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Adventures in Dying, I mean, Dyeing with Wool

Tutorial Tuesdays header


“So what’s your day going to look like, Sister?”

“I’m so excited! I’m going to go die with wool, I mean dye with wool.” I’m not the spelling bee sister.

“D-I-E or D-Y-E? Please spell it out so I know if I need to call your children and send flowers.”

What can I say, she watches out for me.


As Sisters at Heart completes designs fueled by our shared love of all things wool, it is inevitable that we would investigate how this


becomes this …

original and options

This is what we call a fabric make-over!

So while I went to learn, the Colorado Sister cheered from afar. Ok, that might be a stretch. Let’s say she watched with curiosity from afar. She’s not big about cheering but she is always open to learning new things.

The dyeing process had intrigued me for a while so when I heard my friend Angie Madden say something about over-dying recycled wool, I knew now was the time to learn more. And because Angie is a natural teacher, I knew a learning adventure with her was going to be fun and informative.

pots and microwave

Setting out the tools of the trade.

The world of dyeing fabric is not familiar to me at all, although I have encountered some of the tools of the trade in other contexts – like making jelly.

stirring the pot close

Dyeing pots can’t be used as cooking pots, though.

Here are some of the highlights:

You use different dyes and fixative agents when you are dyeing a plant-based fabric (like cotton or linen) than when you are dyeing a protein based fabric (like wool.) Procion dye and soda ash for cellulose based fabric as opposed to an acid dye and vinegar or citric acid for protein based fabric.

citric acid

I’m just wondering if this is the same concentration as the Fruit Fresh I use for freezing peaches ….

Heat necessary for the wool dyeing can come from a pot of heated water or from the microwave. The microwave takes less time but the color will not be as intense as when the longer time in the pot is used.

stirring the pot

Faster might not always be better.

Prewash fabrics to remove sizing.

Heat water, add wool fabric, mix acid dye in small amount of water and add to pot, gently stir, add citric acid solution (or vinegar) keep water just below a boil for 30 min. Check color of water in 15 min. If  the water in the pot is clear, the fabric has absorbed all it can. If there is still color in the water, you need to add more citric acid or another piece of cloth. When water is clear, remove fabric, cool and dry. (The late addition piece of cloth will not have color as intense as the pieces which have been in the dye the longer length of time. But they are still pretty.)

blue green

first piece in the dye of lots of blue with a little yellow


light green

added later to the same dye pot

After it is dry, you are ready to use the wool in a project or you can felt the fabric by washing in small amount of hot water (you want lots of agitation) with Synthrapol or small amount of blue Dawn and drying in hot dryer (dry it with an “agitation item” to encourage the felting process.)

And then the microwave method is also an option.

We learned that working with roving requires a gentle touch. Roving can be needle felted which is another adventure altogether.

roving process

We learned the gentle touch for roving by making this little pin cushion. The wool keeps needles and pins sharp.

Our experimenting with color combinations, different weights of wool, and different methods gave us these:


sunflower yellow

yellow green

sunflower yellow and a couple of drops of peacock blue


crimsom – my favorite

When I got home I tried a little tea dyeing for the final touch to a piece of muslin that we can decorated with screen printing ink and some Dye Magnet that dries before you immerse the fabric in the dyeing agent. It reminded me of the “magic writing” with lemon juice we did as kids.

tea dyed


There are some warnings: The dye for plant-based fabrics is toxic in it’s powder form. The pots used for dyeing should NEVER be used for cooking. If you wash your wool use cool water and air dry to prevent loss of color as the bond is not as secure as in cellulose-procion dye bonding.

AND … Be warned, the process of taking fabric from dull to dazzling can prove to be addictive.

I’m not qualified to call myself even a novice at this. I’ve passed along only the first layer of details – and I probably won’t become a master dyer. But now I know enough to appreciate the artists who DO know what they are doing so that we all have beautiful wool fabrics to create and stitch with. And you can be sure that Sisters at Heart will be bringing you patterns for wool very soon.

What learning adventure have you had lately?

PS – Angie recommends Dharma Trading as a source for dyeing materials.

Categories: Tutorial Tuesdays | Tags: , | 1 Comment

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