Wool is wonderful to dye! It dyes easily. Dyed wool can be lustrous or matte, depending on the type of wool you are using. (see previous post). It can be vibrant and rich or it can be soft and pastel, depending on the amount of dye you use. Wool can be used for all of your creative color schemes and whatever mood you are in. Wool is a protein dye so it needs to be dyed with an acid dye. There are many kinds of acid dyes on the market: Sabraset and AcidWash from ProChem, Cushings, Gaywool, Country Classic and Jacquard Acid Dye, just to name the ones I am familiar with.
There are some principles that you need to know when you are dyeing wool.
1. Wool has scales on the outside of each fiber that protect it. You need to soak the wool in warm to hot water in order to open these scales up. When they are open, the dye can penetrate into the fiber and attach more readily to the dye receptors on the fiber. Give it at least 20 minutes before you add dye, so that this can happen.
2. Not all wool is created equal. Superwash wools have been processed under heat and pressure to remove the scales of the wool. That makes the wool good for people who are sensitive for itchiness and for people who want to wash and dry their wool in machines because it won’t felt. Superwash takes up a lot of dye and in a hurry. This is because those scales are gone and the dye receptor spots are open and available. So you will have very saturated colors that may appear blotchy and uneven.
3. What about felting? I have never felted yarn by agitating it too much in the dyepot. You should take care and move the yarn in slow smooth movements, just to be on the safe side. My only felting disaster, so far, was when I was washing out in the washing machine. I forgot that after you fill up the tub of the washer is starts spinning. I put in the yarn and went out to do chores…when I came back I remembered….DUH!! That yarn was one big mess. I was able to separate it out and use it for my projects. Yarn is a lot more forgiving than say roving. Roving will felt with too much agitation, so don’t touch it or move it a lot when it is in your dye pot. The technique that I use when dyeing roving is to fill the pot with the dye, water and whatever else you need for the dye you are using. Then add the dry roving to it, pushing it into the warm, not hot water. The pushing action gets the dye all throughout the roving without excessive white spaces. Then If I want to add a second or third color I add it after that and move it gently with spoon handle.
4. In that same vein, temperature during dyeing is important. Bring the dyepot up slowly to the simmer, then hold it at that temperature for the entire time that the dye instructions tell you. Many sources will tell you a specific temperature and you may think you need to have a thermometer to monitor that. I don’t think you need to be that fussy about it. Hold it just under a simmer, no boiling for the allotted time and you should be fine. Then cool it down to room temperature before you wash it. The water temperature for your wash out should be about the same temperature as the yarn.
5. To improve the hand, or the way the yarn feels after it is dyed, you can add a softener to it. Wool is a type of mammal hair, so use hair conditioner on it. Fabric softener is fine for cottons, linens or silk, but use hair conditioner on hair.