A member of the mustard family, woad has been used since ancient times to produce a beautiful blue dye. It is an easy to grow hardy biennial, but is classified as an invasive weed in some of the Western, dryer parts of the United States (check your local guidelines before planting). The blue dye is present in the first year leaves – only let grow into the second year if you wish to collect seeds.
How to grow:
Site Selection: Zone 4-8, rich loamy alkaline soil. Full sun is preferred. Rotate planting areas yearly and fertilize with nitrogen.
Start seeds: Start indoors several weeks before last frost and plant out after all threat of frost has passed, or direct seed into garden at about the time of the last frost about ¼” deep, 4” apart. Thin to 1’ between plants. Click here to buy organic woad seeds.
Harvest: Harvest the leaves from midsummer to before the first frost. Plants will re-grow leaves to allow a second or even third harvest. Only first year leaves produce blue pigment.
Processing: Rinse the leaves and use immediately in a vat for dye extraction.
If you are 100% new to the art of natural dyeing… or if you need a dye that will give you great color every single time, marigolds are the dyestuff you want. They are plentiful, forgiving, work just about as well dried as fresh, and give an amazing mustard yellow.
You probably recognize marigolds as the cheerful annuals available in the spring and early summer from every single garden store. There are several different types known by different names; African, French, Mexican and so forth, but as long as you are in the genus Tagetes you are good to go. They are super easy to grow, and I like to plant them along borders, or even mixed in my veggie garden!
So enough about growing, how do we dye? The dye procedure is similar to many flower-based extraction dyes, and I use alum mordanted yarn (don’t want to make your own? Click here for the kit!). Unlike other dye processes, once you have all your materials ready you can have a yellow skein of yarn in about 45 minutes. All of the following directions can be used for either fresh or dry blossoms. Use about 1/3 to 1/2 the weight of your yarn or fabric if using dried blossoms (purchase some here!) and about an equal amount of fresh blossoms to weight of fiber.
Simmer flowers for about half an hour to extract a lovely deep gold color, then strain off the liquid. I like to compost the spent flowers!
The wetted yarn or fiber is then simmered in the dye for 15 to 30 minutes. A longer simmer may produce a deeper color but it may be more dull. Keep the heat low – somewhere between steaming water and a simmer. You will notice that the dye bath becomes more clear (it won’t clear all the way though!) and the yarn will have a lovely gold tone when lifted from the bath.
I always allow my skeins of yarn to cool, then rinse in rainwater with a final rinse with a Eucalan soap or similar before hanging the skein to dry.
As with all natural dyes, different shades are achieved with different yarn types or modifiers such as iron dips. All naturally dyed yarn is also best stored out of the sun to retain its most vibrant color.
Did you try dyeing with marigolds? Do you have some tips for me? I’d love to hear from you below, or come join me at www.knittyvet.etsy.com or the Facebook Group bit.ly/GardenYarn or at the KnittyVet Instagram to chat!
Ok, I know I’m a little late for Valentine’s Day, but I just stumbled into the most glorious pink dye (or perhaps stain – more on that later) using some past-their-prime berries. Below is the long version – scroll down for the quick and dirty! Or find a recipe for natural yellow dye HERE.
I had about 6 oz of cranberries (a few were getting mushy, they may have been left over from the holidays, this is a judgement free zone) and about the same amount of frozen raspberries. From 2015. As the label proclaims. ANYWAY. I dumped these fine specimens into my stainless steel dye pot (different pots for dyes and food always, even when the dye was previously known as food) with a little water, and simmered for about 45 minutes, or until the berries had lost their shape and the water was a beautiful cherry red. Some mashing with a potato masher helped this process along. Next step was straining the ruby liquid into a separate bowel, then returning it to the pot. Careful, this is hot stuff! (Or you could wait until it cools. Your choice.)
So, at this point I added my pre-soaked (warm water with just a drop of dish soap) fiber. I didn’t put in a lot since this was really just an experiment not a serious dyeing sesh. I had a little hank of alum mordanted single ply wool, a snippet of superwash fingering merino (both non and alum mordanted), and 1/2 oz of non-mordanted BFL top. They all went in with enough extra hot water to cover, then were heated to just under a simmer for 30 minutes.
Oh yeah, I also put in some tired bamboo needles. I’m impulsive like that.
Once off heat, everything sat in the dye solution overnight before rinsing the next morning and hanging to dry. I am super pleased to report that the color came out a gorgeous plummy pink.
Alas, now it is time for REAL TALK. Berry dyes are famously fugitive – that means they tend to fade pretty quickly. So I don’t know if this lovely pink will last… or be a beautiful but brief shade. I’ll get back to you in the future with that, but for now I’m pretty happy. I plan on spinning a little of the BFL fiber and share that here as well.
