Introduction: How to Process Card and Dye Raw Wool

Picture of How to Process Card and Dye Raw Wool

Processing raw wool by hand is a very time consuming task, but it can mean great savings for those who purchase large quantities of yarn and have the time to work with it. I wanted to gain some experience working with raw wool before I invested a lot of money into it, so two years ago I purchased several large bags of raw wool fleece of various kinds and paid $20.00 for them at a wool processing plant. I was asked what type of wool I wanted so, I mentioned that I wanted to use it for batting for quilts and crafting projects. She picked out several bags for me and I took them home.

This has been a rewarding experience and I have been researching more about the subject of processing and spinning wool and will be purchasing more pelts of different types for my projects, and learn how to spin yarn.

This tutorial will be sharing the things, I have learned while attempting to process raw wool. I made mistakes along the the way as a beginner, but I feel I did learn a few things and will continue to learn new techniques as I work with it and gain more knowledge and experience.

Follow through and I will share how . . . I skirted, washed, picked, dyed, and carded a stockpile of beautiful wool~

Step 1: Research

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Over the period of several weeks, I watched videos and read many articles about how to work with raw wool. I discovered there are many different opinions and methods available. I have plans to make my daughters birds some things out of wool and she brought it to my attention that birds have delicate respiratory systems and if I make things for her birds, I should use natural products. So with that in mind I decided not to use commercial dyes, and try food coloring and Kool-aid even though, some professionals have mentioned that they fade more easily and are more difficult to achieve the desired colors. After using them, I am satisfied with the results for what I am using this batch for, although if the item you will be making, will be washed often, I would suggest a dye designed specifically for wool.

Good carding brushes with wood handles are very expensive, so I purchased pet slicker brushes to try before investing in the ones designed for processing wool. They were adequate for learning how to card but I intend on purchasing carding brushes in the near future because, they are larger and designed to perform well and will save me time in the long run.

It is important to wash the wool as soon as you can to prevent the wool from deteriorating. Many articles mentioned washing the dirty wool in washing machines, sinks, and tubs, however I caution against this method because the amount of lanolin and wool fibers that are in the wool; in my opinion could cause plumbing problems.

I used a large plastic 22 gallon tub with a lid to store the clean wool in, to prevent mice and bugs from damaging it while storing it in the garage loft.

We purchased a high quality officers wool blanket three years ago and paid 60 dollars for a brand new one. To buy it now is $160.00. It looks like it is a felted blanket, so I tried to find how to information about felting blankets and did not find anything available online. I am fairly sure it could be done and believe I have enough wool to make one costing $20.00 in raw wool (and the fun in doing it).

Step 2: Skirting Wool

Picture of Skirting Wool

The first picture is a make-shift skirting table that my husband made, using 2 saw horses, 2 ( 2x4's) for support and a dog kennel panel to make a table top.

I shook all the wool out by hand; the best I could and then placed the wool on top of the skirting table and separated the wool pieces to allow the grass and seed particles to fall from the table as I shook it. The table worked fairly well. I let the wool air out in the sun for a couple of days in nice warm weather. We covered the wool with sheets and used clothes pins to secure them.

Step 3: Ingredients and Tools for Washing the Wool

Picture of Ingredients and Tools for Washing the Wool

This is what you need for washing the wool:

Raw wool

Dawn dish washing soap ( was the most recommended soap to remove the lanolin. I used it for the wool in this instructable. I will use a natural soap for the birds when I make their projects. Harsh soaps are not recommended and many articles recommended soaps designed for pets and people.

Buckets or tubs depending on amount of wool to be washed

Distilled white vinegar ( for final rinse ) Vinegar will remove odors and neutralize the fiber. Amount depends on the size of container. I used 1 cup in the Home Depot bucket.

Hot water is required to remove all the lanolin. The temperature will depend on the type of wool being cleaned. A rough estimate is courser wool is 140 degrees F and finer wool is 160 degrees F.

Skirting table or a place to dry the wool, old towels to aide in removing excess water if you don't have a screen or skirting table.

Hair conditioner for softening the wool if desired.

