fiber prep, Fleece to Fashion, Fleeces, Natural Dyeing, washing

Bailey’s Fleece: Romney


Romney fleece being skirted

In April 2018, I bought a beautiful Romney fleece from Lochan Mor Farms in Cato, NY.  It was a bit muddy, but we’d had a “build an ark” rain all spring, and it rained in the days before shearing.  The shearer did an amazing job, so there wasn’t much I needed to do before washing.

I laid the fleece out on the barn floor and pulled anything I wouldn’t want to process.  It wasn’t much- maybe 8-10 oz from the britch and rear legs.  My plan was to take this fleece home, sort it, & sample the different areas of the fleece.  Life got in the way, and the poor fleece sat, unwashed and ignored for 3 seasons.

Romney Fleece
A chunk of Romney fleece being prepped to wash

I made several false starts.  The weather wasn’t cooperating, and I didn’t have a good space to fit the fleece under cover.    Washing a large fleece can feel like a monumental task, and I spent a fair amount of time mentally willing the fleece to wash itself while I wasn’t looking.  Amazingly, this didn’t work.

Finally, I scolded myself for being wimpy and grabbed fleece from the top of the bag.   I didn’t do much sorting.  I just broke the fleece into 6-8 oz sections and put the wool into mesh bags with the tips facing the same direction.    I have a LOT of mesh bags, and I think I used them all!

20190113_173849Overnight soak in room temperature water and a bit of soap

First wash:  20 minute soak in 140F water with Power Scour (Full strength)
Second wash: 15 minute soak in Power Scour (1/2 strength)
I followed the washes with two hot water rinses.
I spun out the bags of wool in spin dryer and then laid the fleece out on towels and mesh racks to airdry.

The fleece wasn’t perfectly dirt free after washing, but I chose to flick the tips as needed rather than wash more.  I prefer a bit of lanolin when I spin.  I also didn’t want to risk overscouring and losing the shine from the locks.

Overall, I lost about 30% during washing which is pretty fabulous considering that I could have planted in the sink after the first soak!

The wool is on the soft side of romney- I’d guess in the 25-28 micron range. Within the areas of the body, the fleece is very uniform in length and is well within 10% across the whole fleece with the exception of some of the shorter, extra crimpy leg and some coarser, less crimpy britch wool.

Fiber Details:
5.5 staple, 6.5 crimps per inch
Bright white, strong locks with well defined crimp
Small areas with weathered tips

I combed the fiber with extrafine Valkyrie combs using some combing oil on my hands and the fiber to keep the static down.    This green herbstripper/diz is one of my favorite tools. 

THE SPIN:Spun forward draw from the cut end on a Hansen minispinner and on a Schacht matchless. Plied on the Hansen minispinner.Soaked in warm soapy water to remove any spinning oils before dyeing. Rinsed in warm water. Hung to air dry.     3 ply; 14 wpi; 6.5 tpi

I made a test sample of Kate Davies Sheep Heid hat in some Shetland 2000 from my stash.  The hat was too small and a bit too thin for our weather and for the way I treat my hats.  Upping the needle size to adjusting gauge as suggested made a slack fabric that let too much wind through.   I spun some samples of the white Romney until I found a sport weight that increased the gauge swatch enough to increase the hat size to match my head.
I wanted the colors to have more pop and definition similar to a Scandinavian colorwork rather than Fair Isle’s softer colorwork.  I also wanted a more durable hat that would stand up to getting snagged by trees and being left in the backseat of the car.   I decide to spin a worsted, 3 ply.  The firmer fiber led to some puckering in the long float areas, but some of that was the way I wrapped the long floats.  I like the shine and the way the colors stay distinct in the final project.   I spun 500 yards of a lightly compressed worsted 3 ply &  separated the yarn into seven hanks for dyeing.

I also spun 25 grams of a naturally black Romney cross to use for the sheep legs.  The black Romney cross was spun in the same manner as the white, but it bloomed less during washing.  I decided stay with the slightly thinner yarn rather than spin a thicker yarn because I was worried about how floats from a rougher, firmer body yarn would sit.


I needed 6 dyed colors for the hat plus the two naturals

20180829_120229Oak Acorns collected at Great Bear Park in Fulton, NY in November.  Put in jars to ferment.
1 liter of fermented acorns simmered in tap water for 4 hours then left to steep overnight.
Presoaked the 25-gram skein for 1 hour in room temperature water.
Simmered the skein in the acorn bath at 85C for 30 minutes, then added 100 mls of iron oxide water to shift the color to grey and simmered for 10 more minutes.
After cooling, washed the yarn in tap water and dish soap, then rinsed.

