Hand painting wool tops is so much fun. I completely lost myself for a couple of days in dyeing wool using many colours and experimenting with different wool blends and painting techniques.
The yarn I can create with this wool is like no other, wonderful, colourful and luxurious.
I use an Ashford traditional spinning wheel which I bought second-hand many years ago when we moved to the UK. We couldn’t afford to buy good quality yarn but really needed warm clothing so I taught myself to spin by watching youtube videos and have since fallen in love with the process of it.
Here are some photos of the yarns I spun with the wool tops you see above to give you an idea what yarns dyed with this technique might look like.
There are different techniques to paint wool. The one I’m describing here uses water to blend the colours together seamlessly.
It creates beautiful secondary colours and avoids sudden changes from one colour to the other. I also love layering different colours, as always there is no end to experimenting.
At the end of this tutorial, I will also show you how to braid a wool top to store or display it.
What you need for hand painting wool tops
- wool tops, I love mixed fibres like wool and silk blends, but also mohair and alpaca
- acid dyes and citric acid
- spray bottles
- cling film
- water spray bottle
How to paint the wool tops
Step 1: Soaking the wool
To fix the dye to the wool, soak it in water and citric acid. I use 2 t citric acid in 4 l of cool water for a 100g wool top. Leave the wool to soak for 20 minutes. Then squeeze out excess water from the wool (with gloves if you have them). You can reuse the soaking bath.
Step 2: Preparing the dyes
Mix the dyes you want to use with cold water making sure all the dyestuff has resolved and fill it into the spray bottles. The mixture depends on how light or dark you want your dyes to be.
Step 3: Painting the wool tops
Cover your work surface with cling film and lay the wool on top, best in curves so more fits onto the space.
Now start painting with your first colour. When changing to a new colour leave about 6 cm space between colours. You can dye shorter or longer sections of the wool with one colour and even squirt drops of another colour on top (for a layering effect).
Step 4: Blending the colours
Once you have finished dyeing the length of the fibre, wet the spaces between the colours with a water spray bottle.
Cover the wool with cling film and press onto the coloured areas until they blend. You could also leave white areas here and there.
Step 5: Heat setting the painted wool
Once you’ve finished the blending, wrap the wool with the clingfilm. To avoid leakage later in the heat setting process take care the wrapping is snug.
And curl it together like a snake so it fits into a steaming basket.
Place your wrapped wool parcel in a steamer, I used an old bamboo steam basket and place it in a pot with water, being careful not to let the water touch the wool. Now steam the wool for 45 minutes.
Or use a microwave to heat set the wool. Put the wool in a microwave-safe glass bowl and microwave on high for 5 -8 minutes.
Leave to cool. And finally, rinse it under warm water until it runs clear.
Let the wool dry completely and fluff it up by pulling the fibres apart.
How to braid a wool top
Braiding wool tops is a great way to store or display them. I basically crochet a chain, using my hand instead of a hook. It’s easily undone by pulling at the end.
Here is a crocheted hat I made from the wool top you see on the first photo of this post. I get my wool tops from World Of Wool, they have a huge choice of all kinds of wool, I mostly go for their blends and speciality fibres.