Additional supplies optional Clothes pins, sheets, towels, clamps



Step 4: How to Wash the Wool

Picture of How to Wash the Wool

Processing the wool for cleaning is best done outdoors in the sunshine on a very warm day.

Fill the wash and rinse buckets and tubs with very hot water

Add a squirt of Dawn soap

Very carefully add a small amount of wool to test for unwanted felting. Make adjustments to water as needed. Very very gently press the wool into the water to prevent felting.

Let the wool soak in the water for 20-30 minutes.

Expect to empty the wash and rinse buckets many times before completing this process. We spent a few hours on this step, until the water was clear and the wool was clean and the soap removed. If the lanolin is not removed correctly, the wool will be sticky and leave a residue on the carding brushes.

I used 1 cup of vinegar to the water on the last rinse, to remove the soap residue and to neutralize the wool. I believe that is what it is called. The acid in the vinegar changes the ph.

Spread the clean wool on the skirting table and fluff and cover with a sheet using clothes pins to secure.

Fluff and turn the wool a few times to rotate it so it will dry.

Remove the wool when it is completely dry and put it in secure containers and store until use.

Step 5: Picking the Wool

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Before dyeing or carding the wool, stretch the wool between your fingers and separate it to remove the clumps.

Step 6: Ingredients and Tools for Kool-aid Dyeing Part 1

Picture of Ingredients and Tools for Kool-aid Dyeing Part 1

Picture does not show complete list of tools and ingredients.

Clean wool

Kool-aid packages Non-sweetenedI bought discount Kool-aid at Big Lots for 15 cents.

Distilled water ( for soaking and rinsing if you have heavy minerals, chlorine, or fluoride )

These items could effect the final outcome of the wool process.

Vinegar (rinse)

Salt has been recommended for a better overall color. Add to the pre-soaking water

Plastic wrap,or zip lock bags, microwave safe glass jars or bowls

Wooden spoon or stainless steel spoon

Old Towels

Plastic table cloth to protect work surface

Rubber gloves

Microwave, or stove top, or oven can be used, I am sharing the stove top and microwave methods.

Dawn dish washing liquid

Hair conditioner ( as wool softener if desired )

Step 7: Dyeing the Wool With Kool-aid Part 2

Picture of Dyeing the Wool With Kool-aid Part 2

If you are dyeing wool in small batches; glass jars in the microwave is an economical way to do this. Not only is it easier than the stove top method, you can save the dye bath water. If you are dyeing large batches, I recommend using the stove top.

Carefully place wool pieces in warm not hot distilled water, vinegar, and a drop of liquid Dawn, and 1/2 teaspoon salt if desired ( careful not to work the wool much) for 30 minutes. You just need enough water to cover the wool. Add 1 -2 Tablespoons of vinegar to this solution. Dry wool is difficult to color.

While the wool is soaking, set up the work station and mix the Kool-aid with a small amount of distilled water, just enough to cover the amount of wool you want to dye and 2 Tablespoons of vinegar and salt if you want to try 1- teaspoon.

Remove the wool from the pre-soak water and very gently squeeze ( do not wring) out the water from the wool.

Carefully place the wet wool into the Kool-aid mixture and gently press the wool until it is coated with the liquid. Allow it to soak for a few minutes.

Place the wool and microwaveable bowl; in the microwave for 2 minutes on high. It is the high heat not the vinegar that sets the color. Repeat again for 2 more minutes. I actually did it for an extra 2 minutes as well, because some people mentioned to microwave it for 5 minutes, I was a little afraid to microwave it that long so I heated it in increments to be on the safe side with a pause in-between and it worked. I suppose the amount of time and temperature would depend on the microwave. You can tell when the wool has absorbed all the color when the water is clear or pale in color.

Remove the wool from the microwave and using gloves gently squeeze the colored water from the wool and place the wool in a towel to absorb the remaining liquid and press.

After the wool has cooled, gently rinse the wool in room temperature water to remove the soap residue and any left over dye that was not absorbed.

