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Dyeing Wool with Food Colouring

Linda Lycett, Editor-in-Chief

here is nothing quite like experimenting with new ways of doing something.

I recently promised a new baby blanket to a member of the family; they are having their first baby early December. She asked for a green blanket as they chose not to know the sex of the child before birth.

When I realised what I had promised, the thought patterns went into action… Not liking commercial wool too much, and being a spinner, I decided to make one – from scratch.

Searching through my fleeces, I found a suitable white one I could dye. That presented another challenge. Not being at home, one cannot use any old dyestuff in other people’s pots.

Again, the thinking cap goes on – How to dye the fleece… Experimentation was the only way.

Having visited a spinning guild open day recently, and coming across some fleece dyed with food colouring, I thought I would give it a go. Nothing to loose.

Off I trip to the local supermarket to buy yellow and blue food colouring. It was a nice surprise to discover they also sold green; now I wouldn’t have to bother about mixing colours to get what I wanted.

Next was a bit of research on the net to check out the formula, knowing that wool normally needs a ‘mordant’ to make the wool hold the dye. Discovery – white vinegar will do the trick.

Armed with ‘Dutch Oven’ size pan, vinegar, food colouring and washed fleece I get started.
I’m sure baby will get lots of use and warm snugly cuddles out of the blanket – if only I can get it finished before the child grows up!

First the wool needs to be soaked in water with about 1/4cup of vinegar to 1 litre of water, soak for at least half an hour, and for up to 24 hours.

I managed to last two hours – then it got the better of me!

Next step was to fill the pot with water and added 1 teaspoon of green food colouring, and some of the vinegar water (or add a splash of vinegar straight from the bottle). That will ensure the dye will grip into the wool. I added enough fleece so it wasn’t too crammed and slowly brought it to the boil, then simmered until the wool had soaked up all (or most) of the colour – about 20 minutes. Removed it to the sink and rinsed.

Dyed Fleece before mixing and carding

Imagine my delight when the newly dyed green fleece proved to be colourfast – an added bonus.

The pot wasn’t big enough to dye all the fleece in one go, so I repeated the procedure two more times, only this time adding only 1/2 teaspoon food colouring as the first batch turned out rather vivid! The fleece was then put outside on a towel on the ground to dry.

The next step was to obtain the ‘apple green’ I was looking for. Out comes the remainder of the washed fleece that I had left un-dyed. And out come my hand-carders that I use for blending.

Fleece Carded ready for Spinning

By trial and error, mixing the green and white fleece I finally had the colour I had in mind.

Spinning into yarn is the easy bit. Then to decide whether to knit, crochet or weave the blanket. Knitting it out – it takes too long and becomes very heavy. I decided to weave the blanket, using a ‘weave-it’ square and join the pieces together.

Fleece spun onto Bobbin

Ummm… the blanket is still in progress, and the baby about to be born. I think I had better get a move on.

I’m sure baby will get lots of use and warm snugly cuddles out of the blanket – if only I can get it finished before the child grows up!

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