Christmas Toys and Dye Vats

My amazing husband got me a drum carder for Christmas.  He’s also amazing when he’s not getting me drum carders, for the record, but this thing is super cool.

carded wool
French Bread Sized Batts of Wool with Sari Silk

I had never dyed my own wool before, either.  This winter vacation, I decided to try.   I had a great sampler of dyes from a friend of mine from my birthday, so I had put in some fleece to experiment with.


This stuff looks like red sticks.  Add hot water, though, and you get straight up purple.  I did this on the last day of Advent, so purple seemed good.  Also, purple seemed easy, I didn’t have to figure out any weird additives to the mordant to use logwood.


Here it is just out of the dye vat.  It’s not particularly attractive at this stage, I admit.  But it is purple, therefore a major victory.

Fibers require mordant for dye to adhere properly.  Wool is an easy fabric to mordant and dye for various reasons having to do with chemistry I don’t want to cover today, but maybe we’ll get there some other time.  Vegetable  sources of fiber are harder.  In this case, I used alum.  Too much alum will make your wool sticky, but 15% of the weight of the dry fiber should be fine.   I had 224g of dry wool, so I used 33g of alum.


Logwood is supposed to like hard water, so I used tap water for the whole thing.  Other dyes and mordants might want distilled.  For once, I started on the easy setting.  First, the wool soaked in plain water for an hour.  Then, I dissolved my alum with some hot water and then added it to a big pot of cool water, mixed well, and then added my wool.

The whole thing is supposed to come up to about 88C over the course of about an hour.  During the course of this hour, if your kitchen did not already smell like wet sheep from the first soaking step, it will.  It’s not as bad as scouring wool, which I think I will do outdoors from now on, but it definitely has a fragrance.  I prayed that we would have no visitors for a while.

I set the whole thing aside to cool overnightThis step of the process involved egg nog, .  since we had already opened our presents and had no real plans.  I did manage to remember to pour a bunch of boiling water over 36g of logwood.  You measure your dye stuff as a percentage of the WOF (weight of fiber) just like you do the mordant.  I was aiming for 15% and just went a bit over.  It needed to sit overnight to develop its glorious purple color.

The next day, I rinsed the wool clean, to get out any of the alum that wasn’t fixed.  We’re on septic, so I gave the alum water to the blueberries.

At this point, you can let it dry and dye it later, if you want.  I did not want.  I wanted purple.  It looked like grape juice.


I brought it back up to about 90C and let it simmer for half an hour.  The directions said to simmer for an hour.  Or overnight if a deeper color was needed.  But after half an hour, it looked like the only way it was going to get any darker was by turning pitch black, so I called it good and rinsed it.

After carding it into the biggest batt I’d ever seen, it spun up beautifully.


That’s as much as I’m going to spin onto that bobbin, since I want to do two more and ply all three together.  It took three french bread sized batts to make one bobbin up. It should be a fluffly, nubbly yarn when it’s done, filled with flecks of brightly colored recycled sari silk.




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