I decided to dye the wool yarn I bought to teach Anna to knit on, because I thought it would make the process more complete for her, and also because I really wanted to try out some more natural dye stuffs. The process of dyeing wool is a bit different than silk; mostly because you always have to be aware that the wool can felt up, and it is also very fragile when wet.
The first step is to make your yarn into long skeins. I am assuming the reason you do this is to keep the yarn from becoming hopelessly tangled while you're dyeing it. Anna just wound hers on the back of a chair. A very easy way to do it.
After you take it off the chair, tie it in a few places to keep it together. Then the next step, I did not do, but really wish I had. You are suppose to wash the yarn in a gentle detergent in order to wash out the lanolin, and make it absorb the dye better. I thought that this yarn, not being hand spun, had surely already been processed enough. Apparently it still could have used a wash, since the yarn didn't seem to take the dye as well as it might, and there was a oil sheen on top of the water, as well as a strong smell of lanolin. So, live and learn.
Presumably, after you've washed your yarn, you need to soak it in a mordant. I just used vinegar. I didn't measure anything, but it might be about 1 part vinegar to 6 parts water. It has to soak for at least thirty minutes, so I went ahead and prepared my dye stuff while it was soaking.
I used onion skins, turmeric, and pine cones, but added tea to the pine cones when they didn't make the water dark enough. The onion skins I collected over a period of time. Whenever I cooked an onion, I would just toss the skins in a mesh bag. Doing this, I got a lot of skins without wasting any onions.
I boiled the onion skins and the pine cones/tea until the water looked pretty dark, and then fished out the bulk of the dye stuffs, but didn't strain it. The turmeric, I put into the pot right before I added the yarn. It didn't need to boil. After that, I just added the yarn and waited..., and waited. The yarn really didn't seem to be absorbing the colors like it should, so I gave up getting them any darker after about four hours.
After rinsing, and rinsing, (the turmeric took FOREVER to rinse out) I hung them to dry. Not as dark as I had hoped, but still very pretty. The turmeric is crazy bright. It does not look like it was dyed with anything natural. It's Anna's favorite.
All in all, a very fun project. I can't get enough of natural dyeing. The results are so wonderfully unpredictable.