Archive for the ‘natural dyeing’ Category

I’m trying to get back into the swing of updating this blog regularly, and so I’m starting with a photo post. Enjoy!

Beans and corn growing in our vegetable garden. They are both local Native American varieties.

Yarn I dyed using Queen Anne’s Lace (the yellow parts) and onion skins (the orange parts). I call the result “Butter Toffee”.

Chief, our alpha rooster, looking regal.


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Blue is one of the more difficult colours to achieve with plant-based dyes. The ancient Celts used woad, and the ancient Asians used indigo, and that was pretty much it until synthetic dyes were invented. I’ve ordered some indigo seeds from my favourite local seed company, just for fun, and I will be looking up what sort growing conditions woad wants (cool and wet, with a side order of rocky outcrops, probably).

In the meantime however, I started to experiment with black turtle beans. The idea is, that the water you soak the beans in before cooking them can be used as a dye bath, and some people have achieved some very pretty blues.

So I saved the water that I soaked the beans in for last week’s soup, and followed roughly the same procedure as with my first experiment, except this time I did mordant the fiber in 1.5 tsp of alum and .5 tsp of cream of tartar. I wasn’t quite so lucky this time, rather than blue I got a pale sage green:

Which is pretty, but is not proving to be very lightfast, and so won’t be very useful – though the stick I was using to stir the fiber in the dye bath went a lovely blue-purple colour! I’m going to experiment with black beans some more soon – I’ll try rainwater rather than our tap water (which is quite hard), and I think I under-mordanted the yarn, too.

Because I was a little disappointed with these results, I mordanted some more yarn (this time with 1.5 tbsp of alum and .5 tbsp of cream of tartar, and I also simmered the wool in the mordant for twice as long), and dunked it into a strong solution of Rooibos tea. 10 tea bags out of the Tetley Rooibos box, simmered in about 2 liters of water. It turned out the most glorious, rich gold!

I forgot to take a close up picture of the dyed skein, but here’s an artsy shot of it hanging to dry with the yarn I mordanted:

And  my first three balls of dyed yarn:

Next I’ll be working more with black beans, trying onion skins for yellow/orange, and waiting for the buckthorn and wild apple trees in the hedge to come into leaf so I can try for the greens that the young leaves are supposed to give… And then there’s the tall field buttercups, which supposedly give purple, and lady’s bedstraw (yellow), and Queen Ann’s Lace (olive-green)…

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It’s the time of year when I’m itching to rush headlong into a bunch of exciting new creative projects, but don’t actually have the energy to do any of them, because my SAD hasn’t yet retreated enough.

One project I have started dipping into (pun entirely intended) is plant-based dyes for animal fibers (wool, etc.) I’ve been doing a fair amount of knitting lately, and since I have abundant local sources of fiber (llama, alpaca, and mohair goats to name a few), and friends who spin, it only makes sense to start learning to use the plants in my “back yard” to dye yarn. Well, it makes sense to me!

So my first experiment is with buckthorn, a shrubby, spikey shrub/small tree that forms at least 90% of our boundary hedges. According to John Lust’s The Herb Book, Alder Buckthorn (Rhamus frangula) should give a brown dye. I’m pretty sure what I have is European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), rather than Alder Buckthorn, but I thought I’d give it a try anyway.

A few days ago I cut a branch out of a buckthorn. I snipped all the twigs on the branch into one-inch pieces, put them in a small stainless steel pot, added water, and let it soak for 24 hours. The next day I simmered the twigs  for an hour and then left the pot to stand for a further 24 hours. The resulting liquid was a promising shade of not-quite-coffee brown:

Then I strained the twigs out of the liquid, poured it back into the pot, and put it back on the stove. I got my fiber samples thoroughly wet, then put them in the pot and simmered them for about an hour. I didn’t use any mordant on this fiber. As far as I understand the cursory instructions in The Herb Book (to be fair, it’s a book on herbal medicine, not on dying), a mordant isn’t needed because of the tannic acid in the wood.

I turned the burner off, and left everything to soak for another 24 hours or so, and then rinsed the fibers.

Top picture is the original fiber, bottom is the dyed fiber. The hank of yarn is part of an unravelled wool sweater, and the fiber is a bit of mohair/merino roving. It’s a quite pretty shade of toffee / caramel (or camel?) brown that I’m pleased with. The next test will be to see how lightfast it is.

I’m trying to be good and take proper notes – since the dyeing process has so many variables that can affect the colours you get (length of soak time, mordant, pH, type of fiber, etc.):

For my next trick, I will try to turn yarn blue using black beans!

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