Old Gold
IMG_20190212_160921_329Marigolds collected from my dyeing garden in Scriba, NY in October 2018.  Frozen until needed.
100 grams of marigold flowers simmered in 2 liters of tap water.
Premordanted the Romney skein using 4:1 alum to cream of tartar solution at 16% WOG

25 gram premordanted skein simmered for 40 minutes at 85C.

This made a bright gold which I toned down by overdyeing it with the acorn exhaust.  The yarn simmered at 85C for ten minutes.  Cooled then washed and rinsed.

Check out this nifty paint strainer that fits in a 5 gallon bucket.  It makes a perfect strainer to pull out most of the dirt and debris as well as the plant material.
20190125_161601Black Walnuts collected from Greenwich, NY in October.  Put in plastic bags to ferment and decompose.
2 liters of black walnut sludge to 2 gallons of water. Simmered for 4 hours at 95F, heat reduced to 80C and simmered for 6 more hours.  Left to steep for 24 hours.  Dye solution poured off from the dye stuff and filtered to remove particles.

Yarn premordanted with alum using 4:1 alum to cream of tartar at 16% WOG
Yarn presoaked for 1 hour, then simmered in dye bath for 1 hour at 85C.
After cooling, washed and rinsed.

I’ve read that the dye is darker with more browns if the walnuts are green/brown when processed.  Other people suggest letting the walnuts breakdown before extracting the dye.  My guess is that if you pick up brown/black nuts, they have lost some of their color to weathering.  Some folks who use black walnut for dyeing leather go to walnut processing locations and harvest directly from the spoil mound. 

Celery Green
20190214_131813Queen Anne’s Lace- Green Mist

200 g of flowers and leaves simmered in 2L of tap water for 1 hour at 75C, steeped for 3 hours.

Filtered the dye stuff from the bath.

Presoaked a 25 grams skein which was premordanted with 4:1 alum to cream of tartar at 16% WOG

Simmered skein in bath for 45 minutes.  Let cool in bath, then washed and rinsed.


Ground 3.75 g of cochineal and mixed into 2L of distilled water.  Simmered at 90F for 1 hour.  Filtered bath to get dye stock.

Presoaked 25 skein of  premordanted wool with 4:1 alum to cream of tartar at 16% WOG.  Used first liter of the dye bath to simmer premordanted yarn for 30 minutes at 90F.  Heated and then added second liter of dye bath and shifted the pH to 4.  Simmered for 20 minutes.  Added iron oxide water to the bath until the bath shifted to the wine color needed.  (125ml)    Simmered an additional 10 minutes.
Skein cooled, washed and rinsed.

Bright Gold

20180917_133444Dyer’s Coreopsis collected from house garden in Scriba, NY in October 2018.  Frozen until needed.

100 grams of flowers simmered in 2 liters of tap water.  Filtered plant material from dye stock.
Soaked the 25 g premordanted skein for 1 hour.
Premordanted skein with 4:1 alum to cream of tartar solution at 16% WOG

Simmered yarn in dye stock for 40 minutes at 85C.  Allowed to cool in pot.
Washed and rinsed.


I needed a larger hat but I also wanted to have the hat more fitted than the slouchy tam shape.  I went up a weight in yarn and kept the needle size as called for.  Additionally, I added two extra rows to the body of the sheep and an extra row in the brim.  This made a nice, beanie shaped hat with a soft rather than fitted top.

Notes for next time:  keep the floats even more irregular behind the ewes.  


Edging:  Silver – acorns

Band:  Old Gold –   Marigold overdyed with acorns
Sheep legs: Black-   Natural black Romney cross
Sheep bodies: Black walnut brown
Sheep faces:  Natural whiteGrass:  Queen Anne’s Lace
Chain outline, Rams, & Diamonds:  Wine- Cochineal
Star on crown:  Bright Gold- Dyer’s Coreopsis



Used 2 strands of each color then tied the braid into a barrel knot.

Natural Dyeing, Tannin Dyeing

Natural Dyeing with Acorns

Acorns are extremely versatile.  They are full of tannins which will dye plant fibers a pinkish-brown.  With an iron dip, the pinkish-brown turns a pretty grey-black.  The color you get will depend upon the fiber you are dyeing.  In this project, I’m dyeing a 60% linen/ 40% cotton blend.  Linen takes a bit longer to dye and seems to need more dye stock than cotton.  I used a cotton twine to tie up for my resist, and the twine became jet black.

How to dye with acorns:

20180829_120229Step One:  Gather ye acorns while ye may

I use 3 pounds of acorns to 1 pound of fabric or fiber.   There are roughly 50 acorns in a pound, though of course the size of your acorns are going to play a part there.

Step Two: Soak the acorns

You’re going to need to mash up the acorns so you can extract the maximum amount of dye.  You can try to bash them up while they are hard, but it is so much easier to soak them first.

I took off the caps and soaked the acorns for 2 days in the solar oven.  We only had good sun for one of those days, but it was enough to lightly soften the shells.

