I have been in love with needle felting creations like art dolls since they started becoming more and more popular several years ago. And, when my sister became an alpaca farmer I was definitely smitten. I LOVE fiber - especially alpaca fiber.
My sister has been teasing me with fiber surprises all year. Several times now when checking the mail hubby has brought in a package in from my sister. The packages are usually filled to the brim. When you open them they literally explode with the fiber trying to get out.
The last package she sent contained a wonderful selection of alpaca fiber she had hand dyed. They looked so pretty in the package. Almost too pretty to use...
So, when planning my trip to Rock Garden Alpacas and Rock Garden Alpacas Fiber last month she told me I was going to learn how to dye roving and washed fiber and learn how to create carded batts. If you don't know what carded batts are they are lengths and widths of fiber produced on a drum carding machine like my sister's which is shown below:
You can card natural washed fibers alone or in a combination of natural colors, card dyed fibers alone or in a combination of dyed colors, or add various other fibers like Angelina silk to natural or dyed fibers. The possibilities seem endless.
We decided to set several days aside for dying and carding our fibers. I should say we set several days aside to play and have fun. And, have fun we did.
I do not profess to be an expert on dying alpaca fiber & roving and creating carded alpaca fiber batts. The following is nothing more than a general summary of what we did and not intended to be a detailed tutorial on dyeing and carding.
When carding and dyeing fiber the first step is to process the raw fiber which involves picking vegetable matter like hay out, cleaning, and washing the fiber. Luckily for me my sister had already done that with several huge piles of alpaca fiber so we didn't have to do that.
Next on the list was to decide what colors we wanted to create and which dyes we were going to use. I was eager to create a flesh color for use in making my needle felted art dolls. My sister and I had gone to a fiber show in October and for the life of me we couldn't find flesh colored fiber at any of the booths so she was determined that we were going to dye our own when I came to visit.
My sister likes to dye her fiber using the microwave method. Suffice to say there are many ways to dye your fiber. Which you choose is strictly up to you. The microwave method my sister used was easy to do and was very manageable. Once we decided the colors we wanted to create, the dyes and fibers we were going to use to create our colors we were all set.
The first step was to decide on the type and amount of fiber we were going to dye and then weigh it so we had an exact amount to use for the amount of dye we were going to use. Then we immersed it in a pan of hot water. As we were going to be dyeing several colors we decided to immerse enough fiber in the hot water so that we could split it into groups of four.
The next step was to measure the dye powder and dump it into squeezable containers that we could add water to. Once the dye powder was mixed with the water we squirted a small amount from one of the squeezable containers into the bottom of a small microwaveable container with a breathable lid and then added our measured wet fiber on top. We squirted the remainder of the dye onto the fiber until it was evenly spread and used tongs to turn the fiber over until the dye was evenly dispersed. We did this for all the different fibers we were going to dye.
Next up was to microwave the fiber several times for a few minutes each time. We allowed for cooling time in between each of the cooking intervals and checked on the progress after each interval. The idea was for the liquid to go clear. However, depending on the dyes used my sister told me this doesn't always occur. If the liquid doesn't go clear you can always experiment with it an use it with other fibers you want to dye. Needless to say this takes a lot of time.
Once the fiber is dyed and strained you need to put it on a screen to dry. This also takes a lot of time and requires space to do this - especially if you're doing it in your house.
We ended up with 12 different dyed colors of the washed alpaca fiber some using a basic dye powder color and some using a combination of several dye powders. We were trying different types of dyes and fibers to get the flesh colored fiber we wanted.
We had also decided to dye some roving and used a drying rack to dry the long roving strips.
Every few hours we'd fluff and turn the fibers so they'd dry evenly and gently pulled the roving apart so it would dry evenly as well. It's really quite amazing how a small wet pile of fiber turns into an enormous pile of dry fiber.
After our fibers had dried our next step was to process them using my sister's drum carder. We decided to process the purple fibers we had dyed first.
My sister likes to spread the fibers out on the input tray first and then slowly feed them into the carder.
Once the fibers have been processed through the carder you use a hook to gently cut the fiber and then slowly remove it from the drum.
My sister likes to process her fibers twice through the carder so we separated the first group into three long sections and slowly fed them through the carder again.
The end result was a wonderful thick batt of purple fiber.
As we were experimenting we decided to add some pink Angelina fibers to some of the purple fiber we had set aside from the first pass through the carder and slowly fed the combination through the carder for the second pass.
The end result was a beautiful purple fiber with speckles of pink glitter.
We continued creating our batts and combination batts until we had processed all the fiber we had dyed. It took a while to do all this but the end result was several wonderful batts of fiber to use.
And, best of all - out of our three attempts at different fibers and different dyes or combination of dyes we were able to achieve getting the flesh color for my art dolls. Needless to say I was a happy camper.
We had a wonderful time dyeing our fiber and creating our batts. Some of the colors worked out really well and some didn't work as well as we had hoped. However, that's the fun part of experimenting isn't it?