So far I’ve been making felt using pre-dyed wool, but the appeal of variegated colours and being able to make my own colourways has inspired me to start some dyeing experiments. By far the easiest to start with is dyeing with food colours. This is because there are no chemicals that require keeping separate utensils and pans solely for dyeing.
I started with Wilton’s food colourings as I’d watched a video (see below) about how the colours can sometimes separate out giving a blend. Violet is made from blue and red, and as the wool soaks in the dye varying amounts lead to the separation of these colours. My first attempt with dyeing very small pieces of wool resulted in a dusky pink. The next batch of small pieces dyed in the very same dye bath came out pale teal!
I discovered that using less water in the pan and using more dye colouring meant the wool that was completely saturated took up a deeper colour whilst the wool more exposed on top got the lightest colour.
I tried steaming in a pan on the hob and steaming in the microwave, but couldn’t detect any difference between the results. So far I prefer kettle dyeing just because I don’t like grappling with cling film wrap. If handled gently, it’s possible to dye wool in hot water without getting it felted, although different wools behave in different ways. Unfortunately for the purposes of science and being rigorous (which I am never!) I didn’t know which types of wool I was using as I’d bought a mixed bag from ebay.
Whilst on a cooking spree in the kitchen I thought I’d try dyeing some mawata silk hankies with food colouring too. They take a lot of pre-soaking so I left them overnight in water and vinegar with a tiny dash of soap weighted down with drinking glasses and glass jars!
To dye them I simple cooked them in a warm oven (75 deg C is the max temperature) for around an hour. They didn’t take up all the dye but came out quite nice and bright anyway. Once cool, they were rinsed until the water ran clear, then pressed between towels and hung to dry.
Here’s an interesting article about how these silk hankies are made. http://www.wormspit.com/mawatas.htm
And here’s one of the videos about breaking colours