Step Three:  Mash the acorns.


You can use a rock, a mortar and pestle, or a hammer.  Whatever you have on hand will work.  Mine were a bit too hard for the mortar and pestle, so I took the very satisfying hammer short cut.

Mash the acorns and put them back into the jar.  You’ll see the brown liquid already forming as you work.



Step Four:  Let it steep.
You can’t rush a good cup of tea or a strong natural dye bath.  All for the same reason!  It takes time to pull what you want from the plant matter into solution.  For acorn dye, you want a dark brown liquid which will be full of tannins for dyeing.  We had a mix of cool, rainy weather and hot, sunny days, so I just left the acorns in a black mason jar in the solar oven for about 10 days.  I know at least two days the bath reached 165F.  Some other days, it probably never got above 60F.  The cooler the temps, the longer the soak.   After ten days, I had a dark brown dye bath that smelled like a forest pond.

Step Five:  Prep the Iron Dip
20180912_085841Do this alongside soaking your mashed acorns.

I put a rusty piece of metal in a mason jar with 50% water & 50% white vinegar.  The metal soaked for a week on my countertop.  I meant to put it in the oven, but well, life…  No matter.  At the end of the week, I had a nice dark gold solution.

I poured off the solution and left the metal and any flaked bits in the bottom of the jar.  I’ll keep reusing this metal until it stops making the bath.  Then I’ll just put the piece of iron somewhere to get rusty again and start over.

Time to Dye!
Step Six:  Prep your dyeing pot.

I like to use stainless steel hotel pans for dyeing, but you can use almost any big stainless or enameled pot that will fit your dye stuffs with room to spare.  Stainless steel or fully enameled pots will let you control the color most.  Iron saddens dye colors, so iron pots or inexpensive pots that rust easily will change the color of your yarn.  Similarly, aluminum pots can change your colors.  Good if you want to do that.  Less good, if you don’t.

Below are pictures of the two baths.  On the right, I diluted the dark brown acorn dye solution with enough water so that my fabric would be fully immersed.  On the left, I did the same with the iron solution.


Step Seven:  Scouring the fabric and prepping the towels to dye
I washed a set of 4 white linen & cotton hand towels in synthropol, washing soda, and hot water.  They soaked for 40 minutes in the synthropol and washing soda hot bath and then were rinsed thoroughly in hot water.

20180912_093139I wanted to make some resist patterns on the fabric, so I wrapped them on pipes and wrapped some random patterns of cotton twine.

Step Eight:  Initial dye

I simmered the fabric in the acorn dye bath for 40 minutes until the fabric turned a mid tannish-brown.   This is always the hardest part because it looks like I’m not getting enough color.  But it’s just the first dip.

(Sorry- I missed this photo.  I’ll take it with the next batch)
Step Nine:  The iron dip

I moved the brown fabric into the iron bath (195F) and let it rest for 20 minutes.  The color darkened but not as much as I wanted it to.  Take a look at the dye bath.  A dark brownish black precipitate has formed in the pan.  With stirring, it will go back into solution.

To darken the color, I moved it back into the acorn dye so that iron that had penetrated the fiber could more easily interact with the tannins.   I let it sit until the color deepened more closely to what I wanted


I wanted even more color, so I let the fabric continue to simmer in the acorn bath for another 30 minutes, repeated the 10 minute iron dip, and then put it back in the acorn bath for the final soak.  After 20 minutes, I had the color I wanted.  It’s a dark purple-brown that is almost black.  On 100% cotton, this would be pure black.  On linen, I’m hoping the purple and grey undertones show through.   Because of the resist I should have a wide range of colors from the plain linen/cotton white through the brown, lighter grey-brown, and darker purple-grey.    I love this moment in natural dyeing.  Because I don’t know how much iron and how much tannin I had in each bath,  I have a good but not exact  idea of the colors I’ll have on the fabric.    Add to that the ever changing nature of my tap water, and things can surprise me.

20180912_132349 (1).jpg

Step Eight:  Cooling in the bath
It’s really tempting to pull it out and immediately rinse to see how things turned out.  For full color, I leave it in the bath, turn off the heat, and walk away until the pot is completely cool.  This can take several hours, so it really helps to have another project in the works.  When in doubt, go out and gather more dye stuff.


Step Nine:  Rinse and wash

Once everything has cooled, a thorough wash with some gentle dishsoap will take out any unfixed dye and acorn bits and make sure there isn’t a residue left behind.

As you are dyeing,  don’t forget that things look paler when they are dry.  Here are the towels.  The one on the left is wet.  The ones on the right are the same towels after they have dried.



