An Intro to Natural Dyeing

This week we’re celebrating the dyeing process. Do you know anything about dyeing yarn? I know nothing. Hannah here at Knit Picks does, though! She even took a class on natural dyeing. So I asked her to show me how to dye yarn from a few blossoms she found in her garden and it was so easy I couldn’t believe it. She wrote up the details and I made a video. Click through if you’d like to see!

skeins

Harvesting: “I picked both Hollyhock (left) and Marigold (right)  flowers from my garden in August. The general rule for picking fresh plants for dyeing is getting at least equal weights of plant matter to the weight of fiber you want to dye, but it’s always good to get as much dyestuff as possible. I had one 100g. hank of Bare Imagination that I divided into four 25g. hanks and followed the instructions in Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess for mordanting (treating) the hanks with Alum (Potassium Aluminum Sulfate).”

marigolds

hollyhocks

Dyeing: “I filled two big soup pots with hot water and then gently simmered the flowers separately for several hours and then let them cool overnight while the already mordanted skeins dried. The next day I strained the blossoms out of both dye baths and reheated them until the dye baths started to steam but made sure the liquid never simmered. I added two hanks to each pot and, stirring very gently once in a while, let the hanks sit in the baths for two hours.”

bath

Setting and Drying: “Next, I carefully removed each hank from the bath with gloves, took them out to the back yard and swung each hank around to centrifuge the extra water out of the yarn. Next I rinsed the hanks under warm water until it ran clear. I like to put soak the skeins in water with a slosh of vinegar to help set the dye before I rinse the hanks in a water bath with a wool wash to help soften the fibers again. One more spin session out in the yard, then I let the hanks air dry on the porch on my drying rack.”

spin

Repeat: “Sometimes the dye bath still has some dye remaining in the water that the first batch of yarn didn’t full absorb and you can do a second batch of yarn in the same dye bath. The color won’t be as vibrant, but it can be fun to experiment with colors and saturation this way”.

natrual_dyes

Aren’t they gorgeous? From top to bottom: hollyhock 2nd dye bath, 1st dye bath, marigold 1st dye bath, 2nd dye bath.  I put together a little video of Hannah teaching me how to dye in the repeat process: “The baths in the video show me dying yarn in a bath that wasn’t fully exhausted the first time and still had some color left in the water. The result is a more muted, but still beautiful color.”

Though it’s deepest winter, we hope some great plants for dyeing are available in your area. Later in the week, Hannah will be giving us notes from the natural dyeing class she took recently, and other members of the KP staff will be showing us different ways that they dye fiber. I’m excited to learn all of it! Are you?


5 comments

  1. Kathy / January 14, 2015

    Thank you! I want to try this, and looking forward to future tutorials!

  2. Teresa / January 14, 2015

    Looks great! I’ve used onion skins and black walnut with success, elderberry disappointing, but I might not have used a mordant

  3. Elizabeth / January 15, 2015

    Love the close up view, speed of knitting with instructions written on side and as worked. Great video. I will continue to look for your stitch instructions. Best Intralec instructions I have seen….Thank you

  4. Mundo Lanar / January 15, 2015

    Great post! Sometimes it might be interesting (in the sense of obtaining beautiful and unexpected results) mixing recycled dye baths! Nice to meet dyers around the world!

  5. Futh / April 16, 2015

    Sorry, but I think that this explanation is not clear. You say “mordanting” means “dyeing”, then you say “let them cool overnight while the already mordanted skeins dried.” So the skeins are ALREADY dyed but then “The next day I strained the blossoms out of both dye baths and reheated them until the dye baths started to steam but made sure the liquid never simmered. I added two hanks to each pot and, stirring very gently once in a while, let the hanks sit in the baths for two hours.” Not clear at all.