Portrait of Sierra Roberts
by: Sierra Roberts

Hand dyed roving – do it yourself!

Not just for yarn… Dyed Roving!

There’s something about a braid of hand dyed roving that never fails to excite me. It doesn’t usually matter what the colors themselves are – it’s more about how those perfect blotches of color can be so concentrated in one spot, fading and blending with other colors in another…  It’s essentially a super thick hand-dyed yarn, so it showcases your hard work in a much more obvious way. But then you can transform that beautiful thing into something so different, you won’t even believe the yarn you just spun came from that original braid. Like the Nube by Malabrigo Yarn I spun a while back (dubbed Velocicrafter).


Nube by Malabrigo Yarn Nube by Malabrigo Yarn

As I learn about dyeing fiber, I’m gradually becoming more confident about the process. Confidence is definitely required when dyeing roving and other un-spun fibers, because they’re a little harder to work with than yarn. Most importantly, you have to be super careful about not letting the fiber mat or felt, so be patient with the process. This can be tricky for sure, considering how hot you have to get things to make the dye set. Here are a few points to always remember when you’re dyeing fiber (and yarn, for that matter):
•  Once it’s time to heat things up, do it gradually.  The fiber should be wet and in the pot before you turn that burner on.
•  Manipulate the fiber as little as possible. Even when you’re squeezing out excess water after the pre-soak, be gentle – press, don’t wring or agitate. When everything is cooking in the dye bath, only move it around if you have to and even then, be as gentle as possible.
•  Always allow the fiber to cool COMPLETELY before rinsing. If warm wool meets cool water, you’ve got a pretty good chance it won’t be so soft and easy to spin afterwards.

Ok, that’s enough lecture time. On to the experiment! I chose one ounce each of three different fibers to dye: [Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock] , [Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock] , and Finn Wool Fiber.

Top to bottom: Bluefaced Leicester, Coopworth Blend, and Finn roving.


[Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock]
  [Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock]
[Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock]
  [Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock]
Finn Wool Fiber Finn Wool Fiber

These soaked for a bit in water with a little sprinkle of Citric Acid Crystals, 8 oz.. Then I removed some of the water and started applying dye, using a kettle dyeing technique.


Citric Acid Crystals, 8 oz.  Citric Acid Crystals, 8 oz.

After applying the dye where I wanted it, I turned on the heat. Once it starts to steam and simmer, I keep a very close eye on things. You usually know it’s done when the water in the pot is clear. I use a plastic spoon handle to gently move some fiber away from the side of the pan to check. With turquoise, though, the water never seems to go clear (this time around, neither did the violet). But that’s ok – once it seemed like a very long time had gone by, I decided to turn the heat off and call it good. Here’s how they came out:

From left to right: Finn, Coopworth Blend, and Bluefaced Leicester.

I was worried about getting the Finn confused with the BFL, but as you can see the BFL is much fuzzier; I had no trouble telling the two apart. And look at how different the gray Coopworth blend ended up! Those same bright colors you see on the white fiber turn much more somber on the darker base.

There are a lot of different ways folks will spin their hand dyed roving. Planned color changes and different plying techniques can yield hundreds of different results. There was an awesome issue of PLY Magazine a few months back that had some really interesting articles about this subject, from which I learned a great deal. As much as I like to ignore such knowledge in pursuit of crafting adventures, I decided to give one technique a try.


[Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock]
  [Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock]

First, I took the BFL and split in half, lengthwise. I set one half aside, and split the other one in half again. I set one half of this to another side, and continued until I had a series of thick to thin lengths of roving. My plan: to spin the first half I set aside as one ply, then spinning the rest in order of thickest to thinnest for the second ply. Technically, that should mean the first ply will have longer color changes, with the color changes happening faster as the roving gets thinner. The result was much more pastel than I’d expected…

Blue Faced Leicester Wool Top Fiber is so fluffy and soft! But what about that [Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock] ? For this one, I didn’t divide the length of roving at all. Spun with the longest possible color changes, I then chain-plied this to create more of a gradual, almost gradient yarn.


Blue Faced Leicester Wool Top Fiber Blue Faced Leicester Wool Top Fiber
[Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock]
  [Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock]

The result was a sturdy, wooly yarn with a decent amount of drape and softness. Not bad for an experiment!

