In those quiet moments I manage to steal from the everyday hammering of life, I like to think about fiber – the whisper-soft, airy nothingness that waits with such possibilities. Natural or dyed. Worsted or woolen. Knitted, woven, or crocheted.
I’ve experimented with other dyeing methods – kool-aid, sun dyeing, in the grease – but hand-painted roving with a steam set is my favorite. Following are my hints on enjoying your own chosen colorways using clean wool roving:
Watch the video, or use the written instructions below…
Select the Roving:
Lighter colors will produce brighter dye finishes, while darker wool will yield more muted hues.
Prepare the Surface:
Cover the work surface with several layers of newspaper or flat cardboard. Spread 2 to 3 pieces of plastic wrap on top of the protected work surface. The roving will be placed on the plastic, and later, rolled inside it. A plastic section measuring 30” x 24” is sufficient to dye approximately 2 oz. of roving.
Prepare the Roving:
Lay out the roving in a continuous “snake”. Leave a couple of inches of plastic border on all sides. Wet the roving by spraying heavily with water. You want the roving to be damp, but not dripping. Wet roving will allow the dye to saturate into the fibers and “bleed” into one another more easily. *If you get the roving too wet, you can gently press the water out, but be careful not to agitate, or rub the fibers together, to prevent felting.
Add the Dye:
Prepare the dye according to the package directions. ( I use Cushing’s, but have also had success with Dylon .) It is easiest to administer the dye in plastic squeeze bottles – inexpensive varieties can be found at salon supply or craft stores. Spread the dye evenly across the coiled fibers, leaving some space between colors so they can seep together and blend. *You may want to anticipate how long you want the color variation to last, in relation to spinning. Short bursts of color will change quickly in the finished yarn.
Roll the Roving:
Fold the long sides of the plastic to the center of the roving, overlapping slightly. Begin rolling the roving from one end like a cinnamon roll, sealing the end edges. You can wrap an additional layer of plastic around the outside of the roll if necessary.
Ready to Set:
The dye should be sealed inside the plastic, and the roll will encourage the dyes to seep into all areas of the fiber. You are now ready to heat set the dye. Prepare a pot with an inch or two of water. Place a colander or wire rack inside to keep the fiber rolls above the water. Add vinegar or other setting agent according to dye directions. Bring to a boil and steady steam.
Ready, Set, Steam:
Place the fiber rolls in the steaming pot. It is acceptable to put differing colorways together to steam, as they are protected from cross-coloring by the plastic. Allow to steam for 20 minutes.
Dyed and Dried:
Unroll the fiber from its plastic wrapping. Rinse with water until it runs clear. Press out the excess water and lay the fiber flat to dry. You can also drape the fiber over a laundry drying rack or similar. Allow at least 24 hours to dry indoors. If drying outside, protect your fiber with screen or mesh. The wind and nesting birds can play havoc with your creation!
Dry At Last:
As the fiber dries, you may want to occasionally “fluff” it with your fingers to encourage air circulation. Lightly tease the fibers apart width-wise along the length of the roving. When the roving is completely dry, do a uniform fluffing of the entire roving to return it to its ready-to- spln appearance.
Ready to Spin:
The roving is ready to spin, but if you want to store it (or just like the look of plaited roving), you can braid it with a traditional 3-strand braid, or by crochet chain stitch-braiding with your fingers.
Dyeing for more?
Check out how to dye wool “in the grease” HERE.