The wool house presents: finale

In which the brilliant Laurie sums up, demonstrates her genius and makes all of us feel like throwing our knitting away.

General principles:

Fuchsia never exhausts.

Neither does purple really.

Everything will bleed into gold or yellow.

Mixed colors often spin up into particularly nice yarn.

The steamer water will be full of dye.

The wool sausages will look horrible, even if you use saran wrap that is NOT violet.

If you use carded wool instead of combed roving, you may end up with felted wool despite your best efforts.

When you steam these coils, you will need to use a lid. Wait until the sausages puff up and then let the kettle steam for at least twenty minutes to set the dye. You can take the lid off to look, but generally keep it on. Here I peeked:


After twenty minutes, take the pot off the heat and set it aside to cool. For a LONG time. The coiled wool need to be completely cool. I leave the pot in the back bathroom overnight. In a rush (and in cold weather), I have been known to leave the pot on the back stoop. Of course, I live in Maine, and our cold weather is VERY cold! Still, you need to let it cool and cool. Then, still using your rubber gloves, unwrap the ENDS of the packages in the sink and let the wool sausage slither out:


You will then need to soak and rinse the wool sausages (leave that roving in there!!) until the water runs clear. The water should be the same temperature that the sausages are. That temperature does not have to be EXACT, but close. I do the last rinse in the washing machine in order to spin all the moisture out afterwards. And make sure that your washing machine does not dump water on things during the spin cycle!!

The reward comes afterwards when you can untie the end of the wool sausage and pull your roving out!


When the rovings are wet, they can sometimes look disappointing. Especially commercial rovings, possibly because they are more compacted. When the rovings are dry, they look wonderful. More patience, alas!!

What do you do with a painted roving?


We have to let them dry thoroughly before spinning, etc. The Romney rovings, formerly gray, are on the left and the Bluefaced Leicester rovings are coiled up. Lovely, eh? Now we are GLAD we sacrificed that lovely gray roving from the other day.

When your rovings are PERFECTLY dry, you spin them up into very fine singles. You can knit as singles, ply together with another solid color single, or Navajo-ply (The Joy of Handspinning has video clips).

The first two options make the most of your singles. Knit the singles (after setting the twist on a plastic niddy noddy) and you have the full yardage, say 300 yards; ply with a solid color – again 300 yards. Since Navajo-plying is basically a three-ply, your 300 yards of singles becomes 100 yards of yarn.

Below are the various kinds of socks you can make with the yarn:


The two pairs of socks and yarns on the left use Navajo-plying technique. The far left socks, a.k.a. my Lifesaver socks, are dyed bluefaced Leicester. Note the bands — you can split the roving in halves and quarters so there will be more color repeats. And the sock next to them come from Romney rovings (one set of colors changes up the leg).

The middle sock, with the toucan colors, is knit from commercial roving I dyed, spun and plied with a black single – stretching my colors! The next to the last sock also helps extend the use of your handpainted yarn. That sock and the one in progress above it (which you cannot really see) use a fairisle pattern with one strand of black wool and one strand of the multicolor yarn. The far right sock is knit from singles, like the yarn above it.

To elaborate on what you can do with these yarns, I have a closer illustration of the socks and sweater:


The sweater I made by picking a cable pattern that I particularly like and knitting panels in that pattern. Putting it together took a lot of careful seaming, but the cables actually helped me line things up. I enjoyed myself thoroughly arranging and rearranging them before deciding how they would finally fit together.

In thinking about socks, you can get more info than you could possible use from the Socknitter web site. They have LOTS of tutorials for all kinds of socks of different weights. The ones I have knitted above are simple toe-up socks with a small fairisle design. You can, in fact, make up your own design or do a variation on ones that you have seen. Below you will see a new sock in progress with a honeycomb grid and my worksheet. Simple graph paper will do, but lots of sites give you ways to print out knitter’s graph paper – here is just one on the Brown Fox Fiber site : I have four patterns below marked on mine for the three fairisle socks on display. I chose more elongated honeycombs than my first effort.