Step 8: Ingredients and Tools for Stove Top Wool Dyeing Using Food Coloring Part 1

Picture of Ingredients and Tools for Stove Top Wool Dyeing Using Food Coloring Part 1

Here is the ingredient list for stove top wool dyeing, not every ingredient or tool is shown:

This is what you will need:

Clean wool

Paste food coloring (use approximately 1/8 teaspoon and increase until desired color is achieved).

Distilled water ( for soaking and rinsing if you have heavy minerals, chlorine, or fluoride).

Vinegar (for pre- soak and rinse water) as well as the dye bath mixture.

Salt has been recommended for a better overall color. To be added to the food coloring water

large stainless steel stock pot.

Colander, large plastic bottle, and large bowl for reserving the dye bath water.

Plastic table cloth to protect work surface.

Wooden spoon or stainless steel spoon

Old Towels

Rubber gloves

Dawn dish washing liquid

Hair conditioner ( as wool softener if desired ).

Step 9: Stove Top Wool Dyeing Using Food Coloring Part 2

Picture of Stove Top Wool Dyeing Using Food Coloring Part 2

The wool I used for this project was probably not a high grade wool because I had no trouble with it felting at all. From what I understand different types of wool require hotter temperatures and more careful handling. If in doubt please do check online and make your decision for dyeing wool based on your own research. I will remind you I am a beginner and it is possible I overlooked something. Please notice I dyed several batches of wool using this method, hence the green, blue, and orange food coloring.

Start heating distilled water for a (large wool batch). You need enough water to cover the wool. I used 2 gallons for approximately 2 large bowls of wool. Add 1 cup vinegar and 1/4 cup salt to the water. Turn heat on low while you prepare the pre-soak mixture. Timing will be important because the wool should be added before the temperature of the pot is warmer than the wool, otherwise the wool may felt right up. Avoiding shock temperatures is the secret to success when working with raw wool. The water must get above 160 Degrees F or the heat will not set the dye. I used a thermometer to check the temperature. If you heat the water lower than boiling it will reduce the possibility of the wool felting while it is in the hot water.

While the water is heating, Pour enough distilled water into a large bowl to cover the wool you will be dyeing. I used 1 gallon. Add 1/2 cup vinegar, and a drop of liquid Dawn, and 1/8 cup (salt if desired to this mixture. Gently place the wool in this mixture to soak for 30 minutes, being very careful not to mix very much or the wool could felt. You just need enough water to cover the wool and adjust the ingredients for the water amount. Salt to vinegar is about 25%. I have watched videos where they did not measure anything and just poured contents into a pot or bowl.If you use a colander and bowl, you can save the pre-soak water to use at another time, if you store it in a jar with a lid.

While the wool is soaking, set up the work station and add 1/4 teaspoon of coloring to a small amount of hot distilled water and stir. I dipped a ladle into the stock pot and poured the hot water into a cup and added the food coloring and mixed it thoroughly.Then I added the coloring to the stock pot, with 1 cup vinegar and salt (if you want to try) approximately 1/4 cup.

Remove the wool from the ( pre-soaking mixture) and very gently squeeze ( do not wring) the water from the wool.

Carefully place the wet wool into the hot dye mixture and gently press the wool with a spoon until it is coated with the liquid. Turn the heat up until you reach 160 degrees F minimum, and hold this temperature for 30 minutes, occasionally and very gently use the spoon to slightly stir the hot water.

When the water is fairly clear, gently remove the wool from the pot and place it into a bowl to cool.

After it has cooled for a couple of hours, pour distilled water into a bowl and gently place the dyed wool in to rinse the wool to remove the soap. If you will be felting this later on, there is no need to rinse it until after it is felted.

Step 10: Ingredients and Tool List for Microwave Wool Dyeing Using Food Coloring Part 1

Picture of Ingredients and Tool List for Microwave Wool Dyeing Using Food Coloring Part 1

The ingredients list for the microwave method is almost the same as heating it on the stove. The only difference is the method of heating is in the microwave instead of the stove top and the application of the dye was placed into bowls and microwaved 3 times, and the bowls were heated in the microwave at two minute intervals one bowl at a time. Naturally in this step you won't be using the stock pot and will be using microwave bowls instead. You can apply the dye differently by laying the wool on a plate or plastic surface and apply the food coloring in a concentrated mixture with distilled water, and vinegar mixed with the paste food coloring and stirred. Then the mixture is poured into a squeeze bottle and drizzled over the wet wool, that was pre-soaked in the vinegar and Dawn solution. I dyed a small wool piece in a plastic bag to see how it worked following the same microwave instructions and it works just as well.

