This past weekend, my 6 year old daughter Ella and I participated in a natural dyeing workshop taught by my friend and neighbor, Julia. I’ve dabbled in natural dyeing before, but have never gone through the entire process from beginning to end, including using pre-mordants. My experience had been limited to using white vinegar as a mordant. I’m excited to share with you what I learned, keeping in mind that I am an enthusiastic novice!
Natural Dyeing with Plants
1) Weighing the Fabric: First, we weighed the fabric that each participant brought to dye, breaking it up into two classes: protein-based fibers such as wool and silk, and plant-based fibers such as linen and cotton.
2) Pre-Wash: Next, our fire-master Mike (also my neighbor), helped pre-wash the fibers. Again, they were separated into protein-and plant-based fibers.
(Man does that community collection of Rocket Stoves sure come in handy for an outdoor Natural Dyeing class! We had six going at a time!)
3) Pre-Mordant: After the pre-wash, we measured out appropriate amounts of the pre-mordant, Alum. The mordant helps the dye adhere to the fibers, and helps create an end product that is color- and light-fast. The fibers simmered in the mordant for one hour.
4) Into the Dye Pots! Next, it was time to add our fabric to the dye pots! Julia had pre-prepared six dyes made from plants on her homestead, and in the neighborhood. I helped her gather goldenrod, and was able to gather a very large bag-full just by strolling along our pasture path with clippers in hand!
The plants that we used, and the color they created were:
- Pokeberry – Bright Pink (Note: Pokeberries are toxic to ingest, so keep a close eye on children)
- Goldenrod – Bright Yellow
- Bidens (Tickseed Coreopsis) – Orange
- Wild Sunflower – Yellow Orange
- Comfrey – Greenish Yellow
- Black Walnut Hull – Brown
5) Wash and Rinse: After an hour of simmering in color, we removed the fibers from the dye pots, washed them with a bit of mild soap, then rinsed them thoroughly.
6) Dry and Admire!
A previously white shirt, turned brilliant orange in the Bidens dye.
We came home with an assortment of silk chiffon and silk crepe de chine play scarves. From left to right, the colors were created with Comfrey, Bidens, Goldenrod, Wild Sunflower, Comfrey, and Black Walnut.
This may be my favorite image from the class – a gorgeous collection of wool fibers that a friend dyed. The wool took up the color so brilliantly.
Ella and I dyed some wool in anticipation of her learning to knit in a few weeks! The front yarns were dyed with Pokeberry, and the skein in the rear with Black Walnut. Black walnut is an incredibly versatile colorant that can even be used to make a DIY ink!
We all went home with sample swatches of different fibers – wool, silk crepe de chine, raw silk, cotton, and jersey. It was so fascinating to see how differently each fiber absorbed the color. For instance, the Pokeberry dye resulted in a gorgeous and intense pink color on wool, but on silk was a very pale pink. My friend Janet at Timber Creek Farm has written a great post on Pokeberry dye for wool and yarns.
7) Learn more!
A few books that I recommended for further reading are:
Have you ever done Natural Dyeing? What was your favorite dye plant?