What do you think about this DIY process? Pretty easy, right? Will you try it? Any questions? Ask below!
And the “quick” recipe for Berry Pink dye on Wool:
Ingredients: 6oz each of cranberries and raspberries, 1/2 that amount of wool (can scale up).
Process: Lightly simmer berries 45 min, mashing to combine. Strain out solids. Add wool and heat to just below simmer 30 min, then off heat and rest overnight. Drain, rinse and dry!
Hello all! While we are waiting for the KnittyVet Etsy shop to reopen on Tuesday Sept. 12 with the new yarn update, I thought I’d share my process for dyeing with Rudbeckia. Call them Black Eyed Susans, Coneflowers, Gloriosa Daisies, or whatever, many folks have asked me if these pretty yellow or orange flowers really make green yarn. The answer is yes, absolutely!
These flowers are a great native prairie species that bloom from mid to late summer and self seed if the flower heads are left to mature. My bed of Rudbeckia showed up after I planted some prairie flower mix… and I’m so glad they did.
The dye procedure is similar to many flower-based extraction dyes, and I use alum mordanted yarn. It is a several day process though to extract maximum color!
First I gather a good bucketful of blossoms and dump them in a dye pot. Next I pour over boiling water and let that sit overnight. The next day I boil for 1 or 2 hours, then let sit some more… either a few more hours or even overnight again. At this point we have a dark red/brown liquid that can be poured off from the spent blossoms.
The wetted yarn or fiber is then simmered in the dye for 1 hour. I always allow my skeins to sit overnight to pick up the most color.
Different shades are acheived with different yarn types or modifiers such as copper or iron dips. I’ll have a few skeins for sale such as the one on the right above come Tuesday! Come join me at www.knittyvet.etsy.com or the Facebook Group bit.ly/GardenYarn or at the KnittyVet Instagram for more!
For the 4th of July this year we decided to start a little project with some of the fresh flowers in our yard and a cotton t-shirt. I had previously prepared the shirt by following the directions for mordanting cotton with alum outlined in Wild Colors by Jenny Dean. Despite some excitement over the sumac tannin solution turning blue, that went well enough, and I’ll blog about that process at some other point.
We started with our prepared shirt, pre-soaked in cool water. Next came a garden raid, picking flowers and leaves. What all did we pick? Yellow prairie coneflower, roses, yarrow, strawberry leaves, hardy geranium leaves, calendula, yellow cosmos, zinnia, jewelweed, geranium blooms, mint, and bee balm oh MY!
I had read that you should cover about 50% of the space with dye materials but, well, we got carried away. The next step was tightly rolling the shirt and plants onto a stick, then tying in place. We used an un-treated cotton string.
We popped the shirt-on-a-stick into the steamer for about 2 hours.
Then came the hardest part – waiting while everything dried and set. We made it about 2 days before we couldn’t stand it anymore and unrolled the shirt. The flowers had mostly faded, imparting amazing colors and patterns onto our cotton. We waited just a little more for the whole thing to dry completely, then held our breath and rinsed in cool water. There was less color leakage than I’d expected, and the patterns were still fantastic. We were amazed by the wide range of colors from our mix of flowers, especially some dots of blue. I’m still not sure what gave that fantastic blue. I think some of the iris stayed blue?? Anyhow, E loves her shirt, and proudly exclaims that she made it herself to anyone who asks. Three more cotton shirts… we can’t wait!
Have you used flowers to contact dye a shirt? How did it go? Any tips or tricks? Share below!
Some folks may have strong feelings about this plant. You’ve been warned.
Creeping charlie (Glechoma hederacea) is a fast spreading perennial ground cover in the mint family. According to Wikipedia it is also know poetically as”ground ivy”, “alehoof”, or “run-away-robin”. As anyone who has experienced its growth in their own yard, that last name is particularly apt. I try to have an easygoing relationship with plants in my yard but this one has tested me a little. I try to work with them or utilize them in some way as opposed to scorched earth tactics. Ours is the yard blooming with dandelions and violets… but hey, we can play in it, pick it, and feed it to the chickens and guinea pig without fear. I’ll take that trade.
In the case of creeping charlie, it now grows as sort of a green mulch in between my garden beds. We’ve come to an understanding of sorts. I whack it down now and then with the weed whip and correct it when it (inevitably) starts to creep INTO the raised beds, but otherwise we coexist quite peacefully. I also have decided it smells nice and minty, but milage may vary on this.
