Knitting & Crafing: How to Dye Wool Yarn with Natural Products

Have you ever thought of dyeing your own yarn using natural ingredients which you use daily in your home or garden? It may seem like a daunting task but it is not as complex as it may think.

You just need maximum two hours of your day from start to finish of the process.

Dyeing wool with plant based dyes

Today, the industry produces mostly chemical colors, while nature holds beautiful, durable colors ready for us in many shades.

Different color results can be achieved through different dyeing processes such as boiling, dipping, boiling time, cold dyeing, and wool or fabric properties.

In addition, the water properties, such as lime content and pH value, and the preceding pickling process also play a role.

As a creative person, you may be looking for a specific colour of yarn or just want to let your creative juices flow and dye your own wool yarn for your project.

It is fun and exciting to dye your own yarn using natural ingredients for the following reasons:

  • It fast and quick compared to dyeing with synthetic colourants which may take up to 24 hours.
  • They are eco-friendly therefore good for the environment; best suited when dyeing natural fibres such as wool and cotton.
  • Reduces chances of allergic reaction which may be caused by synthetic dyes.
  • Allows you to come up with your own unique and exciting colours for your project.
plant based wool dyes

What natural colors are available?

Pomegranate - Black-Grey

Pomegranate

Dyeing with pomegranate initially produces a solid yellow tone. The pomegranate dye has a high tannin content and is therefore particularly suitable for cotton and other plant fibers but can also be used to dye wool and silk.

When pomegranate is used without mordant, a fawn yellow is obtained, and with mordant, a golden yellow—depending on the addition, adding iron results in a gray to deep black color.

Even today, city coats of arms or flags in Spain and southern France shine yellow-black. In the 8th century, this was only possible with the help of the color property of the pomegranate.

By overdyeing with indigo, you can obtain a beautiful dark green.

madderwort or madder root

madderwort or madder root

One of the oldest plant dyes gives wool and fabrics a pink to deep red color. Written records of the use of madder root can be found as far back as the Romans and Greeks.

Traces of the dye alizarin can also be found in the tomb of the Egyptian ruler Tutankhamun, who lived around 1337 BC.

Barberry

barberry

You can achieve a naturally bright yellow when dyeing with barberry.

However, what makes dyeing with barberry especially recommendable is its fluorescent effect. Responsible for this effect is the alkaloid berberine.

Birch leaves

Birch leaves

Your wool will shine from light green to olive after dyeing with birch leaves.

Depending on the amount of iron moderator added, the degree of color intensifies to a deep dark olive green.

Bloodwood Tree or Bluewood

Bloodwood tree, dyes wool and textiles in intense to pastel purple.

The advantage of bluewood is that you can dye a lot of wool with only a little piece of wood.

Other available natural dyes

To make the dye, you can use most flower petals, food items such as the inner, the skin and even the leaves.

Each part will result in a different colour composition. Here are some of the popular plants and products and the colours that can be derived from each ingredient.

  • Red –                  Madder root
  • Pink –                 Beet root
  • Orange –            Paprika
  • Turmeric –         Yellow
  • Avocado Skin – Green
  • Elder berries –   Blue and purple
  • Black Tea –        Brown
  • Coffee –             Light brown
  • Carrot –              Orange
  • Red Cabbage –  Light blue and purple
  • Indigo –               Blues
  • Yellow –              Dandelion
Dyeing Wool Naturally

The final colours will always vary due to temperature of the mix, quantity of ingredient, age of ingredients; therefore you may never get the same results twice. For this reason, it is important to dye a full batch of yarn form one mix to avoid colour inconsistencies.

To change colours, you can mix a few ingredients or use mordant also known as a modifiers which are mineral salts that bind dyes into fibre, to prevent bleeding and changes the dye colour.

There are various types of mordant but generally these are two types; iron based mordant that dulls the colour, while copper based mordant will brighten the colour. The key is to try a few, experiment and have fun with the process.

Supplies

To dye wool you will need the following supplies.

  • Yarn (in hanks)
  • A mordant which can be distilled vinegar or alum. (10 ounces (280grams) of raw yarn will need 1 ounce (28grams)of mordant)
  • The plant ingredient of choice
  • A strainer – such as a coffee filter or a paper towel or a cloth
  • Shampoo or dish washing liquid (optional). This is to remove strong smells if you so desire
  • A clean towel
  • A steel pot

Steps to dye your yarn

  1. Mix mordant and soak yarn hanks for 45 minutes.
  2. Blend the ingredient using a blender or food processes to liquefy. You can also directly boil without blending for a lighter colour.
  3. Pour liquid in a pot, bring to boil.
  4. Allow to simmer for up to 40 minutes until colour of water becomes dark and solids sink to the bottom; set aside to cool.
  5. Drain the liquid through a strainer.
  6. Place yarn in the coloured water and simmer for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Turn off heat and let it cool.
  8. Drain, rinse and wash in gentle shampoo or dish washing detergent solution. Continue rinsing until water is completely clear.
  9. Roll in towel to remove excess water and hang to dry.
  10. Roll yarn into ball ready for usage.

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