Next up:  More tannin dyeing.  Tannins on 100% cotton

Joe Pye, Natural Dyeing

Dye Study on Joe Pye Weed

20180821_092301.jpg  Joe Pye Weed grows along the roadside and power line corridors in Central New York.  This patch is just across from my house on the edge of a marsh.

Many dyers have gorgeous photos of themselves walking through the woods in flowing dresses carrying willow baskets and artistic shears.

I would love to be that person, but I know me.  It’s only a matter of time until I walk into a ditch.

For most days, jeans and boots are my go-to.


Today was just the verge alongside my road, so long pants and rubber gardening boots got it done.   Gloves are key.  Flexible ones with thick palms will keep you from getting skewered, poked, & bitten.    Long sleeved shirts are nice for walking through tall brush.  If you love your short sleeved shirts in the summer, you can find gloves that cover your forearms.

You won’t need protective clothing for every ramble, but for walking through shoulder-high brush, you’ll appreciate it!

I use 5 gallon plastic buckets for my cuttings.  They are easy to put down, and I don’t have to worry if the ground is wet or level.  I can prop them in the brush and they’ll just hang out until I pick them up again.  I like the bright white buckets that are really easy to find again.  Stay away from the dark blue ones which blend in.  You don’t want to waste time walking around trying to find your bucket!  Plastic buckets aren’t pretty, but they are durable.  Rain, puddles, ponds, mud- nothing phases them.  I can hose them out after I’m done, and they are ready for more.  If you are trying to minimize your plastic use, then try bushel baskets.  They are lightweight and durable.  Dye them bright red you can find them again!


After gathering, it’s a good idea to shake off and hose down your cuttings.  This lets the slugs, snails, and spiders on the plants return to life out in the world rather than finding a place in your house.  I don’t have an outdoor sink yet, so I use a hose and my bucket for washing outside.   After rinsing, I bring the hopefully slug-free plants in to my big sink.

I’ve read everything I can find on dyeing with joe pye weed, and everyone seems to have a personal recipe.  Color reports range from pink to clear yellow to yellow-green.  I haven’t seen a photo of anything pink, just written reports which makes me wonder if pink is really one of the dyeing options. I’m going to do a range of water based extraction tests and then try a few different mordants to see what happens.

The Dye Extraction Plan:

Dye Bath One-A:
Flower & seed heads only
Minced, soaked in water, put in solar oven to steep

Dye Bath One-B:
Flower and seed heads only
Minced, soaked in slightly alkaline bath, put in solar oven to steep

Dye Bath One-C:
Flower & seed heads only
Minced, soaked in slightly acidic bath, put in solar oven to steep

Dye Bath One-D:
Flower & seed heads only
Minced, placed in 212F water and simmered for 45 minutes

Dye Bath One- E:
Flower & seed heads only
Minced, placed in 212F slightly alkaline water and simmered for 45 minutes

Dye Bath One- F
Flower & seed heads only
Minced, placed in 212F slightly acidic water and simmered for 45 minutes

Dye Bath Two:
Leaves and stalks only
Repeat processes for A-F

Dye Bath Three:
Full plants
Repeat processes for A-F


Separating the heads & mincing the flowers:  
At first, I was not going to mince the heads, so I went ahead and lopped the flower heads off with shears.  Then I thought again and decided I wanted to mince them.  Minced flowers have more surface area for the transfer of dye from the plant to the water.  If there is lots of dye in the flower, you don’t need to mince them.  It’s been a tough year for growing plants with the heat and drought alternating with floods.  I don’t have high hopes for these flowers.  If you have a dye-dedicated blender or chopper, you can chop the heads from the stems and pulse-chop them in your blender.

I fried my blender on some woody stalks (oops), but I have a handy chopper around which is perfect for this sort of flower.

If you don’t have a blender or chopper, don’t worry.  Scissors are all you need.  Just chop the flowers and seeds into tiny bits right off of the stalk.  If the flowers are spread out, chop them into a bowl, grab a handful of flowers, and cut them into bits with your scissors.

20180821_131413I put 360g of plant material in the jar with 3600 ml of water.  The amount of dye in plants varies tremendously based on the time of year, the soil, the growing season, etc.   A recipe of X amount of plant to X amount of wool is a rough guideline unless you keep very detailed records about where you gather and the weather.

So, why am I weighing the plant material?  For this comparison, I want to use the same amount of plant material across the different batches to see which process is most effective in addition to what colors they each give.  Sometimes the boil and simmer gives more dye.  Sometimes a long, low heat soak gives more dye.  More importantly,  the different extraction temperatures can change the color/composition of the dye.  I will lose more water on the boil/simmer extraction than the solar heating, so it’s nice to have an idea of how much I started with.  A boiled bath can look darker just because there is less of water.

So- many more steps to go.  I have lots of chopping, soaking, and heating ahead of me.  I hope the sun comes out, so I can get these jars heating tomorrow!