Wednesday, December 1, 2010

dyed roving process

They say it takes a village, and it did. Dyeing this stuff was exhausting, and I never want to smell coffee again. But, it did the trick better than I would have imagined and I couldn't be happier with the results!

On the left: before, white, and after, toffee. At right, a sketch in my notebook with my two fabric swatches.

The process, in a nutshell:

With about 7 pounds of wool, I had to divide this up into multiple batches (probably about 6 by the time I stopped dyeing ... couldn't do it anymore!) Simply, wool is a protein fiber and therefor needs heat and acid for color to take (usually a mordant as well, so it is colorfast, but since this is an "experimental" garment it will never be washed so I skipped this step - but a mordant for wool would be vinegar). I used coffee to dye the wool so I could get a warm, toffee-like color. I brewed about 30 cups of coffee for each batch, and then brought it to a boil and then turned down the heat a bit and submerged the wool, topping it off with a little more water if needed to cover all of it. With wool, you need to be careful about heat and agitation - wool will felt when agitated in hot water, so you "poke" it with a spoon instead to disperse color evenly.

And then I ran out of coffee. I didn't want to use any "nice" coffee (so my dad's sacred cabinet of foreign coffee beans and Starbucks grounds were safe), but at 30 cups per let's say 1/2 pound, that was going to take a lot ... for 7 pounds. Then my dad gets this great idea: to call the local cafe, and ask what they do with their leftover coffee at the end of the day. He called them up and sure enough, they toss it, so we asked if we could have it. I'm pretty sure that's the only time I'll ever enter a restaurant with a beer-brewing sized stock pot. But, they had several gallons worth of coffee to give me and I successfully dyed the rest of my wool.

The fun part however comes after all the wool dyeing. Well, besides the wet wool and coffee smell I had my head in for a few hours. After dyeing wool, you need to rinse it (once cooled, so it doesn't felt) to allow for excess dye to run off. I had to sit in the tub with all my wool (which looked a lot like intestines, it was kind of gross) and squish it around in the water for a good 45 minutes til coffee stopped pouring out of it. The last time I dyed wool, it took around 3 days for it to air-dry, but I didn't have 3 days, so instead I hand-squeezed every last length of it before laying all of it out on a towel-covered drying rack. In the morning it was mostly just damp, so I took a blow dryer to it and wound it all into 7 nice balls of toffee fluff.

At left, "Duck Season" spray paint. Right, a sprayed swatch to match the dyed fibers.

But from here I wasn't really done. I still had to knit the thing. This was like a wrestling match - it took so much effort for each stitch and once the knit piece started getting big (and heavy) it was hard to maneuver around. I also had to tap into my undyed supply of wool to complete it ... which meant I needed to do something about the color change. Spray paint was just about the only thing I could think of, but I wasn't sure how it would work. However, the store had a color that was almost exactly that of my dyed wool, so I bought it and tested it out. It couldn't have matched better. I used it to "melt" the white wool color into the toffee color and make it look like one (which it thankfully does now) and also to add a little color discrepancy for a more organic look. I am very happy with the final result.

Well that's enough for now, our experimental critique begins tomorrow at 8:00 AM and the moment of truth will arrive when I finally get to see it all together! Got shoes for the models today, so everything is ready to go. I will take lots of pictures.


  1. yay! can't wait to see the pictures :]
    i imagine it would be oddly comfortable to wear

  2. Wow! That must have been very exhausting! I almost broke a sweat just thinking about it. I hope the critique goes well!

  3. Thanks guys!!

    It was exhausting - my hands and back hurt a ton afterward!


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