Natural Dyeing workshop

Yesterday was a busy day, and included a two hour workshop on very basic natural dyeing. Because I wanted to make it as accessible as possible, and keep costs low, it mainly featured ‘kitchen’ dyeing.

I’d asked people to provide thier own 100% DK wool yarn, (I even suggested a yarn brand to look for as I know this one dyes really well), and prepare it in hanks. I then mordanted it over the weekend, and took it into the workshop ready to go into the dye. Unfortunately there was some confusion (well isn’t there always), and so some brought Aran, others brought 4ply and they were all different spins and types of wool, (but luckily only wool blends, not with synthetics).  I’d written out clear instructions on how to make balls into 10g hanks on the back of a chair – but even that went a bit wrong for some, so I then had to unwind and re-hank it all. At that point I began to wonder why I was doing this for free!

So now I had a kilogram of yarn soaking ready to go into an Alum mordant. Of course the more wool, the more water, and the more likelihood that you will soak the floor – which of course I did. So by the time I got it into the mordant I was not in love with the yarn!

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My BIG pan was not big enough, so two lots were necessary, and the room was a bit steamy by the end of it all. I use a portable induction hob for dyeing – I think it is pretty energy efficient – and love it’s responsiveness.

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So on to the workshop. Our dye materials were:

  • red cabbage
  • turmeric
  • spinach
  • avocado stones (soaked in 1:6 ammonia/water solution for a week beforehand)
  • avocado skins (half soaked in 1:6 ammonia solution for a week beforehand)
  • used coffee grounds
  • onion skins

Ammonia and vinegar were the only modifiers used to change the acidity of the dye baths, as I did not want to work with copper or iron in this situation.

Firstly a concentrated dye was made by boiling up  the chopped red cabbage, onion skins, and coffee grounds in enough water to cover them. The avocado baths were brought to a high heat, but not boiled as this helps keep the colour fresh and pinker. Once the colour was really released (this took between 30-60 minutes), these concentrates were strained into larger pots, cold water was added to make them lukewarm, and salt stirred in to help fix the colours. The red cabbage was divided into three baths: one left plain, one with ammonia added and one with vinegar added. The plain dye yields a purply-blue, ammonia encourages the dye to yield blue/green and the vinegar brings out a lilac colour. This was the fun part; the students introduced their hanks of yarn to different dye baths and they were brought back up to tempature. There were lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ at the lovely colours – even though I explained that they may change or wash out!

They experimented with tie-dying, dip-dyeing and rinsing and over-dye colours. Some more successful than others of course, and time (and hanks of yarn) were limited. One asked me, ‘Can I do this at home?’ , which seemed a strange question to me, but in retrospect it was a reasonable one, because it all seemed a bit to easy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another day of natural dyeing

I spent a happy (ha ha) half hour picking nettles last week, and another not-so-painful time collecting laurel leaves. These were going to be my latest experiments in natural dyeing. Yes, I know everyone else has probably moved onto far more exotic materials, but I am still plodding along with what I remember to collect in the park or garden. Luckily I had a pair of gloves (it was windy and cold), and a clean dog poo-bag in which to store those nasty nettles. I didn’t think the nettles would sting through gloves, but they seemed to. My fingers were still stinging when I went to bed.

So I chopped up the nettles and laurel and boiled them in large pans, left them to steep in the cooling water and re-boiled the next day, left them to steep again.

Laurel leaves steeped for 24 hours
Nettles steeped for 24 hours

So far the liquid was looking a pretty good colour. Next I strained this off and pressed the remaining soggy leaves to remove all that precious colour. To encourage the dye bath the give up all its colour, I added some salt to the dye bath.

I had already mordanted hanks of DK wool, and some of Aran 60/40 wool acrylic in a pale tweedy beige to see what happened with this coloured blend. The mordant was 8% Alum with a teaspoon of cream of tartar added to the water. This was also boiled for an hour and left in the mordant overnight before being rinsed and used damp.

The damp hanks went into the dye baths, and simmered away for an hour or so, then I removed those and added some vinegar to the laurel bath and added some new hanks. This was supposed to make the colour a little pinker, but not sure it did.

The nettle hanks were put into a bowl of copper modifier to see if the green would intensify. It did.

Because I wanted to check out the colour saturation possible with the 60/40 blend, I had included a hank of this with each test.

Next I made a madder bath (cheating here with madder extract), and dyed two hanks – keeping the heat below boiling to try to preserve the brighter red. Not sure I managed this, but got some lovely rich reds.

Finally I made an onion skin bath and dyed a hand of 60/40 wool acrylic – bingo, this worked really well!

Out of the dyebaths and drying well

Above hanks left to right are: laurel (DK wool), Laurel (60/40), laurel +vinegar (DK wool), madder (60/40), madder (DK wool), nettle+copper modifier (DK wool), rather obscured hank is nettle (DK 50/50 wool acrylic – this slipped through when I was mordanting), nettle +vinegar (60/40), and at the top, onion skins (60/40).

And below are the small hanks wound into knitable balls.

On the left is a hank of hand spun yarn that I dyed the week before last using oyster mushrooms gathered from a tree trunk.

Oyster mushroom dye process

I dyed a couple of hanks with mushrooms, not an exciting colour, but very pretty.

Hand spun yarn dyed with oyster mushrooms. In background the yarn has been machine knitted with a silk in stripes before being dyed.

So that is that for the moment, but I am pleased with the results, and will be sharing them with students before a natural dye workshop next week. There won’t be time to stew up plants as I did for these, but we will be using red cabbage, carrots, madder extract, onion skins and turmeric with vinegar as a modifier. Plus we will be over-dying, dip dying and tie-dying for effects.

Should be fun!

Preparing for a forthcoming natural dye workshop. 

This morning I have spent a happy hour picking and scouring some fleece I harvested off bushes whilst walking beautiful around beautiful Cwm Pennant in Snowdonia.  What a delightful experience that was this summer. 

The wool is not brilliant, but will be fine to play with to see what colours we can achieve. I may get time to spin some up before the workshop, but people have already got their yarn organised, so no sweat. 


I’m also chopping avocado pits and skins to make two dye baths – one redder, one orangey. They will sit and develop over the next week or so. I will stop them going mouldy by re-boiling every couple of days. 

Starting the dyebath
Chopping avocado pits

Chopping avocado skins

Next will be prepping the marigolds, but not until nearer the time. Then the yarns and fleece must be mordanted. 

A copper and iron modifier have been steeping for ages already in the shed.

It’s all in the preparation! 

I must buy some ammonia for the avocado bath the deepen the red. 

The plan is to experiment with red cabbage, turmeric and madder as well. I am considering an indigo bath, but will probably chicken out this time.