My first attempt at dyeing unspun wool somehow came out a bit better than I'd originally thought, and along the way I've learned quite a few strange things about how the process works. The color, which I first thought was pretty yucky, now looks less objectionable; the old "things will look better in the morning" did happen to be true this time. Wool is a sensitive fiber to work with because it reacts to temperature changes and can get very upset by sudden shocks like going from a nice warm dyepot to being rinsed under a faucet that isn't close to the same temperature; I was upset myself when I thought the roving was all felted. Nope. Turns out that wool compacts when it's being submerged in liquid and then has most of the liquid squeezed out, no matter how gently you squeeze; that's the nature of wool, according to someone who was kind enough to answer my frantic question on Fiberlings.
Now.. the things I've learned:
1. Hard water makes your wool feel all stiff no matter how fluffy it was before you dyed it.
1A. Rachael suggests giving the yarn spun from it a bath with hair conditioner, or possibly adding salt to the dye bath to help soften the water. I'll have to remember both of those next time I attempt to dye things.
2. A hair brush does NOT make a good substitute for hand cards! The little nubbly bristles are too far apart and too coarse to do an effective job of carding wool. I'll see if the finer bristled dog/cat brushes work at all; if not, I'll get lots of cat hair over the course of brushing the kitties. I wonder if it's spinnable?
3. KoolAid is not a sovereign remedy for icky colors.
4. No matter how careful you are with keeping temperatures constant when you're moving fiber between one bath and another, and rinsing, or how slowly and gently you stir, roving will compact because that's its nature. The appearance of being less fluffy after it dries is fixable if you choose to card it a second time (assuming it was carded before you dyed it and wasn't uncarded fleece to begin with).
5. You can never have too many bobbins.
6. Dyeing is unpredictable. Whether there's an element of surprise even for experienced dyers, I'm not sure, but I'm certainly getting results that are other than my original expectations. Not that I'm complaining... well.. not really..
7. Niddy-Noddies or skein winders are an absolute must unless you're athletic and like playing a different type of musical chairs.
I was exceedingly annoyed this afternoon that someone told me spinning yarn is tedious. My response was that I find it soothing, both in the rhythm of the wheel and the sound it makes while it's spinning and in the almost meditative repetition of drafting and treadling. Tedious? If you're like her and like to make a big splash by saying you've bought yarn from some expensive boutique just to make a splash, then people might find YOU tedious. There's something strangely satisfying in knitting something with wool yarn as opposed to acryllic yarns. That's not to say that all acryllic yarns are awful; there are some of which I'm quite fond. I just.. happen to like wool better now that I've come to know how pleasurable it is to work with. By the same token, making something with wool you've dyed and spun with your own hands -- and feet if you use a wheel -- is also very satisfying. Not the same as a cup of hot chocolate with a splash of Buttershots and a pinch of cinnamon, but... almost.