Introduction: Dyeing Wool for Projects

I have had so many rug hookers and wool lovers ask me about the process of hand-dyeing wools, that I thought it might be helpful to offer this illustrated example�u what's needed & how to do some simple dye bath dyeing. Keep in mind that this is the way I do it, but there are many other methods and ideas you can try. I encourage you to take the plunge if you've never tried dyeing wools before -- it is not difficult and doesn't have to be expensive. Once you try it, I am sure you'll want to experiment with other methods for different results. These instructions will help you to visualize the process and get you started -- after that you should feel comfortable with the whole process and more at ease when trying other methods.

Important Note: Never use any of the utensils or pots etc. for cooking that you use for dyeing - keep them separate and only use them for dyeing!

Step 1: Gather Your Equipment

Dye Pot: enamel (without any chips inside) or stainless steel pot
Acid-Reactive Dyes for Wool, such as Aljo or Cushing Acid Dyes
Dye Formulas (recipes)
100% Wool
Synthropol or wetting agent such as Jet Dry for dishwashers
Glass Jars
Measuring Spoons 1/32 tsp up to 1 teaspoon
Glass Measuring Cup
Tongs for Lifting Wet Wool
Plastic Fork or Small Whisk
Heavy Rubber Gloves
White Paper Towels
Uniodized Table Salt
White Household Vinegar
Protective Covering for Yourself & Your Work Surface

Step 2: Select & Soak the Wool

1. Use from 1/2 to 1 yard of wool, depending upon size of dye pot used. (I can dye 1 to 1 1/2 yards in my 20-qt. stainless steel pot.)

2. Select several different woolens to go into the dye bath. Using solids, plaids, textures, and a variety of colors will give you several wools that will work together. Your recipe should also tell you what colors of wool the recipe works best over. You'll find wool at your local thrift store if you want to recycled it, or check out and for really nice ones. There are also lots of places on the web to find hand-dyed and off-the-bolt wool.

3. Fill a pot or tub with hot water, add Synthropol according to package directions, or use about 3 Tbls. Jet Dry.

4. Add the wool to the pot. Squeeze water through each piece of wool to thoroughly wet it.
Allow to soak for 15 to 30 minutes (longer is better.)

Step 3: Prepare the Dye Bath

1. Select a dye pot and fill it about 2/3 full of water.

2. Add a Tablespoon of uniodized salt, which helps the dye absorb evenly. If you want a mottled effect on the wool, omit the salt.

3. Put the pot on the stove & allow it to come to temperature; bring the water just to the boiling point, then turn down to a simmer before you add the dye and wool to the pot. Do NOT boil the wool.

NOTE: I use an old enamelware pot to soak my wool and I use both stainless steel and enamelware to dye in. My enamelware pot is an old slop pot I bought at an antique shop (don't pay over $20.00 for these -- not worth more than that). I like it because it has a lid and a sturdy bail handle. My larger 20 qt. pot is stainless steel and I love it too because I can dye a lot of wool at one time.

Step 4: Prepare the Dye

1. Wear rubber gloves, and prepare the dye according to the manufacturer's directions. I use Cushing Acid dyes, ProChem dyes for wool & Aljo acid reactive dyes - they each have their own prep directions.

2. For most formulas, you'll add the measured dry dyes to one cup of boiling water (commonly abbreviated as 1 CBW). Dye formulas can include three or more dye colors to be mixed together in the boiling water to achieve the color for dyeing.

NOTE: To prevent the dyes from intermixing in their packages if you need to use the same measuring spoon for more than one color, stir your measuring spoon in a container of dry table salt to remove left-over dye between measurements.

3. Use a small whisk or a plastic fork to thoroughly mix the dry dye until it is completely dissolved.
When the dye bath is at the simmer, add the dye mixture to the pot and stir gently.

Step 5: Dye the Wool

1. Add the pre-soaked wool to the dye bath (do not wring the water from the wool). Push the wool to the bottom of the pot, without allowing any wool to poke above the water line.

2. For primitive, mottled color, stir the wool gently only when it first goes into the pot. For more even color, stir when you add the wool, and several times throughout the dye process.

3. Cover the pot and leave it for 30 minutes.

4. Check the wool to see if it is the color intensity you want (it will be lighter when it is dry). If the color is right, add about 1/3 cup of white vinegar to the pot and stir thoroughly.

5. Cover the pot again and allow the vinegar to set the dye into the wool. Leave for 30 more minutes (I know some dyers only simmer with the vinegar for 15 minutes, but to be sure the wool is color fast, you should leave it for another 30 minutes.)

Step 6: Cool the Wool

1. When the color is all absorbed from the dye bath into the wool, the water will be clear. Carefully move the dye bath from the stove to the sink. Wear protective gloves to prevent being burned.

2. Slowly cool the wool by running first warm, then tepid, then cool water over the wool. Do not go immediately from hot bath to cold rinse or you could felt your wool, making it too thick.

3. You can also just turn off the fire under the pot and allow the wool to cool in the dye pot overnight. I usually can't wait that long to see the wool!

Step 7: Rinse & Dry the Dyed Wool

1. Remove each piece of wool from the cooled dye pot and lightly wring out excess water.

2. I rinse & spin the wool in my washing machine -- just using the rinse cycle on cold (no wash cycle is needed.)

3. After rinsing, put the wool into your clothes dryer with a thick bath towel and a dryer sheet and allow to dry on medium heat. The bath towel will help fluff the wool fibers and the dryer sheet will prevent static cling to make folding and storing much nicer. It smells good, too!

Step 8: Enjoy Your Dyed Wool

Open the dryer and be surprised at how beautiful your wool turned out! And then find some great storage solutions, because once you start, you won't be able to stop dyeing and collecting wool for rug hooking, penny rugs, sewing, quilting etc.

Because I prefer muted, primitive colors for my rug hooking designs, I chose to overdye this skirt fabric (a Goodwill find) with a red-brown. The lighter colors in the plaid are now darker, the brown is a bit redder, and the green stayed green because I used the right amount of red in the dye formula (red and green are complementaey colors, so they will cancel one another out of mute the intensity of one another when overdyed.)