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!

I Could Just Dye

Kool-Aid is awesome. Seriously. Did you know that all by it’s little self, the powder in that tiny pack of drink mix can produce incredibly vibrant dyes for protein fiber. I certainly won’t be caught drinking the stuff anymore, but I am a fan.

I plied up my first yarn a while back and managed to finish it so it had a nice hang to it. It’s scratchy and the plies don’t really love each other, but they’re not pulling apart. See?

Coloring wool was not something I really thought about when I got on board with the whole spinning thing. I love the natural color of sheep for the most part, but between my rookie fiber prep and a not-particularly-high fleece quality, my first yarn was uneven and yellowish in some places. Anyone who knows me well will tell you I am not a fan of yellow.

After some hours of research, I came to the decision that my best bet was to start with the crockpot method, using Kool-Aid as my dye. It’s easy, and all I needed was this:

I mixed together the powder, a healthy splash of vinegar, and enough water to cover my wool, working right in the crockpot. I turned the thing on high and set my wool to soak in a bowl of hot water with a tiny drop of dish detergent swished in, to avoid the sudsing you get when you pour the water onto the soap.

After twenty minutes or so, my crockpot was steaming and my wool water was starting to cool, so I wrung the yarn out slightly and dumped it in the pot, turning the temp down to the lowest setting (called “Warm” on mind). My crockpot will boil liquid on High, and agitation such as you’d get from those bubbles is generally villainized as the prime suspect in cases of unwanted felting.

I went a little crazy with the amount of powder I put in. The general consensus seems to be about one packet of powder per 100g wool. I don’t really know how much I have, as I don’t have a scale that measures in grams or ounces yet, but I know it’s less than 100g. Two packs of Blue Raspeberry Lemonade and one pack of Lemon-Lime was, without question, overkill. You can’t argue with results though–just look at this green.

True, I may have been hoping for more of a blue, but I’m sure I can think up some good St. Patrick’s Day use for it. And it will be nice, for a change, to work with some yarn that smells like fruit.

P.S. Notice those white ties on the yarn? Those 100% cotton babies were in the dye with the wool. That, my friends, is an example of what happens when you try to dye non-protein fibers with food dyes: absolutely nothing.