Dye another day!

December 7, 2014 § 4 Comments

Live and let dye was also a big contender for the title of this post.


In case you hadn’t guessed, this post is about dyeing. Dyeing wool that is. Not dying. Turns out I have been spelling it wrong for months!

After buying my kilo of mule sheep fleece and learning how to wash it, the next logical step was to learn how to dye it, thus slowly marching my way towards being entirely wool self sufficient (The only way I can do that 100% is by having some sheep, but that ambition is still a long way off)

I searched the internet for information on how to dye wool, and found many helpful tutorials that told me I could dye with nothing more complicated than food colouring and vinegar. Great, thought I, and rushed off to the shops to get some.

The technique, apparently, was to soak the wool in water and vinegar, before simmering it on the stove in a pot of water containing the dye. I tried this. Nothing happened. I simmered the wool for about half an hour and still nothing happened. I could not work out what I was doing wrong. It was a very frustrating afternoon.

After much more trawling the internet, and a bit of detective work, I figured out my problem – all the tutorials I had read were american, and in America it seems the food colouring that is widely available is artificial (E numbers.) However, food colouring available in the UK in most supermarkets is now natural, the colour is an ingredient like paprika, rather than an E number. Dyeing with natural things is a completely different process in which you need a mordant (not quite sure what that is yet, something to help the dye stick) instead of using vinegar.

Encouraged, I ordered some synthetic food colouring from ebay, it soon arrived and I started experimenting to a lot more success!

The dye arrived in little packets, red, green, yellow, orange and blue

I soaked the wool in vinegar, the longer you do this the better the dye will stick!

I then simmered wool in the dye pot on the stove. I have an electric cooked, and the temperature is very hard to control, so when I say simmer I mean intermittently boiled!

after rinsing the wool and allowing it to dry, I proudly surveyed my first few batches of dyed wool!


I have dyed a lot more wool since first trying it and I have found a few things –

Wool will still dye if not soaked in vinegar, but the colour will not be as strong

I have tried dyeing carded and uncarded wool, and it dyes more evenly if the wool has been carded (I have been carding mine with dog brushes)

Interestingly, some of the colours stick better than others, red seems to stick to wool better than blue, so when mixing colours I have found it difficult to determine what colour the wool will come out as compared to what colour the water is. The water can look green, but if there is even a tiny bit of red in it then the wool will come out brown! I had trouble dying wool blue for this reason, as the blue dye I had seemed to have a bit of red in it. If I put too much dye in the water then the wool seemed to take all the red out of the dye and leave the blue behind. I managed to dye blue in the end by putting much less blue dye in!

There is a lot of trial and error at the moment, but I am really enjoying the process, I hope that I can dye most colours, and use entirely home dyed wool for my felt creations. I have learned to do my research very carefully, especially if using instructions from other countries, as products vary so widely depending on where you are from!

To avoid disappointment when dyeing wool remember – use ARTIFICIAL food colouring, not natural!

Thanks for listening!

All my lovely coloured wool


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§ 4 Responses to Dye another day!

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