Our lovely Corriedale sheep has decided to share his wool with us! We are thrilled–we LOVE wool! After shearing, processing, and carding, the lovely wool was formed into the roving that Arabella shared with me on my birthday.
I took the dyed roving with me to my very first fiber retreat, Wildflower 2011, and happily spun it between workshops, which were all about color this year. I have discovered that dyeing wool is a creative process within a creative process, because the spun wool can look so different than the dyed roving–it is it’s own creativity!
Arabella suggested that I ply this yarn with a thread, choosing one of the colors I wanted to bring out. Plying the yarn with thread gives me more final yardage of the wool, because otherwise I would ply the wool upon itself, and get half as much to knit with. So I choose a lovely teal thread from the fabric store.
On a gorgeous Texas day in February (yes, we have those!), Arabella invited me over to learn some color dyeing techniques. She has a very high-tech operation going on in her kitchen:
Sometimes it’s nice to know that the practices from 10,000 years ago still work! Get a pot, get some water, get it hot, you can dye wool! Yes, that is a large aluminum mixing bowl set directly upon her electric stove burner, filled with water and roving. Do NOT boil the water, or you will end up doing something else that is 10,000 years old — Fulling. (You’ll have to click to get the rest of that story…)
The water should be hot, but not at all boiling or simmering. Add some vinegar. When I asked Arabella how much vinegar, she moved her hand as if she were pouring out vinegar from a bottle, and she said, “I put glug, glug, glug.” Classic instructions! (Good news: you can’t really go wrong. So glug, glug, glug, and you’ll be fine!)
So far we have roving
we have the dye pot, some water, and some vinegar…..which makes delicious hot roving soup!
Now we mix the dyes. We used Jacquard acid dyes. Mix the powder with water in a jar according to package directions.
Remember your color wheel from high school art class? It still works! We used our primary colors yellow, red and blue.
With more high-tech tools such as a chopstick and syringe, add the dye and work it into the layers of roving by poking at them with the chopstick. You can also create additional colors by blending where the colors meet each other. Simply use the chopstick to move the roving a bit, adding more of whatever primary color you want to that area with the syringe. Stir a bit, and voila! new colors.
Let the roving soup sit on the stove until all the dye is absorbed into the roving. Like all things good, it takes a little doing before you’re going to feel like you’ve got it! Take the dyepot off the heat and let it cool down naturally. Once you can put your hands into the water, then rinse the roving a few times with the same temperature of water. You are rinsing out any unabsorbed dye, and the vinegar.
Cooling and rinsing the roving is a S L O W process, and you should not be eager to hurry it up, or you can end up “shocking” the wool into felt! Once the roving is very cool, you can put it in the spin cycle of your washer (on cold!) to remove excess water. Then air dry.
Ahhh! I get it! Dyeing the wool before it is spun (i.e., dyed-in-the-wool) is the best way to ensure the color doesn’t fade once the wool is spun into yarn or thread, and then fashioned into a garment worn around town. The literal meaning of the phrase is simply a description of when the dye is added.
The phrase has evolved over time to mean something metaphorical as well. We use this expression “dyed-in-the-wool” to indicate a person who is committed to an ideal so deeply that it has become a permanent part of their being, as if they had been “dyed” that way prior to being “formed.” For example, I would say, “My dear Arabella is a dyed-in-the-wool romantic.”
Here, Arabella is rinsing some Corriedale roving that she dyed while it was “in the wool.”
I have been anxious to get my hands into the dye pot, and finally had opportunity at Arabella’s. She had received a 3-lb bump of lovely Corriedale, and shared a generous portion with me as a birthday present.
A “bump” is simply a bunch of roving, usually 1 to 3 pounds in weight.
Here is what our lovely and generous sheep might have looked like when the wool was still a part of him!
Gorgeous and generous sheep! They have been supplying us with fiber for our clothes, blankets, coverlets, coats and carpets for centuries!