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John and I drove and hour and a half to a yard sale this weekend to buy canning jars. That may sound crazy, but including the cost of gas, we got nearly 30 glass-top, wire-closure antique jars for less than a buck a piece. We’ve been looking for them for a specific project, so it was a good find. Even better: I found about eight ounces of wool roving for two dollars. How often do you find roving so cheap that you feel comfortable trying new things that might utterly trash it?!?

I had three burning questions in mind when I pulled out my dyes yesterday:

  1. Was the roving actually wool? It smelled and felt like it, but it was stored in a box with a bunch of acrylic “mock top,” so I wasn’t entirely sure.
  2. Can I dye roving without killing its spinability? The answer is yes. You get a lot of loose fibers all over your hands in the process, but it’s probably with it because you can blend the splotchy bits as you spin to even out the color.
  3. How well does microwave dyeing work? Not too badly.

To make sure I was working with wool that would take dye and felt, I did a test run on a tiny sample using my least favorite color.  Aside from an impressive explosion of colored water in my microwave, it worked. And now my cats have a tiny orange flower to bat around the floor.

In golden yellow, with teal center

In golden yellow, with teal center

I didn’t answer the spinability question with the little test run, but that was more out of curiosity than anything. This roving is destined for a felting project, so if the answer was “no, it’s more difficult than my skill level to keep it spinable,” nothing would be lost.

The microwave dye process is pretty simple.

  1. Presoak your fiber in warm water and vinegar.
  2. Mix your dye with water and vinegar in a microwave-safe container.
  3. Add the wet wool to the dye bath and nuke for 2 minutes.
  4. Allow to cool to room temp, then check to see if the dye has been exhausted (i.e., the water runs clear because the wool has soaked up all the color).
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you get the look you want.
Wilton colors, from left to right: no-taste red, pink, kelly green, sunshine yellow, teal, violet, burgundy, and copper

Wilton colors, from left to right: no-taste red, pink, kelly green, sunshine yellow, teal, violet, burgundy, and copper

What I like about microwave dyeing:

  • It’s faster than slow cooker dyeing by HOURS.
  • It’s easier to mess around with multiple colors at the same time.
  • It left the roving spinable.

What I would change:

  • I’d try a casserole dish instead of jars to give the roving more breathing room so they could take the color more evenly, esp. complex colors like purple.
  • I would dissolve the coloring all the way in boiling water and let it cool down.
From left to right: burgundy, no-taste red, pink, copper, sunshine yellow, kelly green, teal, violet. Only the yellow did not require a second run of dye.

From left to right: burgundy, no-taste red, pink, copper, sunshine yellow, kelly green, teal, violet. Only the yellow did not require a second run of dye. The red probably could have used more.

All in all, I’d call the experiment a resounding success. Bonus? I discovered I’m married to a rainbow whisperer. John rearranged the roving into rainbow order (I had them on the rack in the order I pulled them out of the post-dye rinse) and two minutes later, this happened:

Double rainbow across the sky!

Double rainbow across the sky!

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