8 of many trades, Jack of some

What to do with bad wool? part 1 (washing, drying, dying)

IMG_20160512_110602464So tinkering this week took an unexpected turn. I was planning on putting together a LED light curtain. See, I had the supplies gathered and everything! (yes, my living room often is used for project staging. And the guest room. And the kitchen. And often the dining room. Pretty much every room on the main floor of the house gets a turn).  But then I went to a FFA flower sale (FFA = Future Farmers of America). Some of the FFA students were coincidentally shearing a sheep. I asked if I could have the wool. The FFA advisor said, “sure … but it’s not good wool.” Hah! Like that mattered!

So I bagged it up, took it home. And WOW it smelled of barnyard stink. So I got to cleaning it. I put on gloves & picked though it to get the obvious crud out (animal bedding, feed and yes, sheep poo.) IMG_20160510_135936689

Then put it in sink full of hot tap water with some woolite to soak. I added 2 cups of microwaved-to-almost-boiling water to the soak to help more dirt.  A LOT of dirt came out – evidenced by the water turning murky brown. Then I rinsed. And rinsed again, and again and again. The thing EVERYONE warns you about washing wool is to be gentle, or it will felt. I was gentle as possible. I actually did it in 2 batches – one sheep gives a lot of wool. Lots of hot running water.


Then I dumped the wool out to air dry after gently squeezing the water out of the wool. I had a toddle/dog gate handy, so I re-purposed it as a drying rack.  And yay, after washing, it smelled like wool & woolite. And not barnyard. It was a grey white, with just a few darker black spots. My kid, age 5, was unimpressed. Someday I hope she’ll appreciate the crazy crafts her mother gets into. (They recently did interviews at her preschool about Mothers. She said I’m 55, my favorite food is broccoli, and the best thing I cook is ramen noodles. Ha.)

The wool was mostly dry the next day. Normal next step would be to comb or “card” the wool so all the fibers are more or less aligned. Then either spin it or felt it. But I don’t have carders – I’m attempting to borrow some. (ASIDE: If anyone in the area has hand carders I can borrow, please let me know.)

So instead I’m dying the wool.

Normally, I’d go through the effort of getting soft water if I was seriously dying something. But heck, I’m not sure if this wool is good for anything. So I just used my well water and hope for the best.

I used Fuchsia Red fiber reactive dye I purchased from Dharma Trading – I bought it for another purpose just recently. I pretty much followed the instructions on that website on how to use the dye for wool.

Step 0: Make sure the kid is in bed for the night, because this is going to take a good hour of attention.

Step 1: Put the clean wool in hot tap water. Let soak as you work on prepping the dye. I shorted myself on the soak time – should have let it soak 1/2 an hour, but I got antsy and it was more like 20 minutes.

Step 2: Put 2 teaspoons of dye + 2 tablespoons cold tap water in a pyrex 2 cup measuring cup. Stir stir stir to make a paste.


IMG_20160511_200937505Step 3: Find my biggest Stainless* Steel pasta pot. Pour in the dye paste. Fill up the measuring cup with hot tap water. Add roughly 4 tablespoons Mortons Kosher Salt (the important part is that it is NOT Iodized. And this was the non-iodized stuff I had on hand) and stir until dissolved.

(aside, about now I turned on Jim Rezac’s weekly Periscope Jam livecast. It’s good to have something to see/listen to in the background during the 20 minutes of stirring)

IMG_20160511_201248675Step 4: Add the wool, and hot tap water to top off the pot. Put on stove and heat until simmering. Then simmer for 10 minutes. In truth, I don’t think I ever hit simmer, but it was steaming. Stirring gently every minute or so.

Step 5: Add 2/3 cup of white vinegar. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring every two or three minutes. Gently! Don’t mash it to hard or it will felt! My understanding is the vinegar “sets” the dye. If you skip the vinegar the dye will wash out.

Step 6: Rinse. Start with Hot tap rinse and continue rinsing in cooler and cooler water until the water is room temp & runs clear. Then spread to dry.

Rinse until water is clear

Rinse until water is clear

So, my pot wasn’t big enough for all the wool I soaked. So I used tongs to take out the dyed wool for rinsing (and rinsed using another pot). And added the remaining soaked wool (that had at this point been soaking for 45 minutes) to the dye pot. And let it simmer as I rinsed the main batch. So I’m guessing it simmered in the vinegar/dye pot for 15 minutes. Maybe 20. . . anyway, when I rinsed that smaller leftover batch, it was indistinguishable from the first set. So maybe combining steps 4 & 5 is ok.

End result: Cotton Candy colored Pink wool 🙂 And that’s only half of it. Still not sure it will be good for anything much. But I’m fixing to find out.



*Stainless = Misnomer


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