I was looking around in the first days of spring for something to try in the dyepot. Creeping charlie gets an early start… basically before the snow even melts. I’d read that mint does some decent dyeing, and then I came across Lil Fish Studios and her blog about dyeing with the plant! Good enough for me.
I picked a little over 2 ounces of greens leaves and stems – either flowering or just about to flower. I used a stainless steel pot to simmer covered in water for 1/2 hour, then let sit for about 5 hours. The most lovely green developed in the pot and I was cautiously optimistic.
I had an old 2 oz skein of Contempo Wool Bulky (Textile Garage Sale find – whooo!) that I’d previously mordanted (but not rinsed) with 10% alum and 5% cream of tartar. That went into the dye pot, simmered (about 175 F) for 1/2 hour, then rested about 6 before removing. I got a nice, light yellow-green, which I of course failed to catch on camera out of the dye bath before rushing on to modifiers.
I stuck one little snip in a baking soda/dye mixture (turned into a light yellow), and draped the rest of the skein into a separate dye bath I’d poured off and combined with a few splashes of iron water. Fifteen minutes later the yarn had turned a lovely olive green. Less of a gradient showed up than I was expecting, but it still looked really nice.
Hanging to dry – undyed skein on the right
I really love the way this skein turned out, and now I’m having THOUGHTS about what to do next with this super abundant dye source. I want to try some different types of wool, let some be without modifying, and maybe try some painted roving. Stay tuned for this post!!
Let me know below if you are battling creeping charlie in your yard. Maybe divert some to the dye pot for a more positive experience! Share your results with me – I’d love to see.
As any Midwesterner worth their salt knows, rhubarb is the true sign of spring. Specifically a pie, crisp, or other culinary delight. My family has been blessed by the rhubarb gods – our plants are prolific, massive, and darn near impossible to kill. They may or may not have even emigrated to Utah (shhhh).
In the reading I’ve been doing recently about natural and plant based dyeing, rhubarb has come up more than once. I’ve read the roots offer orange colors while the leaves can be used as a mordant (seriously, gotta do that nomenclature post), and maybe some green/yellow color? I already knew what to do with the stems.
So. Since we had some company visiting I had to be a little sneaky with my dye obsession. I decided to make a rhubarb crisp (scroll down for my favorite recipe!)… and just happened to toss some leaves into the dye pot. Roots would wait for another day!
I ended up with 13 oz of rhubarb leaves completely effortlessly since they are massive. Remember that the leaves are poisonous if eaten due to their high oxalic acid content (nephrotoxic to people, dogs, etc), so usually these guys end up in the compost bin. Today my leaves got roughly chopped and tossed in the dedicated aluminum dye pot (don’t cook and dye in the same pots kids). I low simmered them for 1/2 hour down in the dye lab while I made crisp* in the kitchen (recipe at the end of the post).
It was a busy day and I didn’t get back to my leaves until the next morning. By that time they were a gloppy, gooey, fragrant mess and the water had taken on a golden glow. Because I am never patient enough, I hadn’t yet prepared a whole bunch of fiber. What I had scoured were 2 ounces of Romney/Blackface blend I’d purchased a pound of from eBay… purely for experimenting with in the dye pot and on the wheel. I’d spun 1 ounce into a 2 ply and the other oz was roving. In went the damp wool, simmered low for 30 minutes, then cooled about 4 hours and out.
I also used a 1/2 tsp of baking soda in about 1.5C of dye water to modify a wisp of roving.
I have to say, the results were… underwhelming. Kind of a murky, dull yellow. And the fiber felt harsh and was well on its way to felting – maybe due to the rhubarb leaves, but more likely due to my beginner’s technique. Too much swishing.**
I may try rhubarb leaves again – more as a mordant/pre-dye before working with other dyes. I bet it would look stellar overdyed with indigo! In the meantime I think I’ll stick to alum.
*My Rhubarb Crisp Recipe:
Crust and Topping:
1 1/4 C oatmeal
1 C brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 C flour (I use whole wheat)
2/3 C soft butter
Mix these 5 ingredients together until crumbly. Press 1/2 mixture into
Mix in bowl and add to pan:
4-5 C rhubarb chopped into 1" pieces
1 1/4 C sugar
1/3 C water
2 Tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp vanilla
Press remaining 1/2 of topping over the filling.
Bake at 350 F for 1 hours or until golden and bubbling in the middle.
Best with ice cream!
**As an aside – several dye books I’ve read say to rotate your goods every 10 minutes in the dye bath. What??? How?? All I would have left would be dryer balls! Speaking of that, I know my next 2 steps: 1. Make dryer balls. 2. Buy some superwash wool!