For my socks, the yarn came out to about light worsted/DK weight. I used 48 stitches on American size 3 needles. That number of stitches is particularly nice because it divides evenly for so many different stitch repeats: 2, 3, 4, 6, 8. Remember my feet are VERY small so this number is fine for me because it blocks out to 5-6 stitches per inch. You could easily go up to size 4 or even 5 if you knit tightly. Please note that the sock in progress puckers; that effect blocks out. In fact the blocked sock is larger, so do not panic if it is tight on your foot.

I am never 100% sure how the wool sausage dyeing will come out, but I do know that the two rovings will match since I use the same dye in the same order on both. And I also know that SOME form of spinning and plying will make the colors work well.

One book that is really helpful is Twisted Sister Sock Book, by Lynne Vogel

I am not particularly fond of some of her color combinations, but she has excellent descriptions of particular dyes, dyeing different ways and, of course, sock patterns. Including the toe-up variety. This book is really where I started…

For those of you who are “pantyhose-challenged,” you can always buy a braided bath scubbie – you know those mesh jobs? The long ones that look like braids are made up of several rolled up tubes of mesh. If the tub is too wide, you could just sew down the middle to make two pockets. That strategy would make matching your sock rovings that much easier!

Now the limited Web Bibliography for Dyers:

Dyeing Protein Fibers with Kool-Aid – How-to

Page of Dyeing links – mostly NOT about the dyeing of yarn or spinning fiber

Fiber Arts Dyeing info – including color card for Cushings

How to hand-paint roving or yarn:

HJS Studio Tutorials

Inside the pot – using an old crockpot for dyeing:


Fleece artist: Colour ideas

Silkworker – be aware that silk dyes differently than wool!


Before you ask, there is no website, no yarn or socks for sale. I do this kind of project for fun on top of my day job. And now you know how you could do it as well!!

Many thanks to Laurie for doing this, I know that it was an unbelievable amount of work. I have it on good authority (ok…Laurie told me) that some of the above roving is in the mail to Harlotville. When it arrives we can take a closer look at the spinning. Happy weekend, especially to Laurie.

46 thoughts on “The wool house presents: finale

  1. This has been very fun, thank you a lot Mrs. Laurie. I see pantyhose and acid dyes taking over my afternoon today 🙂

  2. As Beulah the Witch used to say, we kiss your tiny feet. Well. THAT should take care of the tail end of winter. My oh my oh my. (And even my favorite Gooseye pattern!)
    But as a novice myself, listen to her about the rubber gloves for the unwrap, folks. I didn’t have any and figured the purple/blue would have exhausted anyway. For days I went around looking like one of the less successful members of the Scott polar expedition.
    Thank you, that Laurie.

  3. Oh, that’s just beautiful. And the color is SO welcome on yet another snowy morning. (I want to find that groundhog and duff him up, the little rat–gimme my Spring, dammit.)

  4. Thanks Laurie. It was great fun to read, even if I never get around to trying it (although I do have that merino roving and some dye from one of my kids’ tie-dye kit. Hmmm….)

  5. What a wonderful tutorial this week has been. Thank you, Laurie, for your expertise and thank you, Stephanie, for inviting her to share.

  6. Holy azure, bat girl… that is a LOT of information. I am going to bone up on fair isle, continental/double handed knitting before I even think about spinning OR dyeing… but love all that extra background info. Beautiful socks… am heading off to that web site!

  7. Oh, that’s an absolutely gorgeous display of socks and yarn — the colors and patterns are breathtaking. Very enjoyable guest blogger stint! Thank you.

  8. Thanks again for this Laurie – I’m not sure I understand the steaming. I mean, I can either just toss ’em into the water and steam them that way, or do I have to get a steam pan/rack to set the rovings onto and let them sit above the hot water?

