Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dye Day 2010

In 1973, when our first child was just a wee babe, I was in the Martinsville, Indiana, I ran across the book The Joy of Spinning by Marilyn Kluger. I took it home and read it and said to myself, "SOMEDAY I am going to learn how to do that! 5 years later I met a new friend and she mentioned that she knew how to spin wool into yarn. I nearly grabbed her by the lapels and said, "Oh! Will you teach me???" And she did. One thing led to another and I started doing dyeing using plant materials. For a while, I was a member of a spinning guild (by the way, blogger is underlining these words and I can't seem to make it stop.) Each year, in the fall, we would have an outdoor dyeing day, and it was so much fun. A friend and I were going to do that this year, but we are under a burning ban right now because the weather has been so dry. So, we decided to have an INDOOR dyeing day. Here is my sack of unwashed wool fleece. I decided to wash 1 pound of it last night. It is best to dye clean, wet, wool, so when I got done, I just put it in a plastic bag to save for this morning.

My method is as follows: I can do 1 pound of wool at a time in my kitchen sink, so that is what I did. I filled the sink with hot tap water and added enough dish detergent to make the water slippery, then I added the wool and let it soak for 15 minutes:

Gently squeeze the water through the wool, and then gently transfer it to a colander. Here is the dirty water after I removed the wool:

To the second rinse, I added 1/2 cup vinegar. Be sure to handle the wool very gently and never shock it by changing the temperature of the water suddenly. Here it is in its second rinse:

And here is the 4th rinse. You can see that the water is not absolutely clear, but good enough:

On to this morning ~ On the right you can see my large stainless steel pan. I put 4 gallons of soft water in there with a scant 1/2 cup of alum (this is NOT the kind of alum you make pickles with) and 2 Tablespoons of cream of tartar. I added the clean, wet, wool, brought it up to a boil and reduced the heat and simmered it for 1 hour. Then I drained it in the colander and it was ready for dyeing. That process is called a mordant. It makes the fiber accept the dyes.

Here is the marigold dye bath being cooked. We covered marigold blossoms with soft water and simmered them for about 1 hour, then strained out the dye liquor and put it back in the pot:

Here is the goldenrod flower dye bath cooking. The method is the same:

My friend brought poke berries! I cooked them, covered with vinegar, simmering for about an hour, and then strained out the berries. (There is no need to pre-mordant the wool for the poke berry/vinegar dye method.) Here is the wool, cooking in the dye bath:

Here you can see I put the big colander into a stainless bowl and drained the goldenrod dye bath before cooking wool in it:

Here is the wool in the goldenrod dye bath. Simmer for 1 hour, then strain:

Here is my friend with the wool we dyed with poke berries:

On the picnic table, you can see all the different wools:

Goldenrod yellow:

Marigold yellow:

Onion skin yellow:

Poke berry red:

The poke berry wool needs to dry in the shade. The color will fade, but even then it is still pretty. The yellows will not fade. I have managed to make lavender and a sort of green before with different plants, but this is all we had today.

It was a beautiful and very enjoyable day!

I am sharing this post over at Wardeh's "Simple Lives Thursday!"


  1. Oh that looks lik eyou had so much fun! I miss doing that. I should pick some poke berries and do some of the wool you gave me. Where do you get your Alum for the mordant?

  2. We did have fun. :) The mordant chemicals I have came from :

  3. Beautiful colors from nature. What a delightful morning spent with a friend. Can't wait to see what you use the fibers for.

  4. Increible! So glad you linked this post to Simple Lives Thursday. Thanks a lot for this very educational entry.

    Muchas gracias!


  5. This is so cool! I've always wanted to dye something with food. I'm so glad you linked in to Simple Lives Thursday as well - have fun with your wool!

  6. SE, I started out with the information in that book by Marilyn Kloger I mentioned, but eventually bought this book: It is out of print, now, but has several used copies listed at quite a low price. Although the lady who wrote it lives in the Southwest, and I am in the Midwest, it was still VERY useful to me as an education and also as a source of recipes. When I dye, I am not at all scientific about it. I follow a recipe for the mordant, but other than that, I just dye however much wool fits nicely into the dye bath and never weigh the wool for that. If there is a lot of dye left in the water, I sometimes will do another batch with it, and it will make a lighter color. I actually did that with the poke berries this time, and it turned out nicely. I hope you will get to try natural dyeing sometime!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...