How to Hand Paint Roving & Yarn...

The most difficult part of this process is to find a surface large enough to lay out your work. I use my dining room table, covered in heavy pastic. The work area needs to be about 4 feet wide by 6 feet long, if possible. Otherwise, make adjustments and work with smaller amounts of roving on a smaller surface.

Some of the things you will need to get started:
  • some kind of dyes. I use "strong acid" aniline can use whatever you like.
  • roving, top, or yarn
  • a large canning pot to steam the painted wool
  • "Glad Wrap" or other plastic wrap
  • plastic cups to measure out the different coloured dyes
  • Glacial Acetic Acid to set the dyes (this assumes you are using dyes that NEED acid to set them). This can be purchased at photographic supply stores.
  • gallon containers of dye stock solution (1 gallon water + 1 ounce aniline dye powder)
  • plastic 35 cc syringe (purchased from livestock health catalog)
  • 1 cup measuring cup: either glass or plastic
  • rubber gloves
  • and, of course, the kitchen sink. This assumes you don't have a proper dye studio and are making do at home.

First, measure out a known quantity of roving. I do 1 ounce lengths which are about 8 feet long. I use a "measuring string" and measure out 12 pieces of roving. The roving I use is rather thick, like a top would be. Some rovings are thin and "see through"...not much fiber, so the 1 ounce piece would end up being very long. Rovings carded this way will need very careful handling. They "drift" apart and would felt more easily (not a desired effect).

Fold the length of roving in half, then half again three more times. Wrap part of one tail end around the folded bundle and tuck it in.

The wool needs to soak in hot water for 1 hour. I also add about 1/4 teaspoon liquid soap and mix it in before placing the roving into the water. Its important to NOT move the wool bundles around in the water. Place them in the sink and push them under the water. After the hour, move them aside and drain the water from the sink. Gently squeeze the water from the bundles.

While you are soaking the roving bundles, you can set up your work area. Stretch out 3 pieces of the plastic wrap, about 6 feet long, on your work surface. Tape the ends in place. These pieces of plastic wrap should be about 2 inches apart.

Mix up your colours in the plastic cups. For stronger, darker colours start with 1/2 cup of water in the cup and add 1/4 cup total of dye solution from your already-mixed-up-gallon-jug. For example, if making a green: use 1/8 cup yellow plus 1/8 cup blue plus the 1/2 cup water.

For more pastel colours start with 3/4 cup of water plus 1/4 cup total dye solution, or less, for "barely there" light colours. You will need 6 or 7 colours of dye in these quantities to dye 12 ounces of roving.

Add about 1 teaspoon of the acid, or 5 cc. if using the plastic syringe to each plastic cup of dye. Its VERY important to wear the rubber gloves, now that you have added the acid to the dyes. Wear the gloves through all of the remaining steps where you are working with the dyes.

The roving should NOT be dripping wet. Very carefully unwrap each roving bundle and lay it out on the sheet of plastic wrap. I lay them folded in half. They end up being longer when they are wet. I put 4 lengths on each piece of plastic,very close together, without overlaping. They should lay flat without twists.

Begin applying the dyes in strips across the roving. These sections of colour can be as narrow or wide as you want. Keep in mind there will be colour blending as you go from one colour to the next. Remember that some colours mixed together (as red plus green, orange plus blue, purple plus yellow, etc. will all produce some shade of brown). If the colours are very dark, then with overlapping of the dyes you may get sections of black. This is fine, so long as this is what you want. This is NEVER exact. Please do not drive yourself nuts trying to get this perfect. This is supposed to be fun!

Here is how it will sort of look...depending on how many colours and repeats of colours you have choosen to do. This is your project: you decide how much of which colours to use.

After removing the tape from the ends of the plastic wrap, carefully fold over the two inches or so of plastic along the length of the plastic wrap. It will not meet in the middle. It does not completely cover the two inside pieces of roving. This is OK. You are only doing this to keep the dyes and acid from squirting out the sides.

Fold over the plastic at one end and begin to roll up the roving.

Finish rolling it up and press the ends closed. This makes a nice closed roll.

The canning pot should have some sort of rack in the bottom and just enough water to come to the bottom of the rack. Place the roving rolls into the pot (they can be stacked), and bring to a boil. The pot should simmer/steam for 45 minutes. Check the pot from time to time, to be sure the water has not all boiled away. Some small amount of the dyes and acid will escape into the pot. After the wool is steamed and you have removed the rolls from the pot, be sure to add soap and water to the pot before pouring down the drain.

Fill the sink with hot water plus 1/4 teaspoon of liquid soap. Then holding onto the plastic, unroll the roving into the sink: the roving will slide out of the plastic, and the plastic can be thrown away. Let it soak for about 15 minutes, then drain out the water. The roving should then be placed into a warm, rinse water and soaked for another 15 minutes. After the final rinse I squeeze the water out gently and take it to the washing machine to put it through a "Spin" cycle. This way, when hung to dry, it will dry over night.

This is how the finished roving or yarn may look.

Yarn may be painted in exactly the same way as the steps described above; with the exception of the folding of the plastic wrap. Instead of rolling into a roll, just fold it in on itself three times and seal the end with the flap of plastic. The finished look of the dyeing will be different.

When you spin the dyed roving, you will want to first split the piece of roving lengthwise as many as 8 times. The less drafting you do, the closer the colour sections will be together. Unless your drafting is exactly perfect, the colour changes will NOT be perfect. I like this effect. I like variation. If you want perfect colour repeats, this may NOT be the way to go.

When you paint a skein of yarn, the colour repeats will be more exact. This may be the best way to dye more exact repeats of colours, if that is what you want. When I dye skeins, I work with 6 ounce skeins. This is a more efficient way to do the dyeing. The space to lay out your work will greatly define how efficient you can be when using this process.

If there is some part of this that is not clear, please write your email questions to The WHOLE idea here is to have great fun with lots of colour!

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