Hand-Painting Roving - Ready, Set, Paint...
Focus? Am I supposed to know what that means?

Hand-painting Roving - Steaming, Drying, Braiding

This was originally published in 2010, when Brianna ran The Yarn Side. (Wow, I took awful photos compared to now. Nice to see ways in which we grow, I guess. Ha!)

When last I left, we had a coiled bit of dyed roving, waiting for a good steam. You can choose to steam in several ways:

  • steamer basket inside of a pot, inch of water, burner on medium, lid on pot, steam for 30-40 minutes, making sure to add a bit more water if it gets low, but never so much that it touches the fiber.
  • handy steamer bags in your grocery mark aisle, made for one-time use vegetables.
  • placed inside microwave-safe dish, then microwaved on high for 2 minutes on, 2 minutes off, 2 minutes off.

There are plenty more ways to steam, I'm sure, but 2 of the above are quite popular, and the other will catch on with all the other reduce-reuse-recycle crazies out there, myself included. (note: I tend to not mind a little more blending in my roving, so I will often use the ziploc steamer bags repeatedly for yarn and roving, letting any loose dye migrate a bit, but this is a personal choice. If you prefer more control then you can take additional steps to do so.)

With your steaming method of choice, pop that sucker into steam mode and then take a look around you. What do you see first? I bet it's these guys...



Oh, hey guys, fancy seeing you around here. What? There's still over half of you left? No kidding! Guess you'll be helping me with some yarn later. In the meantime, get out of here! At which point you stop talking to yourself--I know, I know, you would never do such a thing. YOU'RE not crazy.

Putting those guys aside, I like to straighten up my work area a bit while I wait for the incessant beeping of the microwave to tell me that the first 2 minutes are up. If I have another bundle of roving or yarn waiting to be steamed, then I switch them out, making sure that the first bundle gets 2 minutes of rest time in between heat-sets. When I put it in for the second 2-minutes, I take care to flip the bundle over and expose the other side to the bottom of the microwave-safe bowl and then put it back in for 2-minutes.

When done, it will look something like this...


Does it look a bit puffy? Perfect! It's been steaming, so it's expected to puff up as the water tries to escape. That trapped gas has built up, pushing between the plastic and the yarn, into the yarn, and setting the colors.

Speaking of rinsing, there are some words of caution before proceeding. Sometimes I forget in my rush to move on to the next and I spend a few seconds swearing because of light steam-burns. This is not smart, so let's talk about this for a few. It is highly important that you let that bad guy above cool his heels for a bit. He's got hot liquid and hot fiber and it's better to think of him as an angry old man who likes to slap at your ankles with his walking cane or bite you if you get too close. Just take 3 steps back and let him get his grump out. He'll cool down and you'll be able to manage him a whole heck of a lot better. There, now I've smartened you up, and maybe I'll remember too.


This time I remembered to let the roving sit for an hour or so, letting it rest and cool off. I then was able to successfully, and very carefully, snip off the end of the uncoiled bundle, allowing it all to slip into a bowl of room-temperature water. 

From there, I gently pushed the fiber to the bottom of the bowl, letting the water spill over, slip under, and move through the fiber. There isn't really a point to letting it sit in there for as long as it took to originally wet the fiber. The fiber could bloom all over, and we really just want to push water through it, expelling excess color. Once done, it's just a careful lift of the bundle, keeping it in one piece. You do NOT want to try and pull only one section out at a time since the fibers could slip apart and you'd be left with two bundles instead of one. Not fun, and I admit that I know this from experience.

So, a single-bundle-lift, and then a gentle squeeze to get some of the excess water out of the fiber. I do this just enough to get it to stop dripping all over my workspace and down my forearms. Then I lay out the whole piece on my workspace, snip the ties I added to keep it all together, and scoop it up. From there I take a short stroll to the laundry room, which is called by many names, like: "the hell hole"; "the cat's room"; "the place that shall not be named"; and, when I'm dying, "the place with the magic spinning machine that saves me time and heart ache". I gently lay one end at the bottom of my top-loader washer and start loosely wrapping the length of the roving inside of it--one big circle around and around--until it's all in and my heart starts to beat a little harder. I close the lid, twist the knob to the "Spin-Cycle" (no rinse) section and flip the magic switch.

And I hear it... the magic starts to happen. The whir-whir-whir-whir of the machine is in the air. It spins so fast, and I can't help but fear that when I lift the lid the fiber will have become a mass that looks too much like cotton candy. When the cycle ends, I lift the lid, and this is what appears...


Yes, It is a success! No cotton candy and no giant mess. It is a really well spun-out, still in one-piece, bit of roving. Now it needs to start transitioning from a slightly damp twist of roving to a fully dry piece. For this I use a drying rack from Ikea, because Ikea is a magical place and I am a fan of magic, and I drape the roving over it.

On a good Florida day, I like to put the rack on the back patio, out of direct sunlight, but where a breeze can get to it and the Florida heat can beat the dampness out! Sometimes it only takes a few hours, while other times it can take over night. If it's an over-nighter, then inside it comes and I shove it in a corner, ignoring the "why is your dye stuff all over the house?" from my other half.

When dry, it looks a whole lot like the left side of the below photo...


I specify the left side of the photo because you can see the bits of fiber that decided to migrate and wrap around itself. If it's just a bit and doesn't detract from the look, then I gently untangle and lay it against the rest of the roving.

The right side of the above photo is the smoother, slightly drafted portion of the roving. I always give my fiber a bit of drafting so that they blend a little, showing a nice transition. They also fluff up, and their life and vibrancy shows themselves off. That is always the part that makes my heart lift and sing, and I may erupt with a "squeeeee!" on occasion.

I won't go into the details of braiding roving, but there are a few videos on YouTube, as well as tutorials online, that you can find with a quick search.

Below is the final product, braided and ready to be shipped off for a visit with someone who shall spin it up. Perhaps in a future post there will be some photos of the spun yarn.


I just want to say thanks to everyone for sticking through this segmented documentary of one of the ways I dye roving. It's not a science, and it's not always predictable when I play like this, but it's always 100% fun and rewarding.

Playing with different dye options, and with the variety of wools, exotics, and wool-blends out there, will keep the experience new and interesting for a long time. If you get an urge to dye, don't squash that bug! I'd love to see what you come up with.

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