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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.


  1. Hello that was very useful because that is just what has happened to me except I did not buy it but dyed it myself so only me to blame. I wonder if I was a bit overzealous when painting the roving with a bristle brush to make sure it was dyed evenly I steamed it for 30 mins in an electric steamer and it still felted slightly so what am I doing wrong?

  2. A lot of things can affect the outcome, that's why there is so much trial and error when we're learning. Applying the dye with a brush could have been part of the problem. Next time try just squirting on the dye and see if that helps.

  3. Thanks I will try that I did think afterwards that part of the problem would have been the brush with the fibres.

  4. Great advice! We call the bad stuff "crunchy", because it is.

  5. Your explanation was wonderful. I wasn't aware of this test for felted wool. Thank you!

  6. I'm late commenting...just catching up on my blog reading after falling too far behind. But I can attest to two things..

    1- Receiving semi felted fiber from another dyer. I was too inexperienced to be sure it wasn't good stuff---do not wait, as I did, to open braided or tightly rolled fiber. Open it and examine it when you get it, to be sure all is as you expect and wonderful. Keep the tag or some indication as to where you bought it...don't expect to remember, especially when you don't open it for 6 months or longer! :D

    2- Kristine's fiber IS wonderful and luscious, that and her glorious colors (even better in person) make me SO happy! :D

  7. is there a way to fix slightly felted wool? what is the easiest way to make it spinnable? (got some from a friend in trade, and yikes...)


  8. I am sorry to say that there is no way to FIX slightly felted fiber - it can't be restored to its pre-felted state. However sometimes it can still be spun, though it requires more effort. Try to predraft as much as you can. This may take some elbow grease! Tug and pull and see if you can get it to draft at all. If not, toss it. If so...salvage it only if it is worth it to you. Hope that helps!