Any Experienced Wool Dyers?

I’ve made plans to spend this weekend in Vancouver with my mother sewing my cape with the felt blanket I scrounged from Goodwill a few weeks ago. Beautiful beige that it is, I thought it would be perfect for dyeing a bright color using food coloring. I’ve tried Kool-Aid and was only moderately pleased with the results. Food coloring sold as a paste, used by Melissa the Baker, gave me much better results, with the exception of the purple shades.  

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Exhibit A: the freshly dyed hanks of Lamb’s Pride dripping dry outside

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Exhibit B: a fulled bag that spent five weeks pool side last summer; by the end of Sophie’s swimming lessons, the vibrant magenta and purple tones had all but disappeared, though the turquoise stayed true and the green color was started out pretty subdued.

With that experience under my belt, I’m approaching the process of dyeing my wool blanket with trepidation. I want to make sure that the color is even and that it doesn’t fade. In the past, I dyed the wool on the stovetop in the biggest canning pot I could find. However, I need to leave the blanket in fairly large pieces because of the pattern I’m going to use, so I’m tempted to try dyeing it in the washing machine. Will the hot water that comes out of the faucet be hot enough? Will the dye bath cool off before the dye has set? How much vinegar do I add to a large load in a conventional washing machine? On Pat Sparks’ list, I read a recommendation to add 1/4 cup of vinegar for a quart of water, but how many quarts does my washing machine hold? I’m looking for some feedback and suggestions.

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2 Responses to “Any Experienced Wool Dyers?”


  1. 1 ML Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Wilton’s cake decorating colors. Very concentrated and easily mixable. Soak your wool item in a bath of tepid water with a few drops of dishwashing liquid and a glug of white vinegar. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until thoroughly soaked. While your wool is soaking, find a microwave-safe glass bowl large enough to put the wool in, covered with water. Take a small cup and put whatever dye combinations you want in it (I use a chopstick to fish out a dab or two). Fill cup about 3/4 full with water and stir to dissolve. Dip a paper towel edge into the mixture to see what you came up with for a color. Adjust color as desired. Then dump it into the big microwave-safe bowl and add water to about half full. Check tint again. Adjust intensity. Lift your wool out of its bath and gently squeeze out excess water. Doesn’t have to be completely squeezed out. Immerse wool in dye mixture. Poke down gently with chopstick to completely immerse. Cover tightly with Saran wrap and cook in microwave (normal heat setting) for 10 minutes or until the Saran balloons up, but doesn’t burst. Remove to counter and leave it alone until it comes to room temperature–could be several hours. Rinse in the sink, avoiding water from the faucet shooting directly on the wool–you can shoot it to the corner of the sink, making kind of a dam with the wool and it’ll eventually rinse clean. Set your washer to spin cycle and put in the wool. Spin it out using the complete spin cycle. Hang it up to dry, usually done in 24 hours. Enjoy! I have dyed wool like this for several years and the colors have proven to be fast. The Wilton colors are limited, unlike Procion dyes, but I like the fact that I don’t have to worry about toxicity. Hope this is helpful to you. Colors are more intense than grocery store food coloring.

  2. 2 ML Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Oops, I shouldn’t have skimmed what you wrote. I reread your entry more thoroughly and see that you have tried concentrated paste type dyes. And that you need a large capacity for your wool item. I don’t see why the washer wouldn’t be fine if the water’s hot enough and if you don’t agitate. I’m not sure a lot of hand-dyes would hold up to a summer’s worth of poolside. Vinegar and steam are a dyer’s friend, though. And the dyebaths I use are not completely exhausted by the time I’m ready to rinse, but I still achieve fast colors which hold up to normal use. I’m eager to see what you’ve found as a solution to your, well, solution.


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