Look closely; can you see it?! This endeavour was close to the heart for me…
It’s time to let them out of the closet… Those long-cherished but seldom used virgin wool blankets are needing some new purpose. Here’s a wonderful way to keep it in the family with this DIY Marbled Vintage Virgin wool tutorial.
The Lovely Blankets:
Ever since I have started to dye I look at everything in a different way – ‘can it be dyed’ way? I tend to push the limits of most of the media I use. After the great results of the shibori and tie dyeing I figured that wool can also have some new life. Real indigo is highly alkaline so using it to dye wool is not good. I do enjoy the colours and permanence that fibre reactive dyes yield.
Once you find a vintage blanket make sure it is clean. I do put mine through the wash as I like them to become felted even more. Some have gingerly taken such good care of them by dry cleaning but I actually like the felted properties for eco printing and also for the slippers as it will then not fray any more.
Wool Dyeing process:
There are acid dyes made specifically for wool (which is a protein fibre) but you can also use Fibre Reactive dye if you employ an acid like vinegar. Since the blanket wool is such a bulky fabric I like to cut it into smaller pieces for easier management.
Soak the wool in a solution of about 50% vinegar and water. Make sure it is well saturated. Wool does not absorb like cotton does. Wool is made of fibres that are actually hair so it absorbs differently than cotton. Once well soaked you will need to wring it in some way. It is difficult on the hands to squeeze it out of such large fabric so you may use the spin feature of the washing machine. You can scrunch it up as much or little as you like and fasten it in some way with cord or I used the binding from the blanket. If you tie it really tight you may leave permanent indents after the heat processing.
I used my favourite colour of fibre reactive dye called navy. It is a dark blue that has some tendencies to be purple which is fine with me! Using some repurposed squeeze bottles (hair colour) mix very strong solutions in cool water since you will not use very much.
As a trick I dip a piece of paper towel to see how strong the colour is. I want a variegated affect so I use small batches.
Squeeze some dye on the bundles which have been placed in plastic bags to catch excess. You will notice that the dye does act differently than cotton. Wool will NOT keep liquid in place. I noticed that it will ‘drain’ through so turning the bundles will help distribute the colour.
Yup, I’m always getting fingers of all colours! WEAR gloves!!! Squeeze and turn before adding too much colour.
This dye has fabulous permanence on natural fibres but will clean off quite nicely from counters and sinks; thankfully!
Setting the Dye:
Having used more dye than I had thought you can see that it did redistribute quite well. After double bagging it goes into the ‘for dyeing’ microwave to process. Give it short cooks and turn often to see how hot it is getting. If it is looking to burst it is too hot. I aim for the ‘just too hot for my hands’ temperature and then take them out and insulate them under old blankets/towels to finish processing. You can leave them for quite a while now, even until they cool. It’s a bit like the ice dyeing.
After the ‘batching’ it will need a good rinse. Don’t be alarmed that there is so much dye coming out. Since wool has a lot of space between the fibres much of the dye is unused and will rinse out. (note to self; use less next time)
The Wonderful Reveal:
The heat and washing will also wash out the natural lanolins from the wool so a finish rinse in some hair conditioner will soften it up again and make it much less ‘scratchy’.
Look at the lovely striations and interesting patterns. Each time I have done this I do get somewhat different results since it will depend on wetness, scrunch, the wool etc, but I am prepared to love them all!
The beauty of the wool is that it is soooo thick and is probably felted at this point so it will be nice to cut as it will not fray. It will be much like wool felt.
I think I NEED another jacket! A girl can never have too many right?! Especially since it could just still be sitting in some linen closet wishing to get out in the world! Rescue those wool blankets… and make something! Gotta run and do some sewing…