If you’re interested in giving this a try yourself, you can click here to browse our fiber selection. You can also click here to see what we’ve got for dyes. If you love the stuff but can’t be bothered, check out these great fibers that have already been dyed for you:

Nube by Malabrigo Fiber is 100% Merino, kettle dyed in various colorways. I’ve spun two of these braids already myself, and they will not be the last.


Nube by Malabrigo Fiber Nube by Malabrigo Fiber

Hand-Dyed Blue Face Leicester Wool Fiber is always eye catching, and it’s very easy to spin. I can’t tell you how many people have asked if we have this as already spun yarn! (We don’t, I’m sorry to say – but I did try to approximate one of the colorways for our recent Hand-Dyed collection, which you can check out by clicking here)


Hand-Dyed Blue Face Leicester Wool Fiber Hand-Dyed Blue Face Leicester Wool Fiber

[Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock] comes in slightly deeper tones, and Romney is always a joy to spin. I have a skein of single ply fingering weight spun from this at home, which I think I might someday incorporate into a warm shawl.


[Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock]
 [Sorry, item discontinued or temporarily out of stock]

Whether you dyed them yourself or not, these variegated wool rovings can be used so many different ways it’s sometimes overwhelming. I guess that just means we need to spend more time playing with them!


Related items of interest: • Our yarns weight yarnsMerino yarnsOur fibersDyeing Dyes

3 thoughts on “Hand dyed roving – do it yourself!”

  1. Ze says:

    this was a very helpful article. I buy a lot of colorful braids but also have a lot of white or natural fiber and can’t wait to try this! Also the plying info was great. Thanks a lot! I generally just spin and ply with no aim in mind but it’s nice to plan ahead sometimes….

  2. Sussn Paquette says:

    Good day, how to a turn natural roving into bright white roving? Any help would be a big help.

    1. Gretchen says:

      Thanks for the interesting question!
      We generally don’t recommend bleaching wool fiber yourself unless you’re game for a little experimentation, only because it can be a little tricky not to damage the fiber when doing it at home. The more fine the fiber the greater the risk of “burning” it with harsh chemicals. Even commercially bleached fiber can feel a little “crispy” compared to it’s “only scoured” counterparts. Many dyes will show up just fine on a scoured rather than bleached base, but if you want to try for a truly bright white read on for our suggestions…

      The tips I can offer are to start by scouring it to remove the natural oils so that the processing is more even and requires less treatment, just as one would before dyeing it. Use a lingerie/delicates bag and a scouring liquid like Kookaburra. There’s some great information on this part of the process in this booklet from Spin Off: “How to Wash Wool”

      As for the bleaching itself, hydrogen peroxide will be much gentler than traditional bleach. Mix the peroxide and warm/hot water (the milder the percent of peroxide the less water you’ll use) and do a small sample in a non-reactive (enamel or glass, not metal) container. Try not to agitate the fiber as the heat will make it susceptible to felting. Let it soak for anywhere from a few hours to a full day, keeping an eye on it to see how the color is evolving. Some folks recommend adding Soda Ash to the peroxide solution to increase the efficacy. I have not done this personally, but again, if you’re experimenting and need more oomph to your solution this may help.

      Be sure to use gloves and other safety equipment and don’t use any pots/tools you’ll also use for food. The best thing to do is experiment on small samples of the fiber to see how much peroxide is needed and how long you need to expose the fiber. Be sure to ventilate the area well. Take notes to track what gives you the best result. For small samples, inexpensive glass mason jars are great as they are not chemically reactive and you can see what the fiber looks like as it is soaking. Start the solution at a fairly high temperature and then let it soak in a warm area (don’t refrigerate, heat helps activate it).

      Think of it like dyeing/bleaching hair (which is essentially what a protein fiber like wool is) and do it incrementally so that it doesn’t get too damaged. You may not be able to achieve a true “pure white” at home though without a bit of experiment and patience, especially since each breed of fiber is a little different so there’s no hard and fast formula for how much/how long it will take.

      The other tip I would recommend is that after processing and rinsing the fiber in water until the peroxide solution is cleared you can soak the fiber in a white vinegar/water solution to revive the lustre and help protect it. Just rinse again with water afterwards so it doesn’t smell of vinegar. The acidity will help return some of the shine and protect the fibers after the oxidation of the peroxide.

      As with anything chemical (even just household stuff), err on the side of caution as this is a proceed at your own risk situation both for safety and for how well it will turn out! It’s not unlike dyeing, but I find bleaching to be a little less predictable. I hope this helps though and that you are able to achieve a good result with your fiber!

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