Traditional methods of dyeing wool in Wales
Published in: Folk Life
Resource verified by SHCG editorial group
The stage in production at which wool is dyed varies according to the preferences of the textile worker and the type of cloth to be woven. In some cases raw wool, sometimes scoured, sometimes in the grease is dyed before carding. In the past, this was done in large, open vats and the worker would stir the boiling dye and wool at frequent intervals with a pole. In the smaller rural factories, this method of dyeing still persists. At the Esgair Moel Mill from Llanwrtyd in Brecknockshire, now at the Welsh Folk Museum, for example, the usual method is to dye unwashed raw wool in a large 30-gallon copper vat. The dye vat is always heated with wood fires and there is a tradition in Brecknock that the best timber for heating purposes is alder, which up to 1939 could be obtained from the itinerant clog sole makers who frequently visited the alder groves of the county and sold waste timber locally. The practise of dyeing raw wool in the grease has a distinct disadvantage in that the rollers of the carding engines have to be cleaned at frequent intervals, to ensure that one colour does not contaminate another. This is particularly true where white wool follows a strongly coloured one through the carding set; indeed, some of the larger, late nineteenth century woollen mills in west Carmarthenshire installed two carding sets; the one for white wool, the other for coloured wool.