Dyeing Wool in the Summertime

Post date: Aug 06, 2010 7:42:8 PM

When I first started felting, I relied on wool purchased mainly from festivals. While it was nice to get a spattering of colors all at once, it proved to be frustrating. Too often I spent countless hours felting only to have the colors violently bleed during the fulling process. Not cool. I resorted to dyeing my own wool.

Now, there are two kinds of cooks in this world: those who measure and follow recipes, and those who go by feel and experience. I am of the latter category. I don't even own a measuring cup, and I approach dyeing the same way.

During the summer, I like to do a year's supply of wool. It takes days to dye as much wool and as many colors as I like to have in my color pallet. Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to have the help of my dear friend, Melissa Allen - who happens to be a great photographer! (Thanks for the photos, Melissa!)

After a few years, I have gotten a fairly reliable system. It starts with my box of dyes and plenty of wool.

I weigh out a rough 2 oz. batch of wool - plenty since a little color goes a long way in needle felting. I presoak my wool in water with trace amounts of soap, which softens and opens the micro-scales of the fiber to accept the dye. The wet wool is then put into a dye pot of roughly the same temperature.

When putting wool into the presoak or dye pot, it gently sinks into the water without agitation. If messed with too much you can get a big wad of felt ... albeit beautifully colored. I use white vinegar as a mordant because it is cheap and easily accessible. The wool is simmered on the stove, removed, drained and cooled. This is the most rewarding part because I get to see the final colors.

When cool enough to touch, it is rinsed, spun out by hand and hung on the line to dry.

Only when under a crunch to get wool dyed for my upcoming show as a guest artist at the Balsams would the plumbing under the kitchen sink of our 100 year old home literally fall apart from age. Instead of dyeing, I was forced to frantically look for a bucket, clean up, run to the Canaan Hardware Store and re-plumb so that I could feed my VERY tired and cooperative friends and family!

On a better day and with the help of Seth, I might even get all of one color family dyed and put on the line.

.... on your marks ... get set .... FELT!