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NEWS | Dying Reminders | Preparing Wool for Hooking | How to Bleed Old Wools


It is very important to tear the wool properly so the cut strips will not fray and pull apart when hooked. Be sure to first wash the wool in the washing machine to remove the sizing and shrink the wool. You can at this time, tear the wool as wool tears more easily when it is wet.

One yard of wool is approximately 36” x 56” when dry.

Follow the chart below and you will have 24 double swatches approximately 7” x 12” or 48 single swatches approximately 3 ½” x 12”


wool cuts for swatches


One way to ensure that you tear the wool properly is to tear the yard of wool into three 12” x 56” pieces –horizontally (refer to chart). Then nick each of these three pieces of wool by folding each in half again and nick at that fold until you have 7 nicks and 8 swatches ready to be torn for future use. This can be done before or after dyeing and your cut strips then will be parallel to the selvage (on the straight of grain.


To ensure even dyeing, with acid dyes, add 2 teaspoons of plain salt when you add the dye solution in the beginning before you add the wool. Start the heat on low and stir constantly, gradually raising the heat to medium. Add a generous glug of white vinegar after the wool has taken up some or all of the dye. Continue to stir or process for a few minutes longer. These dyes do not activate until they reach temperatures at or just a few degrees below the boiling point. Consequently, if you don’t care if your background is evenly dyed, you don’t need to add salt in the beginning or stir constantly.

2. Always remember that the wool won’t take up any dye if it bulges up above the water because you forgot to poke it under. Also, the dye will always attach in the spots that get hottest first, so it is best to stir the wool and dye bath often so there are no real hot spots.

3. Even when I do everything right, I am apt to get spots where I don’t want them. My best advice for even dyeing is to be attentive, working slowly and deliberately. Don’t hurry. This is definitely one time that haste makes waste.


New Wool

With most wool, you will want to "felt" it before beginning so as to tighten the weave, fluff it and make it easier to hook.
Machine wash your fabric in warm to hot water. This will remove the sizing. Rinse in your machine with cool water. Put the fabric in the dryer on a warm to hot setting. The longer you leave the fabric in the dryer, the tighter the weave becomes. It shrinks! There will be more shrinkage on the cross-grain and less on the length-wise grain. The fabric becomes soft and raises the nap slightly. You can wash all the colours together. Most are colourfast. If they do bleed, the colours will take on an "antiqued" look. To be sure either way, you can test small samples. Fabric can also be over-dyed with brown or black to achieve the same antique look.
For maximum strength, always cut your strips parallel to the selvage. Make a small cut and then tear to ensure that you are on the straight of grain. Your pieces should be 3" - 4" wide and 12"- 18" long for ease in cutting. If cutting with a machine, you can use blades that will cut from 3/32" to as wide as 1/2" or more. If hand-cutting,, the narrowest that you can cut and stay on the straight grain is about 1/4".

Recycled Wool

Wash in washing machine on warm setting with standard laundry detergent. Dry it in dryer. This removes any dry cleaning fluid, mothball odour or moth eggs.. Dismantle garments using good scissors. Skirts and pants are the easiest to take apart. Cut off waistband, rip down the side seams and remove zipper. Always rip the wool to secure a straight edge. Because recycled wool won't reveal the material's selvage, you have to judge the direction of your rip, which is logically along the seams. Shirts are more challenging but are worth the effort because of a high fabric yield. Discard unusable pieces like the collar, buttonhole band and cuffs. Suit jackets yield the least amount of usable wool because of heat-bonded interfacing used in their construction. For wool to be usable, it must be at least 4" long and on the straight of grain. It is tedious to hook with short 4" strips but not impossible.

Always cut strips on the straight of grain, 1/4" wide if medium weight, narrower if heavier weight. You can use hand-held shears, a rotary cutter or a cloth stripping machine. To keep cutting on the grain, periodically tear the wool piece you are using to get back to the straight of grain. Beware of a high polyester to wool content. The polyester will dull the blade of whatever cutting tool you are using.

To determine the amount of wool necessary to hook a given area, layer the area to be hooked with the wool folded into 6 thicknesses. It takes roughly six times the area to be hooked. For large areas, a general rule is 1/2 pound of wool to hook 1 square foot of burlap.

by Barbara Eshbach

Should you wish to dye for a rug, relax and enjoy the results as they come -even splotchiness is good. You can use new material or dye over tweeds and plaids or leftover coloured pieces. And, of course, you can make lighter colours darker, but not vice versa.

Many old wools are useful "as is" but for the most part, the colours are too harsh and set. With little effort, you can make your wools more beautiful and hence, more usable.

Bleeding is nothing more than removing or rearranging the harsh colours. Most wools will begin to bleed colour when the water temperature reaches the boiling point. If it doesn't bleed after five minutes it never will, so you need not continue to boil the wool. It will have to be left as is. If the wool does bleed, the coloured water is referred to as "blood."

Let's try a red skirt for example.

Tear the skirt into manageable pieces. Soak it in warm water in the sink with a little detergent for at least one hour or for as long as overnight. Then place the wool in your dyepot in warm water with a few drops of detergent (no need to rinse the soaked wool) and bring the pot to a boil. When the water reaches the boiling point, the dye either will or will not start to release. We can only experiment because we don't know how the manufacturer dyed the material in the first place. If the dye does move, simmer the wool for ten minutes more, then add a couple of tablespoons of salt or 1/2 cup of vinegar. Simmer another ten minutes. Do not wash the wool while it is warm; let it cool in the pot (overnight is fine). This way the dye will go back into the wool, but it will appear to be "moved" (spotty and used). Should you like the wool with the colour removed, go ahead and discard the hot "blood". Rinse and dry the wool.

It is possible when you have a pot of "blood" to throw other wools in to pick up some of that colour. In such a case, a one-half hour simmer is necessary; the same time necessary for regular dyeing. Be sure to look at your colour wheel to avoid mixing colours that will change the original colour. It is best to stick to colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel.

Red wool that bleeds when put in a pot of brown wool will take on a rich, dark colour. You can wed different greens by cooking them all in one pot. Blues or blues and greens cooked together do well. You will have many surprises if you don't know the original nature of the first dye. Backgrounds can be beautifully made by taking many pieces of almost-like wool, of the same colour type and over-dyeing them. Remember, complements make gray!


This wise advice is adapted from an old book circa 1947, that I found in a Salt Spring Island used bookstore. It has a "common sense" approach to rug hooking that appeals to my Old Order Mennonite roots:

[in designing your rug]

1. Don’t fuss over your designs.
You may have an idea come to you and you can’t wait to get it drawn. Do it while you are in the mood but know enough to stop at the right time! You’ll draw something and instead of stopping when the creative mood is over, you’ll go just a little bit farther and often spoil what you have done. It isn’t the time that you spend on a design, it’s what you do in that time that counts.

2. Keep your designs simple. Do not try to cram too much into one design. You have to allow space to show off your design. See your rug as a whole design, not as separate flowers or units.

3. Be original. Make your own or adapt from others and go with what resonates with YOU regardless of what others say. Have your own style. You may not be a famous artist but your work can be unique.

4. Do not aim for perfection in your designs. It’s handiwork that you are doing, so make it look that way.

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