Most of the creatures I make are made from woven wool that I buy from the Dorr Mill Store in Guild, NH. Wool is easy to dye and you can use any dye that can be used on natural materials. I’ve used acid dyes (Prochem), Flavored drink mixes (ie: Kool Aid) and food coloring. There are also commercially available dyes made from from nuts, plants and berries. They cost a bit more to use, but if you are worried about chemical sensitivities they might be the right choice for you. If you have lots of time and want to explore making your own natural dyes there is a great article in a past issue of Hobby Farm Home magazine.
STEP 1: Prepare your wool by washing or soaking it in warm water and a bit of Synthrapol–a light “wetting solution”. If you wash your wool make sure you turn the spin cycle off or catch it before it spins. You want the wool very wet!
STEP 2: Gather your supplies. I clean off my counter work space, gather the colors I want to use, put a pot of water* to boil on the stove and find my pans, rubber gloves, apron and aluminum foil.
*Do not use any pots,pans or utensils for dyeing that you will use for cooking. Go to the dollar store and pick up a couple throw away aluminum pans (turkey size for 1 yard pieces works best), a set of measuring spoons and canning jars.
STEP 3: Make your dyes. I mostly dye with Prochemical Dyes*. They come in small jars with screw on tops and are easy to store. By now your water will be boiling. Pour 1 cup of boiling water into a clean 1 quart canning jar. Add 1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon of dye, depending on the shade you want. The more dye, the stronger the color. Add 1/3 cup of white distilled vinegar. Fill the jar up with luke-warm tap water. Screw the cap on and give it a mixing shake.
You can find Prochemical Dyes at most fiber art supply stores or online.
STEP 4: Gently squeeze as much of the water out of your wool fabric as you can, but do not wring the fabric! Place it in your aluminum pan. You don’t want it flat, just loosely scrunched. Dip your 1 tablespoon measurer into your jar of dye and let it dribble over the fabric. After you’ve dyed a couple of times, you’ll find just the right jiggle of the wrist for the look you want. I usually start with the darkest color I’m using and work my way to the lightest. With your first color, leave plenty of white space. The colors will spread and mix as you add the second color.
STEP 5: Add your other colors, one at a time. Take your time and see how the colors are mixing. Move your wool around to make sure that all of the areas are getting some color.
STEP 6: When you are happy with your wool, cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.Bake in the oven at 275-300 degrees for an hour.
STEP 7: Rinse with cool water to get rid of any excess dye. At this point you can hang to dry. If it is a sunny day with a nice breeze it won’t take long outdoors. To speed the process up you can toss your wool in the spin only cycle of your washer, or you can put it through a quick wash and toss it in the dryer too.