Steam Dyeing Wool: Mason Jar Technique

mason jar steam pot
Steam Dyeing Finn Wool with Mason Jars

I have used the immersion dyeing method to dye my Finn fleeces the most. Dyeing roving is basically the same as dyeing washed fleece using this technique. The difference for me is that since fleece still needs to be blended in a carder after it is dyed, it will come out fresh and fluffy, and easy to draft when spinning.

On the other hand, when immersion dyeing  roving it becomes compacted because it is already carded and then does not draft as easily. I end up recarding the roving again which adds an additional step in the processing.  I don’t mind doing this if I am going to make a blend of different colors, but sometimes I like to leave the dyed roving like it is; and of course not recard it.

You can just pre draft the roving to loosen it, but I found this makes the fibers lose the alignment that the carding process is meant to give the roving to begin with. There had to be a better way to maintain the fiber alignment without reblending.

I investigated steam dying using different methods and tried oven dyeing. The results were good, no felting. But I still found that the roving became a little compressed. Not as much as when immersion dyeing but nonetheless, I recarded the roving again.

roving before
Roving from an exhaust bath will be a great overdye experiment.

I have some beautiful roving, it is Finn lamb’s wool and Kid mohair blend. Super soft and fluffy. But this batch was from an exhaust dye bath and I wasn’t happy with the light colors it gave, so I decide to overdye this. I knew I didn’t want it to matt and compress so into the mason jars they would go. I also wanted to be able to overdye multiple colors in case I wanted to blend into colorful batts. I experimented with using the 2 qt size mason jars. 8 of them would fit in my granite wear canning kettle, which is reserved just for dyeing wool.

m j pot roak
Turn the rack upside down to fit more jars, but be careful they don’t tip over and use empty jars to fill space if you need to.

The jars would not fit in the rack, but turning the rack upside down and placing the jars carefully so they would not tip worked! I was in business. 2 jars of each color, for a total of 8 jars and 1 oz in each jar looked like it was going to give me 8 oz to play with.

Roving soak
Roving is wetting to assure consistent take up of dye. Just water and a tiny drop of soap in each. I use citric acid in the dye jars.

I premeasured the wool in 1 oz increments and soaked them in  smaller jars so I would keep the weights consistent and mixed my dye solutions in the 2 qt jars they would be steamed in. I mixed my dyes while the roving soaked for, well it was going to be a half hour to an hour, but everything takes longer than you plan. The shearer was on the way and I had to leave everything sit until the shearing was done for our Finnsheep. But, mason jar steaming is so easy. When I returned from the barn I was ready to steam dye, while I got dinner cooking! No worrying about roving felting in the pot, the glass jars keep that from happening!

jar no wool

The 2 qt dye jars were waiting for me when the shearing was done. I drained the soaking roving and set it in a colander for a few minutes. Then carefully eased 1 oz of roving into each jar, so as not to displace the dye liquid. I added enough water in the kettle so it was just under the rack and then carefully added the jars and turned on the heat.

mason jars
Keep the water beneath the jars so they do not crack. Put the lid on tight.

I brought the temperature up slowly, with the kettle lid on, until it reached 180 degrees. Then kept an eye on the temperature, amount of steam, and water level. I did not have to add any additional water, and left it steaming at 180 degrees for a half hour to 45 minutes. I turned off the heat and left the dye to cure until I returned home from work the next day. A nice surprise to come home to.

overdye roving
The roving came out fluffy, soft, and was not compressed!

The dye had exhausted clear for the most part, but to be safe I rinsed and drained the 4 colors separately. Spun them in my large salad spinner and put the wet roving by the wood stove to dry. I chose fairly well with my color combinations, but may drop one of the colors, the intense red. This color is much cooler hue than the other three’s warm tones. We will see, I will decide when I blend these to make a summer sunset color way. Yes, I decided to blend them anyway, but to make a lovely batt or two. I see a lovely colorway here.

Click the follow my blog button below and you will be notified when I post the next blog demonstrating the colorway from the steam dyeing experiment. Other blogs heading your way will be on shearing day, lambing in April (2 weeks!), custom dyeing 16 inch felting batts and more! 

Thanks for joining me in the kitchen today : )

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