  9. Wow, I’m jazzed! I really appreciate the info, Laurie. And when La Harlotte is past her deadine, this beginning spinner would also appreciate those spinning tips. Like how does a fat roving become singles yarn without either disturbing these gorgeous colour gradations or snarling into a bunch in my hands…

  10. This dyeing “workshop” has been great! May I also recommend for spinning videos, too? Focuses more on handspindles, but the techniques can often also be done on wheels. We can knit with singles, huh . . .? Haven’t had the courage to try with handspun singles yet

  11. What a great week with Laurie! It’s been very informative and interesting. I don’t want another hobby! But what incredibly beautiful yarn and projects you create!

  12. Laurie, you did a fabulous job of explaining your techniques. Now I KNOW I’ll never attempt dyeing. But now I am determined to learn to spin the roving I have, since so much effort was put into making it so beautiful.

  13. Laurie, thank you a thousand times for all the work, clear explanations, and excellent photos in your tutorial. I’ve only done a minimal amount of dyeing, and have kind of been ‘off’ spinning for a bit, but your rovings and finished objects made me want to start up immediately.
    Actually, when I got to the pictures of the socks, I found myself actually holding my breath. BEAUTIFUL!
    Thanks again.

  14. Laurie, WONDERFUL! I, too, was holding my breath at the sight of your socks. If anything will make me want to make socks, that will!

  15. Thanks Laurie. Without this picture tutorial, I would have PANICED when i took out my rovings to find them all purple. The socks are beautiful. And now we know the secret to your amazing sweater. 🙂

  16. Brava to Laurie, and thanks to Steph for hosting her tutorial – this was really really interesting, even though I’m now convinced that dyeing and spinning is for those who think mountain climbing is too easy. I will never complain about the cost of good hand-dyed handspun. Ever.

  17. I love the pantyhose idea: what a useful thing for me, the felting-impaired fiber failure. I can’t get things I want to felt properly, and when I dye, everything turns into a lump. Laurie’s a genius.

  18. Laurie,
    Thanks so much for the tutorial. Even though there is a next to zero chance that I’ll ever dye rovings and spin them, I do ocassionally dye yarn and fabric. This was quite inspirational for those tasks a s well.

  19. Thank you, thank you, thank you! The rovings are breathtaking, and the socks divine. The wealth of information that you have shared is truly appreciated. It makes me so happy to see all those bright colors on such a dreary winter day.
    In case I forgot to say it, thanks again “that” Laurie! ;o)

  20. Laurie and Stephanie,
    thanks for the tutes! Top stuff 🙂 I’ve already been playing with space dyeing fleece with smaller repeats. It is so much fun! I had wondered how the jewel tones were made – now I know – grey fleece! BTW, a new book called “Yarns to Dye For: Creating Self-Patterning Yarns for Knitting” by Kathleen Taylor is coming out soon. Looks dangerous too!

  21. Thanks Laurie! So informative. I love how it came out and those are some beautiful socks you’ve made. Can’t wait to see what Harlot does with all that fun colorful roving 🙂

  22. Thanks for the URLs, Laurie. 🙂 I do appreciate them.
    And thanks also for letting me know about fuschia. I *know* that I have zero patience, but I was broken hearted every time I made something with pink in it and the darn stuff wouldn’t finish absorbing no matter how much I steamed and waited and vinegarred.
    Good to know about silk being different as well. I’ve got a silk cap that I plan on dyeing tonight. It won’t be enough to do anything interesting with as it’s only 1/2oz…I just wanted to see what it would be like.

