Natural Dyes

Posted by on Aug 11, 2013 in Natural Dyes | Comments Off on Natural Dyes

Dyeing With Natural Materials

Using natural dye plants can be both fun and easy. Using safe methods is monumental to this process. Please note that with the exception of alum, all mordants are toxic if ingested.
Please keep these materials out of the reach of children. Do not reuse pots you have dyed with for any other purpose except dyeing your yarn or wool.
The following is the basic preparations and methods for obtaining dye colors from nature’s bounty. I hope it is useful to you in your new adventure!

General Dyeing Preparations

Prepare your fleece by sorting out only the best of the locks for dyeing. Light colored fleeces dye beautifully. Or add a bit of natural colored grey fleece for heathering in the carding process.

-Weigh portions of fleece, this is determined mainly by the size of your dye pot or the amount of yarn required for your project. Remember when dyeing yarn to allow ample room for the skeins to move easily within your dye pot. This is not as important with raw fleece, as the heathering will usually blend nicely during the carding process.

-If you use yarn to dye, make sure your yarn is tied loosely in at least four places with a figure eight.

Mordanting of Fleece Yarn:

-Mordanting of the fibers is necessary for many dyes to fix the color or else they are fugitive.

-The mordant is often over used and will make the fibers harsh. More is not better.

Mordant proportions:

Tin – 1% of weight of fiber

Tin Blooming – 1/2% of weight of fiber + 5% tartaric acid

Alum – 15% of weight of fiber

Chrome – 3% of weight of fiber.

PLEASE NOTE:***Although chrome yields beautiful brassy colors it is very hazardous for the environment. If chrome is used, use it outdoors and cover the pot. Chrome is light sensitive. Use gloves, rinse the fiber well after mordanting. Do not dump remaining liquid in your environment, you may save it for future use.

General Recipe for Local Dye Plants

-Pick 10 times the weight of the wool you want to dye in flowers, leaves, roots, barks, or nuts. You may try 4 times the amount of bark, nuts or roots i s you prefer.

-Put flowers etc. in a large container, crush leaves, bruise flowers, cut roots and barks into small pieces. Leave overnight to soak in the water.

-Next morning bring your pot to simmering.

-Flowers and leaves should not boil, just simmer for 1 hour

-Nuts do need to boil for 2 hours.

-Roots and barks require only 1 hour at a rolling boil.


-Strain dyestuff, put dye liquid into a clean kettle. Put in your wet weighed wool or yarn and simmer for +/- 1 hour. Cool down overnight.

-Take wool out of the dye bath and wash with warm soap gently. Rinse well with clear warm water.

Planning for Multiple Dye Baths:

Plant materials will yield variations of color depending upon the season, soil, and stage gathered. Two examples are given.

Goldenrods – used early in the season will yield a greenish yellow shade to your yarn. Past peak, they will yield more of a mustard gold.

Logwood (a historical natural dye) in another kettle will yield purple/blue ranges to your yarn.

When the after bath of these two pots are combined, you may place another batch of wool in to simmer and it will yield various shades of green.

It should be noted that indigo, if properly prepared, also yields wonderful forest greens.

Goldenrods further on in their bloom time are also good to combine with cochineal or brazilwood (two other historical dyes) and will yield beautiful corals and peach.

Please take note that the stronger the extracted dye bath, the shorter the simmer time. This also allows for more after bath dyeing which will yield progressively paler shades.

What Colors Will the Historical Natural Dyes Yield?

Brazilwood: Used in combination with other dyes is fast, or if used alone a mordant is required. You should receive the colors red and pink if you use 30 to 50% of the weight of the wool. In order to get a true red the yarn must be mordanted with tin.

Madder Root: Keep the temperature at 180 degrees and not above, if you wish to extract the chinese red or orange tones. Use 50% of the weight of fiber. If you wish to extract the brown tone, than simmer your dye pot over the 180 degree range.

Logwood: Use 5 to 10% weight of fiber. It yields maroon, purples and blues depending on the mordant used.

Sandlewood: Use 20 to 25% weight of fiber. Used in combination with black walnut it yields a rich reddish brown color.

Cutch: Use 25% weight of wool to yield wonderful browns. This material does not require a mordant.