How to Dye Roving with the Low-Water Method - dummies

How to Dye Roving with the Low-Water Method

Dyeing yarn in low water is similar to immersion dyeing because the fiber is immersed in a dye bath, but is also similar to hand-painting because you pour the colors directly onto the fibers while they simmer. Working with low water gives you some control over the application of color and the spread of the dye. Since there is less water, there is less opportunity for the dyes to migrate. They strike wherever they make contact with the fiber, producing beautiful results in a less controlled fashion.


This process creates a trio of rovings in related colors. Try using a Cormo wool and Bombyx silk roving to add textural as well as visual interest. Silk and wool absorb dye differently, adding visual interest when the roving is spun into yarn. Yarn can also be used for this method.

Pay careful attention with fine wool to avoid felting. This process works best on a burner that gives you good control at low settings.

Begin by gathering these materials:

  • 12 ounces (227g) Cormo wool and silk-blend roving

  • Citric acid crystals

  • 250ml dye stock of each color WashFast: Reddish Brown, Plum, and Chinese Red

  • 20-quart pot, wide and shallow

  • Squeeze bottles

  • Long-handled spoon or tongs

  • Thermometer

  1. Divide the roving into three 4-ounce hanks and create tied bundles. Place the roving in an acid presoak for at least 1 hour.


  2. Prepare the dye stocks. For each color, mix 2.5g dye powder with 250ml boiling water. Allow the dye to cool before use.

  3. Dye each hank of roving separately. For the first roving, set 100ml of Reddish Brown, the main color, aside in a beaker. Pour the two accent colors, Plum and Chinese Red, into squeeze bottles and set aside.

  4. To make the dye bath, pour 3L (3 quarts) room-temperature water into the pot. Add 2 teaspoons citric acid crystals and stir.

  5. Add 100ml Reddish Brown dye stock to the pot. Stir to combine well.

  6. Carefully remove the roving from the presoak and press out the excess water. Place the roving in the dye pot and gently press down to immerse the fiber.

  7. Place the pot on the cooking surface over medium heat.


    Do not stir or agitate the roving. Check the water temperature continually with a thermometer — it will climb quickly since there is little water in the pot.

    The roving may form a dome, trapping the heat beneath it. When you check the temperature, be sure to place the thermometer in the water beneath the roving. If heat is building up in the bottom of the pot, carefully lift the roving with a spoon or tongs to distribute the temperature evenly.

The base color will begin to exhaust as the water temperature reaches approximately 160°F (71°C). You should notice the water in the bath turning clear, a sign that the dye has bonded with the fiber. Now you can begin to paint.

  1. Apply thin ribbons of Chinese Red in a back-and-forth pattern over the surface of the roving.


    Be conservative in adding color. It’s better to add too little rather than too much at first. The dye will strike wherever it lands. You do not want this color to disperse, so do not stir.

  2. Monitor the temperature. Turn down the heat slightly as the water reaches 185°F.

    You do not want the temperature to exceed 185°F (85°C). A boiling temperature in a low water bath will felt the wool and ruin the luster of the silk.

  3. When the second color has exhausted, you can add the next color. Apply dots of the Plum color in a random fashion.


    Applying the colors one at a time allows each color time to bond with the fiber. In some spots the colors will stay relatively pure, and in others the colors will merge to form new colors.

  4. Carefully turn the roving using the spoon. Apply the colors to the other side.

  5. Maintain the consistent temperature for 30 minutes. Then turn off the heat and allow the fiber to cool in the dye bath. The water will be clear.

    Repeat the process to dye the remaining rovings. For the second roving, use Chinese Red as the main color in the dye bath with Plum and Reddish Brown as accent colors. For the third roving, try Plum as the main color with Chinese Red and Reddish Brown as accent colors.

  6. Unspun silk fibers may easily drift apart when wet. Give the roving a gentle rinse in warm water and place on a flat drying rack to dry.

  7. Gently separate and fluff out the roving once it’s completely dry.


    When the yarn is spun, you will want to wash this fiber more thoroughly to remove any residual dye