Picture does not show complete list of tools and ingredients.

Clean wool

Paste food coloring

Distilled water ( for soaking and rinsing if you have heavy minerals, chlorine, or fluoride )

Vinegar (rinse)

Salt has been recommended for a better overall color. Add to the pre-soaking water.

Plastic wrap,or zip lock bags, microwave safe glass jars or bowls Wooden spoon.

Old Towels Plastic table cloth to protect work surface.

Rubber gloves

Microwave, (instructions are for microwave method).

Dawn dish washing liquid

Hair conditioner ( as wool softener if desired )

Place the wool in the pre-soak solution and allow it to soak for a few minutes. Then remove excess water from the wool and place the wool into the dye solution; and carefully poke it with a wooden spoon and let it set in this mixture for fifteen minutes. Then place the bowls in the microwave for 2 minutes on high. It is the high heat not the vinegar that sets the color. Repeat again for 2 more minutes. You can tell when the wool has absorbed all the color when the water becomes pale and the wool is darker.

I actually did it for an extra 2 minutes as well, because some people mentioned to microwave it for 5 minutes, I was a little afraid to microwave it that long so I heated it in increments to be on the safe side with a pause in-between and it worked. I suppose the amount of time and temperature would depend on the microwave. You can tell when the wool has absorbed all the color when the water is clear or pale in color. Remove the wool from the microwave and using gloves gently squeeze the colored water from the wool and place the wool in a towel to absorb the remaining liquid and press. After the wool has cooled, gently rinse the wool in room temperature water to remove the soap residue.

The paste food coloring is usually more difficult to mix with the water but the colors are nice and bright. I added a small amount of hot water to the colored paste and stirred it until it was mixed well and then poured it into a small squirt bottle, and waited for it to cool before I coated the wool with the color and placed the wool in a plastic bag and microwaved it for 3 two minute intervals on high, three times. After the wool has cooled completely it was rinsed in vinegar water to remove soap residue several times.

Step 11: Finally How to Card the Wool

Picture of Finally How to Card the Wool

Washing and carding the wool is the most time consuming part of processing the wool. To card the wool, you are shifting the wool from one carding brush to the other, back and forth until there are no more balls or knots of wool, or at least very small ones.

Load the brush so the wool extends slightly beyond the edge of the brush as shown, and the ends are all in the same direction. Take the empty brush and lightly brush over the wool as if you are brushing a babies hair, in a lifting motion.

When you begin to see the smooth wispy wool effect, then carefully lift up the edge of the wool and stack it in a box with the ends all going in the same direction.

Step 12: Sunshiine's Final Thoughts

Picture of Sunshiine's Final Thoughts

I am looking forward to making some interesting wool creations with my carded wool. This was so much fun even though it was time consuming. The savings were very rewarding. I will be trying to make a blanket, bird toys, quilts, bags, the possibilities are endless. I will definitely do some felting and spinning~

Thanks so much for taking a look at this instructable and do have a safe and happy holiday~

sunshiine~

Comments

NMjack2000 (author)2017-12-13

Way to go. Nora's mom had sheep and they made a lot of Navajo Rugs over the years. She still makes them and has a large loom in her living room.

sunshiine (author)NMjack20002017-12-13

How cool is that? Thanks for stopping by and taking a peek!

Hope your night shines~

sunshiine~

mrsmerwin (author)2017-12-11

Your colors are so pretty.

sunshiine (author)mrsmerwin2017-12-12

Thanks so much for stopping by~ I was happy with the colors but red is a difficult one to work with to get a bright red. Thanks for commenting and do have a Merry Christmas~

sunshiine~

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Bio: I am married with two children. Spring, summer, and fall are my very favorite times of the year. I love the sunshine thus the reason ... More »
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