Posts Tagged ‘washing’

On Friday last week, I had planned to work on a needle felting project. I went to my fiber supply and was quite dismayed to find that I didn’t have the color that I wanted to use. I had my heart set on purple, so the project got delayed while I did a dyeing day. I thought I would take the opportunity to share with you how I do it.

My alpaca fiber comes to me in large bags. It is often very dirty. When it arrives I open up a bag, spread the fleece out on a table and give it a quick once over to remove any large and obvious organic matter. I also give it a bit of a shake to remove loose dirt. It goes back into a clean bag until I am ready to use it.

I do all my dyeing in small batches. I wash and dye my fiber as part of one process. I use mainly alpaca fiber, but this process should work for pretty much any animal fiber.


Alpaca Fiber

First I take about an ounce of fiber. If you want consistent, repeatable results, you should actually weigh your fiber. I just eyeball it. I know about how much an ounce is, and I don’t need to repeat any color exactly. I spread it out and remove as much organic matter as I can.

Wash Prep

A squirt of dish detergent in hot water

Next I fill a bowl with hot tap water and swirl in a squirt of dish detergent. I use Dawn, but I don’t see why using another brand would make a difference. Add the soap after the bowl is full and swirl gently. You don’t want bubbles.

wash the fiber

Fiber in the Wash Water

Gently place the fiber into the wash water. Press down lightly to remove any air pockets. Let it set in the water for 20 minutes. Don’t poke it or push it around. I still always want to, but don’t do it. You should remove any organic matter that you see. Removing organic matter is an on going step through out the process. When the 20 minutes are up, gently slide the fiber into a colander and drain. Give it a rinse with the sprayer of your sink if you have one. If not, just a quick rinse under the tap should be fine. This step should be repeated as needed for the fiber to be clean. I did four washes with this particular batch.

When the fiber is clean, do a 20 minute soak in clear water. I follow that with a 20 minute soak in water with a splash of white vinegar. I feel that the vinegar helps brighten and soften the fiber a bit.


Dyeing Items

Here are some of the things I use when I am dyeing. Individual colors are done in the quart jars. Wide mouth jars make the process a bit easier, but you can really use whatever type jar you like. The tool on the left is for lifting the jars in and out of the hot water bath. The white bag is citric acid. I use it with the icing dye to set the color. It can be found with canning supplies in the store. The little bottle is a gel cake icing dye. Liquid food coloring may work(I haven’t tried it) but I imagine you would need a lot of it to get good color. The final item is unsweetened powdered drink mix. This one happens to be my store brand, but any type will work. I stock up when it is on sale.

Mixed dyes

Dyes Ready for Fiber-2 Black, Pink, Purple, Mixed Pink and Purple

The powdered drink mix is used alone when I dye. I use between one and four packages depending on the shade I want.

The cake icing dye is used with the citric acid. I use 1/2 a teaspoon of citric acid and about a 1/4 teaspoon of icing dye. Sometimes the icing dye gives interesting colors. Sometimes the colors in the dye separate out and give a nice variegated effect. I have not had good luck with reds. I get flecks of solid red instead of it dissolving well. Purple does not turn out to be purple in the end, but a streaky blue and pink(very cool, but not purple). The greens and yellows always turn out well. It is fun to experiment with the different colors. When I do black, I use a dark fiber instead of white.

After the colors are put in the jars, add hot (but not boiling) water to the jars to dissolve the dyes. I stir them with a chopstick until they are well dissolved.

Fiber in Dye

Fiber in the Jar Ready for the Water Bath

Place your cleaned, wet fiber into the jar. Push down gently with a chopstick to make sure the fiber is covered. This is another part where I always want to play with it, don’t do it. I put a bit more water in this jar before it went into the water bath.

Pot for Water Bath

Pot I Use for the Water Bath

The water for the water bath should be just a bit below boiling point.


Top View

Top View of the Water Bath

The water level should be just below the rim of the jars. The jars should remain in the water bath until all the dye has been absorbed and the water is clear. The pink and orange drink mix tend to have leave a milky look to the water. They never get completely clear for me, but everything else seems to.

Clear Water

The Fiber When Color is Absorbed

Remove the jars and allow them to cool.

I have to apologize for the quality of this photo. I couldn’t get a better one, but I wanted you to see how clear the water is. The chopstick is inside the jar holding the fiber to the side. As you can see, I still have some more organic matter to remove.

Salad Spinner

Into the Salad Spinner

When the jars have cooled, gently pour one into the colander portion of a salad spinner (brand doesn’t matter). They are pretty easy to find and inexpensive as well. Rinse the fiber gently. Then put the colander into the spinner and spin out as much water as you can.


On the Rack to Dry

Place the fiber on a rack to dry. Again, remove any organic matter that you see. I pretty much always have some fall out during the drying process.

I hand card my fiber when it is dry.

That’s how I do it. I am happy to answer questions that I can.




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