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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How To Buy Hand-Dyed Wool

My first attempts at fiber dyeing were less than stellar.  I had two big problems.  First, I didn't know much about the chemistry of dye/wool/heat/acid.  Second, I wasn't an experienced enough spinner to know a disaster when I saw one.

The piece of roving on the left is some Sweet Grass Targhee combed top that I ruined in an attempt to make painted roving.  HOWEVER, I didn't know it was ruined and spun from it anyway.  My arms literally ached from pre-drafting and spinning was a nightmare.  I chalked it up to being a beginner trying to spin wool that was finer than Romney.  The problem was neither.  The problem was FELTING.

The fiber on the right is also hand-dyed but now I know what I'm doing.  It is as easy to draft as undyed top.  It is soft, fluffy, and has no felting at all.  This is the only kind I sell to other people. 

I have attended a regional fiber festival for the last three years and  have seen yards and yards of FELTED FIBER BRAIDS for sale.  The braids are gorgeous.  The colors are stunning.  But an experienced spinner walks right by.  It is only the poor beginners who get sucked into buying felted roving.

When you are examining a braid of hand-dyed roving/top, CHECK THE ENDS.  They should be fluffy and the fibers should fan out if you give it a shake.  If there are no ends exposed, ask to undo one and take a look at it.  Feel it.  Pull a few fibers.  They should slide right out.

All braided top gets a bit compacted in storage - that isn't a problem.  The ends will tell all.  If the ends are good chances are the rest is good and all it will need to be ready for spinning is a tug or two and a good, hard shake.

If you are buying online be sure that the vendor offers a full refund, no questions asked.  If they dyer is not a very experienced spinner, she may think the roving is perfect but you may think otherwise.  Ask her how long she has been spinning and dyeing and be especially wary of extra fine fibers like merino, which is super hard to dye without felting at least a bit.

Finally, a properly dyed braid of roving should be fat and fluffy and soft.  It should not look or feel like felt!  If it does, walk away!  Or prepare yourself for a serious workout at the spinning wheel.

Friday, September 24, 2010

More Overdyed Gray Wool...

I was so inspired by how the blue yarn turned out that I dug all my blah gray handspun out of the closet and dyed it.  You can see the results in my new blog photo!  Whew!  Now I actually feel like using this yarn.

I'm thinking of a weaving project!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Overdyeing: Blah Wool Gets a Face Lift

Yesterday I skeined off 2000 yds of gray Romney/Mohair two ply yarn and thought, "Blech.  This gray does nothing for me."  The roving was scrumptious - top quality from Peeper Hollow Farm - but the yarn did nothing for me.  I had spent weeks making this yarn and I wasn't about to give up on it.  Dye to the rescue!

I decided on blue so I did color samples from my four favorite colors of blue dye.  Color sampling is easy in the microwave oven.  Here's how I did it.

I took four little bits of gray roving and put them in water plus a drop of dish detergent to soak while I got everything else ready.  Then I found four quart canning jars and put labels on each one - sky blue, brilliant blue, royal blue, navy.  I added one teaspoon of liquid dye, one teaspoon of vinegar, and a cup of water to each jar.  Now I had 4 little dyebaths ready to go.

Each bit of fiber went into its own jar of dye.  I then put all four jars in the microwave oven and brought the dye to a boil - about 4 minutes.  I then set the microwave to half power, and six minutes, and let it cook.  By the time the dinger went off, each dyebath was exhausted and the fiber was dyed.

I fished out the blobs of dyed fiber with a fork (too hot for fingers) and pressed them between thick layers of paper towels to get most of the water out.  This is what I ended up with.  From left to right the colors are, royal blue, sky blue, navy, and brilliant blue.

My favorite was somewhere between the sky blue and royal blue, so I got all my big skeins wetted down and prepared the dyebath.  I had two pounds of fiber.  I put in enough sky blue dye for one pound (that's all I had) and added enough Royal blue for four ounces.  I filled the canner and added the ten skeins of yarn.  My hope was to get a medium denim blue, also known as "Scandinavian Blue".  And this is what I got!  You can see the original gray fiber and yarn sample in contrast to overdyed yarn.

The luster of the Romney and Mohair is very evident in the finished yarn.  It has a depth that dyed white wool could never have, as the darker fibers are still darker in the final yarn. I don't think "blech" when I look at my new yarn - Now I love it.  All the work was worth it.  And the dyepot saved the day, again.