Hand Painting Wool Tops to Spin Colourful Yarns




About: I'm interested in just about everything, sewing, shoe making, leather crafts, cooking, gardening, photography... while home educating my children. It's madness at times.

I love creating my own yarns and every year when autumn arrives I try out a new wool dyeing or a new spinning technique, So this year I've been experimenting with painting wool. It's a lot of fun and I love the way the wool takes on all these different shades and how colourful the yarn looks once spun. Hand-painted wool creates a truly unique and wonderful yarn that would be very expensive to buy.

There are different techniques to paint wool. The one I’m describing here uses water to blend the colours together seamlessly.

It creates beautiful secondary colours and avoids sudden changes from one colour to the other. I also love layering different colours, as always there is no end to experimenting. At the end of this tutorial, I will also show you how to braid a wool top to store or display it.

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Step 1: What You Need for Hand Painting Wool Tops

  • wool tops/rovings, I love mixed fibres like wool and silk blends, but also mohair and alpaca
  • acid dyes
  • citric acid
  • spray bottles
  • cling film
  • water spray bottle

Step 2: Soaking the Wool

To prepare the wool for the dyeing process, soak it in a water and citric acid solution. I use 2 t citric acid in 4 l of cool water for a 100g wool top. Leave the wool to soak for 20 minutes. Then squeeze out excess water from the wool (with gloves if you have them). You can reuse the soaking bath.

Step 3: Preparing the Dyes

Mix the dyes you want to use with cold water making sure all the dyestuff has resolved and fill it into the spray bottles. The mixture depends on how light or dark you want your dyes to be. I used 1 to 2 t to 1/4 l of water.

Step 4: Painting the Wool Tops

Cover your work surface with cling film and lay the wool on top.

Now start painting with your first colour. When changing to a new colour leave about 6cm space between colours. You can dye shorter or longer sections of the wool with one colour and even squirt drops of another colour on top (for a layering effect).

Step 5: Blending the Colours

Once you have finished dyeing the length of the fibre, wet the spaces between the colours with a water spray bottle.

Cover the wool with cling film and press onto the coloured areas with both hands until they blend. You could also leave white areas here and there.

Step 6: Heat Setting the Painted Wool

Once you’ve finished the blending, wrap the wool with the clingfilm tightly to avoid leakage later in the heat setting process.

To heat set you could either use a microwave (easiest) or the steaming method.

Microwave method: Put the wool in a microwave safe glass bowl and microwave on high for 5 -8 minutes.

Steaming method: Place your wrapped wool parcel in a steamer, (I used an old bamboo steam basket) and place it in a pot with water, being careful not to let the water touch the wool. Now steam it for 45 minutes.

Leave to cool. Finally rinse the wool under warm water until it runs clear. Let it dry completely and fluff it up by pulling the fibres apart a little.

Step 7: Braiding the Wool

Braiding the wool top is a great way to store or display it if you want to sell it. I basically crochet a chain, using my hand instead of a hook. It’s easily undone by pulling at the end. Take care not to pull too tightly when crocheting, I also try to get the twists out.

That's it. Your wool is ready for spinning.

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    8 Discussions


    1 year ago

    I started to learn to spin this past summer at maker faire. I am allergic to wool so they taught me using other fibers. Recently someone gave me a bag of cotton roving. Would I dye it the same way? Should I pre-soak it in the same thing? I love the beautiful colors that you have and know I would spend more time on my spinning practice if I got to work with something this gorgeous.

    5 replies

    Reply 1 year ago

    Most people with a wool allergy are really allergic to the lanolin on the wool or the chemicals used to process commercially available wool. I'd be interested to see if you still have a reaction if your cleaned the wool yourself before using it


    Reply 1 year ago

    I will see if I can get my hands on some wool that was not commercially cleaned. I know that wool right off the sheep is not good for me to be around. It is probably not the lanolin since I have some cream that contains it and I don't react. I had never really considered which part of the wool that I might be allergic to. I will have to do some research and experimentation. Thanks for giving me some ideas to check into.


    Reply 1 year ago

    You are welcome! I've heard alpaca wool is gentler on the skin, also it doesn't contain lanolin. So maybe worth checking out.


    Reply 1 year ago

    So sorry can't answer your question, as I'm not allergic to wool. But I would always prefer to either clean the wool myself or buy organic wool if available.


    Reply 1 year ago

    I think you can dye cotton fibre in the same way but I haven't done it myself yet, so have no first-hand experience of it. Let me know how it turned out should you give it a try.