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Dying Wool

Another winter acivity at Meduseld is preparing wool for hand spinning or for sending off to the fiber mill.  Yesterday, I spent much of the day cleaning and dying wool.  These batches of wool will be combined into a multi color yarn.  Following are the steps to clean and dye the wool.

I took Royal’s fleece from last year.  She is a lovely purebred Romney ewe who is friendly and always one of the first at the feed trough.  She produces a high sheen yarn and she makes about 8 pounds of fleece per year.  That is the weight before it is washed of its lanolin.  Between that and the loss that always ocurrs during processing, we’ll end up with about half of that in yarn.

First, take the fleece and wash it in the hottest water the tap will provide.  Dawn dishwashing soap seems to be a favorite among wool enthusiasts, but we prefer to use organic detergents.  Usually, we use Ecover which does a wonderful job removing the grease.  You want to make sure you don’t handle the wool too much  – its not like hand washing clothes.  You want to move it about enough to get it to shake free the dirt and lanolin, but you don’t want to over compensate and felt your fiber.  Felting just doesn’t come undone.  Rinse several times with hot water until the water comes out clear.   I don’t worry about making it crystal clear at this point since I am about to simmer the wool.  Here is the cleaned fiber in a large stainless pot.

 

It is important to use stainless or enamal cookware since we are going to be using Cushings Perfection acid dyes.  You don’t want to have a chemical reaction with your pot or stirring spoon, and aluminum will react.  I am using a stainless spoon, but I also have a wooden spoon that I reserve just for dying wool.

This is what the Cushing Perfection Dye packets look like.  Each packet is costs around  $3.00 and will color approximately one pound of wool, although I have had success with larger amounts.   Cushing recommends 1/2 cup vinegar per pound of fiber, but you can use more.  I used one cup of white vinegar that you can buy at any grocery store.   A good pair of rubber gloves would handy, too.

Combine boiling water, the dye packet and the vinegar.  Try to eyeball how much water you’ll need to cover the amount of wool you are dying.  Cushing says to wet the wool, but ours is already wet from washing.  Now, quickly and smoothly, put all your wool in the pot.  You have to be rather quick about it, or the portion you put in first is going to be darker than the part to go in last.  Stir the fleece around a bit and make sure that all parts are exposed to the dye liquid.

Now, we are going to heat this back up to a simmer and let it stay that way until the wool absorbs the dye.  You can see the difference, because suddenly the water will go from being richly pigmented, to suddenly looking almost clear, and your wool will have taken on the dye.  It is very important to continue to gently stir periodically during this process so that you achieve even distribution of the color.  Here is a picture of my dye pot, and you can see around the edges that the water is still quite dark.

Cotinue stirring until the water clears and look for uniform color in your wool.  This blue is turning out nicely, with deep bold coloring.

Take the pot off the stove and drain the wool.  Rinse several times in hot water until the water is clear.  You don’t want to rinse in cold water because this might cause the wool to felt.  It is important to make your temperature changes gradually.  I make each rinse slightly cooler so that by the last rinse I can handle the wool.

Now the wool goes out on the drying racks.  This time of year it may take several days to dry, especially if the temperatures remain freezing.  During the summer, it will dry overnight.  Here I have several batches set out to dry. 

You can see Cushing’s Blue, Burgundy, and Egyptian Red drying on my porch.  When these are dry enough to card, which means to comb the fibers, I’ll have a post on carding and spinning to make a multi-colored yarn. 

 

 

 

New Winter Projects and Yarn Review

Sometimes at Meduseld, we do use yarn that was not made by our own flock.  This morning I finished putting together two sweaters I had been working on since a few weeks before Christmas.   In this case, I used a Lion Brand Yarn called Amazing because I was intrigued by the color palettes that the line had.  The larger sweater was knitted in the color Glacier and the smaller was done in Wildflower.

The recommended knitting needle size was US 9, but both were knitted up in US 7 in order to get a smoother look.  The smaller sweater was finished around the neck with crochet, and I used an F hook instead of the suggested J.   I used four skeins for the small sweater and 5 skeins for the large, although I bought extra.  The extra was used to match colors when a skein would run out, so now there is leftover yarn, but it helped prevent abrupt color stops and starts.

This was a very nice yarn to work with.  The yarn is composed of 53% wool and 47% acrylic and does not have an artificial feel.  Fortunately, it is machine wash cool, and dry flat, which makes it easy maintenance, especially for children’s clothes.  There were few down sides.  One was that this yarn does not unravel easily; there is just enough fuzz that it catches and prevents undoing your work.  I only had to do this once, on the crochet edging, but it did prevent me from unwinding as far back as needed.  The other downside is matching all the colors in a way that makes the garment look uniform when finished, especially when making the seams at the end.  My great knitter friend has been knitting most of her sweaters lately with the top down method on circular needles so that she has fewer seams, and I think this yarn would benefit from this method, as it would likely show off the spectacular color patterns to their best advantage. 

 

Winter Projects – Aran Crochet Sweater

 

April 25, 2013 Update:  The patterns for making the cables in the sweater are now provided in this post!

Here is another of those winter chores that never bore!

This is an aran crocheted sweater made with 100 percent Romney wool in worsted weight.  This sweater was made in “extra large,” and used approximately 2000 yards of worsted wool.  This wool and and others in different weights from fingerling to bulky, are available in our store.

Formerly, people said that aran sweaters could not be crocheted, that the intricate patterns created and admired on the fair green isle of Ireland could only be done with knitting needles.  Recently, however, several books have come out showing that this technique can be replicated easily with the crochet hook and the results are lovely.  The additional bonus is that while crochet does use more yarn than knitting, the resulting “fabric” is denser and more insulating.

At Meduseld, the Romney sheep fleeces have a very high sheen, which creates the glossy look to the yarn that you see in the photos.  When we bought our first sheep, finding ones with top-of-the-line fleeces was important, and we have continued to breed that quality in our Romney line.