolor Forest Green gel
  • 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • Water to within an inch or so of the top
  • Cover and set to HIGH while wool is soaking.

My cookers are of slightly different sizes, but to the best of my knowledge, the exact amount of water is not that important as long as you have (a) enough to color the wool and (b) enough room that the wool isn’t crowded.

Dye the Wool

  • Turn the cookers to LOW.
  • Gently press most of the water out of the wool.
  • Spool the wool gently into the hot dye bath, 4 oz. per cooker.
  • Press with a rubber spatula just enough to submerge the wool, only if needed.
  • Cover and let cook on low for 5 hours.
  • Turn cookers off after 5 hours and let sit to cool for 8 hours.

Rinse and Dry

My wool was still fairly warm after sitting overnight, so I stepped down the temperature of my rinses from warm to cool to avoid shocking the wool. When I was down to cool water, I added a little Eucalan to the rinse and let it soak for about half an hour before gently pressing out the water and hanging the roving to dry.

Note that when rinsing anything that isn’t superwash, it’s important to not move the wool more than is absolutely necessary. Just pour the water, gently press the wool in, wait a few minutes, gently press out the water, change the rinse bath, repeat. Do NOT swirl the wool or pour running water into the rinse bath.

My rinse water was mostly, but not completely, clear when I called it good. More dye will come out on my hands when I’m spinning, and again when I’m finishing the yarn, but I’m nervous about felting the roving into unspinability while I’m rinsing, so I kept the movement light.

John and I are both pretty pleased with the color. There are a few uneven spots, but I think they’ll even out a bit with the spinning, and if not? Well, that’s the charm of handmade. 🙂

Dyeing Roving in the Microwave

John and I drove and hour and a half to a yard sale this weekend to buy canning jars. That may sound crazy, but including the cost of gas, we got nearly 30 glass-top, wire-closure antique jars for less than a buck a piece. We’ve been looking for them for a specific project, so it was a good find. Even better: I found about eight ounces of wool roving for two dollars. How often do you find roving so cheap that you feel comfortable trying new things that might utterly trash it?!?

I had three burning questions in mind when I pulled out my dyes yesterday:

  1. Was the roving actually wool? It smelled and felt like it, but it was stored in a box with a bunch of acrylic “mock top,” so I wasn’t entirely sure.
  2. Can I dye roving without killing its spinability? The answer is yes. You get a lot of loose fibers all over your hands in the process, but it’s probably with it because you can blend the splotchy bits as you spin to even out the color.
  3. How well does microwave dyeing work? Not too badly.

To make sure I was working with wool that would take dye and felt, I did a test run on a tiny sample using my least favorite color.  Aside from an impressive explosion of colored water in my microwave, it worked. And now my cats have a tiny orange flower to bat around the floor.

In golden yellow, with teal center
In golden yellow, with teal center

I didn’t answer the spinability question with the little test run, but that was more out of curiosity than anything. This roving is destined for a felting project, so if the answer was “no, it’s more difficult than my skill level to keep it spinable,” nothing would be lost.

The microwave dye process is pretty simple.

  1. Presoak your fiber in warm water and vinegar.
  2. Mix your dye with water and vinegar in a microwave-safe container.
  3. Add the wet wool to the dye bath and nuke for 2 minutes.
  4. Allow to cool to room temp, then check to see if the dye has been exhausted (i.e., the water runs clear because the wool has soaked up all the color).
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you get the look you want.
Wilton colors, from left to right: no-taste red, pink, kelly green, sunshine yellow, teal, violet, burgundy, and copper
Wilton colors, from left to right: no-taste red, pink, kelly green, sunshine yellow, teal, violet, burgundy, and copper

What I like about microwave dyeing:

  • It’s faster than slow cooker dyeing by HOURS.
  • It’s easier to mess around with multiple colors at the same time.
  • It left the roving spinable.

What I would change:

  • I’d try a casserole dish instead of jars to give the roving more breathing room so they could take the color more evenly, esp. complex colors like purple.
  • I would dissolve the coloring all the way in boiling water and let it cool down.
From left to right: burgundy, no-taste red, pink, copper, sunshine yellow, kelly green, teal, violet. Only the yellow did not require a second run of dye.
From left to right: burgundy, no-taste red, pink, copper, sunshine yellow, kelly green, teal, violet. Only the yellow did not require a second run of dye. The red probably could have used more.

All in all, I’d call the experiment a resounding success. Bonus? I discovered I’m married to a rainbow whisperer. John rearranged the roving into rainbow order (I had them on the rack in the order I pulled them out of the post-dye rinse) and two minutes later, this happened:

Double rainbow across the sky!
Double rainbow across the sky!