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  • Suzanne Curtis

Dying to dye.

So, I managed to scour and mordant 200g of my organic Australian wool, (which I have to tell you smells just like a sheep and I love it). The wool survived.. yippee!!. I was like a mother hen watching its chicks. Watching wool float around in a pot of water is probably not the most scintillating way to spend a few hours, but I was just so excited! I was actually about to create something from natural products.






I chose to use the cochineal bugs because I was looking forward to the beautiful colour, I hoped that the wool would turn. Plus, secretly I was intrigued about having to crush the bugs to make the dye. I have bought a mortar and pestle for such jobs as crushing and grinding to make my dyes. I was so excited to use it and have a feeling of sort of stepping back in time. After about 5 minutes of furiously trying to grind and crush the bugs I was exhausted, and I had barely made a dent in them. So, like any time I have needed to crush nuts etc when I am cooking, I grabbed a brown paper bag and my trusty rolling pin and away I went. It was so much easier and took much less time. It was exciting to see the hint of red colour that I would hopefully end up with.


I have to say that the smell of simmering crushed cochineal bugs is a very unique one. It permeated through the whole house.. even though it was happening in the garage. After the 3rd boil, I stopped. Drained the pulp from the dye bath and its now sitting in a jar ready for the next time.
















the cochineal bugs the dye before sieving out the pulp






The Moment of Truth

Time for the big fun part! With the wool mordanted and still wet it was time to dye. Mordanted wool into the pot of cochineal dye and following instructions I carefully raised the temperature of the dye bath to the exact requirement. I watched pretty much like a hawk while the water was heating up and made sure as delicately as possible that the wool stayed submerged in the dye. I found that the books I have been using all differ in how to treat the wool during the dyeing process as in moving it around occasionally to ensure even dyeing. One book suggested not to touch the wool at all. As I am obviously a newbie to all of this, I only moved it a couple of times during the process.


















wool immersed in the dye It looks good here. The colour is great.




So, with the time up for the dyeing and at the time being distracted by having a technician here trying to fix my internet connection and also being a bit too eager, I took the wool out of the dye bath sooner than I should have and it was still quite warm. I then went on to washing it and I watched in shock and horror as the yarn began to felt. I was mortified. WHAT DO I DO NOW!!! As in many situations where I have no clue what to do next, I Googled it. There is nothing better and more reassuring when you know that with just about any problem in life these days Google is there to help try and fix it or at least tell us where to go to fix or in my situation basically tell me that I can’t fixed, and the wool is screwed















The poor felted yarn after rinsing Drying out before un-tangling



Well, I wasn’t going to settle for that, so I eventually found a post which suggested using conditioner to soften the wool. Mind you this was for a woollen jumper and it suggested using conditioner used on babies as it doesn’t contain sulphate. Unfortunately, there are no babies in my home (that I know of) so next best thing was my own conditioner which I tried to see if it had sulphates, but the ingredients were so small that there was no way in hell I would be able to tell. I thought bugger it what is the worst that can happen? So, I used quite a lot and was as gentle as gentle as I could possibly be. But I didn’t stop there as a woman who really wanted to make sure that wool would survive, I used some of my very expensive hair mask. And I have to tell you that while the wool was still felted, Oh My Goodness doesn’t it smell beautiful and feel so very soft!!



My dear Mum offered to untangle and pull apart the felted yarn and she did a magnificent job I have to say. And the wool, while obviously felted, has a lovely texture and the one really fantastic aspect is the COLOUR!! Wow it turned out to be such a beautiful crimson colour. So that part of the process worked very well. The dyeing was really even over all the yarn.
























My first ball of natural hand-dyed organic wool.


What did I learn from my first dyeing attempt? First, not to take the yarn out of the bath till it is completely cool and having done some more research I have decided to not wash it straight away but let it dry first and then wash it.

Second lesson is that if it happens again to make sure I have maybe a less expensive hair mask on hand to use!



Join me on my next blog when I share with you the next dyeing adventure with a different dye and cotton!


Till next time - Happy Hooking groovers!

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