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.