Category Archives: natural dyes

Why won’t my wool take up dye?

Hi, I have a question for you. I’ve been a dyer for many years. I dye all sorts of fibers and use synthetic dyes and natural dyes, ecoprinting etc my question is this: why won’t my wool take up dye? I have had this happen one other time in the past with a batch of wool top that I purchased and it has now happened again. I was trying to dye this wool with coreopsis. I washed the wool with a textile detergent and rinsed. Then I mordanted with alum and cream of tartar. i then put it in my dyebath and even adjusted the ph to an alkaline solution. the dye bath was a deep brown red as it should have been but after simmering, stopping the wool had only a tiny shift of color change to offwhite. I repeated the process and nothing. Could this wool have been processed with a chemical that i was unable to remove in the washing stage? I’m totally confused here. thanks for any feedback, Juli

So far, every time, the answer to this question has always been that the fiber was mislabeled as wool, when it was actually a synthetic fiber, such as acrylic. Have you used this exact same dyeing procedure in the past with success?

If you take a little bit of the fiber and burn it, does the burned fiber char, or does it melt? I like this Fiber Identification Burn Chart at Ditzy Prints:
Ditzy Prints Burn Chart for Fiber Identification
If you still have your dyebath, please try some samples of other wool that you may have to see if it takes up more color.

It is surprising how processed wool can be, and yet continue to dye very well. For example, Superwash wool is processed by being chlorinated and then treated with a sort of plastic, a polymer resin called Hercosett 125, that glues down the scales that are found on the surface of mammalian hairs (like the scales on our own hair); this enables the wool fibers to be treated roughly without interlocking, shrinking, and felting.

You would imagine that such dramatic treatment would interfere with dyeability, wouldn’t you? And yet Superwash wool is excellent for hand dyeing, no problem at all. In fact the processing has obvious benefits in preventing felting or shrinkage, when that’s important.

Please let me know if this makes sense, from your observations.

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Paula