So while doing some research on methods for dyeing spinning fiber (roving and top), I kept finding links to a dead site. (http://www.fibernation.com/inside_the_pot) I thought I would try the WayBack Machine to find the information. While the sites linking to FiberNation had good information, I figured it would be better to get it direct from the source. Since the site is long gone, I decided to re-post the information, and share the photos (don’t worry, no bandwidth stealing here, I saved them on my own drive to re-post here).
[imagine a photo of two big balls of undyed wool]
Here is approximately 2 pounds of fantabulus soft wool top. The term ‘top’ refers to how the wool was prepared. With tops the fibers are combed parallel to each other. I could just as easily be dyeing roving (carded fiber) or yarn -my technique is essentially the same for all- but I will say a few words about dyeing yarn at the end of this little display. The tops have been soaked in water and vinegar. It’s important to really soak the fiber, it should be saturated not just wet.
Next I coil the fiber in my crock pot. I pretend that I am making a coiled clay pot – just like I did in 7th grade art class!
This is a large crock pot that I use only for dyeing. I usually do my dyeing in the basement, away from anything that comes into contact with my family, but for the sake of nicer pictures, I am dyeing in our kitchen today.
Now I start squeezing dye onto the fiber.
Although I love the randomness of hand dyed fiber, I have found that there needs to be a basic structure to what I’m doing, so I apply the dye in a similar manner to each layer. Here I have decided to do stripes of blue, magenta and yellow.
Here are my dyes. These are liter squeeze bottles with fiber reactive dye that I mixed up. I get my dyes and other supplies (they have nice fabric!) from Dharma Trading Co. Wool can be dyed with acid or fiber reactive dyes. I use both types. Acid dyes can be used only on wools (fiber from animals) and silk while fiber reactive dyes work with cotton also. I use only primary colors (or a close relative) and black when mixing dyes. This simplifies buying dyes and lets me be creative. The black is used to shade (darken) a color, while adding more water tints (lightens) a color.
I just continue coiling the fiber and putting on dye, adding layer upon layer. While I really like the bright colors, I am actually planning on darker shades with this dye pot, so on the fourth layer I sprinkled black over everything!
As the pot fills up I am still following the basic pattern of placing on color. Three stripes of blue followed by magenta that overlaps into the blue, and then yellow that overlaps on both the magenta and blue. As I get toward the top I am using more blue and magenta for I am running low on yellow because I love yellow! Not so much for yellow on its own, but for what it does when it comes into contact with other colors. In my own little basement dyeing world when in doubt- add more yellow. We all know that yellow turns blue into green and red into orange, but when you are dyeing in this manner it also gives you many other wonderful in between colors.
I’ve reached the top and added alot of black to this final layer. Because I only put black on one other layer, I put alot on this one. The black will seep down into the other layers and give me the darker shades I’m looking for. I know this looks kind of scary, but just wait, it’ll be okay.
I didn’t worry about squeezing the soaking water out of the fiber before I began this process and so the pot is fairly full of liquid right now. If I had spun the water out before putting it in the pot- which I do sometimes, but I was washing clothes when I began this and didn’t want to wait for the washer- I would now pour water and vinegar over the top (mix about 2 cups water with 1/2 cup of vinegar). I still need the vinegar though, it sets the dye, so I just poured the vinegar over the top.
Now I put the lid on, set the pot in the base, turned it to high and let it cook until it is simmering. This will take about 3 hours. Now you should know that I used a lot of dye here. I read about people who strive to have no dye left when the cooking is done, only clear water to pour off. This will not happen here, when it is done cooking there will be dye left in the water. Often when I dye a solid color I will strive for complete use of the dye, when I do color, such as these I don’t worry about using all the dye. My goal is little or no undyed fiber at the end.
Here is the fiber, dyed, cooked for about three hours and then left overnight to cool down (I left the top on all night so it is still slightly warm). I will now take it to the laundry room, pour it into the empty washing machine and spin the water out of it. I will just spin it – no water. After it has spun I will remove it and fill the washer with water that is close to the same temperature as the fiber, and put the fiber back in to soak. I will add about a cup of vinegar and mix the whole concoction around with my hand. Next I will put it through another spin to remove most of the water.
A note on wool, water, heat and agitation. Unless you are working with superwash wool (or wool from a breed that you know doesn’t felt) you do not want to agitate the wool when it is in hot water or subject wool that is still hot to cold water. So as you are working with the wool at this stage, do not let your washing machine do anything other than spin. My washing machine sprays the contents of the washer with water during the beginning of the spin cycle, since this can be a very bad thing if the fiber is fresh out of a hot pot, I set the dial part way into the spin cycle, past when it would spray and I don’t go far away. This way if I misjudged the correct starting point and it does start to spray I can stop it right away.
I’m not worried about completely rinsing all the dye from the fiber at this point. This is because I am afraid of felting the fiber slightly, which would slow down my spinning time. My intent at this point is to get most of the dye out, but I’m not looking for the ‘water to run clear’, as all the books say when rinsing after dyeing. That will take place once the fiber has been spun and I have a finished yarn.
The fiber is now drying (its on top of one of our heating vents). As you can see it is no longer tie dye tee shirt bright. Instead it is a gorgeous mix of reds and purples with occasional hints of green and yellow.
Ask me questions if you have any as I’m sure I have neglected to mention something or need to be more specific about something else and of course check back soon as I continue the process toward the final product – some very lovely, unique, hand spun yarn!
Before spinning the dyed fiber I like to divide it so that the colors are distributed more evenly throughout the yarn. I pull the tops apart in sections about 16 inches long and then divide each one of these sections into 5 or six thinner strips. This is also also serves to pre-draft the fiber. If I didn’t spend the time to divide the fiber this way the colors would be much more concentrated. I prefer to have the colors spread out through the yarn so I spend the time to divide the fiber.
Here is the yarn spun on my spinning wheel. It is approximately an Aran weight.