  23. Wow, thanks for the inside peek, Laurie. I’m thoroughly jealous, especially knowing that I will never do it myself. (I know, I know, I *could* do it…but I won’t)
    Looking over my shoulder, my 5-year-old daughter said “ooooo, mommy, look at all those pretty socks! Why don’t you make me socks those colors???”
    *sigh* off to dig thru the stash

  24. Thank you Laurie! (and thank you Stephanie for having a deadline so Laurie could take over for a few days!)
    When I first started dyeing roving, I had this totally imbecilic notion that if I separated my dyed rovings into equal weight piles, and then spun the rovings in the same order onto 2 bobbins, I would get this fabulous striping yarn because the 2 singles would magically match up when I plied. Doesn’t even come close to working. I never even thought to knit the singles, or ply with a similar solid color. You have just made my day (and now I know what to do with all those dyed rovings in the closet! Woohoo!)
    Another option for the pantyhose-impaired: I loosely braid 3 lengths of roving together, soak them (the braid keeps the rovings from floating apart, just like the pantyhose casings), and then lay the soaked roving on plastic wrap and continue with the dye as Laurie explains. Turn the rovings over, add more dye, squish the dye in some with your gloved fingers, and I rarely get undyed spots (unless I want them).

  25. Thanks so much Laurie for your wonderful instructions. I do have a question for solving a problem I have when dying roving – I have a problem with the dye going straight “through” the roving and pooling and running everywhere on the saran wrap on the bottom instead of soaking in. Will the extra-long soak beforehand work to fix this problem? Am I using too much dye?
    Thanks again!

  26. I’ve just spotted a slight problem with the using a netting tubed and sewing down the middle. You’re going to need help when stuffing your sausages. You roll down the tube to stuff it and then use one hand to unroll it and one to stuff…. gonna need three hands at least to do two tubes at once, and you can’t not stuff one side and do it later cos you won’t be able to roll it down.

  27. Thanks for a truly awesome week. I dragged my husband in to the computer room to show him the results (and also to show why I absolutely need/gotta have a pair of combs). He was suitably impressed.
    I love you guys. Thanks Laurie and Stephanie.

  28. @Karlie: Might the problem be that you have too much water in your roving? Try squeezing it just alittle after wetting, until you can carry it, say 3 metres without leaving a wet mess where you have walked.

  29. Karlie, the roving DOES need an extra long soak. It takes a surprising amount of time for some rovings, especially compacted commercial rovings to get thoroughly wet (if you sqeeze it gently and there are still bubbles, you have not soaked long enough). Also, use just a little liquid dish soap (like Dawn) in the soaking water. Apparently the surficants (?) in such soaps can help the dyes soak in. That said, I must agree that Lene could also be right that your roving is too wet to absorb more fluid. Don’t spin it out in washing machine, however, because then it will be too DRY!!
    As to the steaming question, I have one of thsoe little folding metal steamers, picked up for 25 cents at a garage sale, which I use as my dyeing steamer. YOu do need something to keep the rovings above the boiling water, I think. But you can certainly improvise something!
    I am glad you folks enjoyed the guest blog; I have certainly enjoyed my week as a virtual blogger — many thanks to Steph!

  30. Thank you, Laurie. Wow. You do gorgeous work.
    One random comment for people who’d like one of my favorite shortcuts, for whatever it’s worth: I’ve found that if I ply two different fibers–merino and mohair, or even two different breeds of sheep–and then dye the spun skeins, each of the fibers will take up the dye at a different rate from the other, and you get a mild barbershop-pole effect, a heathery look in the knitted object later. Silk takes up dye quite a bit slower than animal fibers; I was given some Kidsilk Haze that needed to be a deeper, brighter color, and when I overdyed it, the silk just sparkled in the background, being quite a bit lighter. Much prettier than the original unicolor yarn!
    Non-spinners could also try this with commercial yarns of different protein fibers blended together, to get a more even heatheriness, too.

  31. Laurie!
    Thanks ever so— we all know what hard work you put into these posts! Thank you for your kind explanations! Really— do consider writing a book!

  32. These are fantastic instructions. Having seen–and spun–roving from the Fleece Artist I didn’t think there was any point in trying to do my own. But your method makes me want to give it a try; especially since I just got a new book on dyeing protein fibres that gives specific information about all of the acid dyes.
    Thank you

  33. Laurie,
    Thank you for guest blogging. I have been wanting to do something like this for a long time. Thanks to your husband as well, for taking all those photos!

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