Dealing with Dye ( The Natural Way)


Last year I collected a variety of plants and roots attempted to dye two skeins of my hand spun yarn. The results were unimpressive. That seems to be that case with natural dying. You work hard finding the plants, gathering the leaves, the flowers and digging up the roots. Saving over a smelly pot of unappetizing stew of leaves and wool only to end up with blah yellows and browns.  There is a true science to dying with plants one I hope to crack.0327171132[1]

In order to learn the mysteries of dyeing, I sought  help from many sources, I checked out some books form my local library, scoured the internet for recipes and techniques watched a few YouTube videos and chatted with fellow natural dyers or Ravelry.  From my research, I recommend reading Wild Color by Jenny Dean, Karen Diadick Casselman. This book has a lot of helpful information as well as a guide of various dye plants.  I used Pinterest to find dying techniques and different plants many of them I’m happy to say are invasive weeds. I enjoyed watching some fun videos on dyeing. You can see them here and here. All in all here is what I have learned about Natural dying.

  1. Expect Nothing

During my research, I came a cross a few websites that told me that I could get a purple out of dandelion roots. excited I vigorously dug up dandelion roots out of my lawn my neighbors lawn and a vacant lot like a crazy person. If you have ever tried to rid your yards of dandelions by digging them up, you know that those suckers are NOT easy to get out. I gathered a pound of these roots and a pound of hand spun wool set up the dye pot after a hour of simmering, this was the result. Needless to say I was pretty up set that I didn’t get purple.  This taught me a valuable lesson. There are so many variables with dying that you really cant know what you will get.


2.Dye a lot of Stuff

When I first started dying I made these tiny little sample skeins of yarn. Some of my dying turned out blah but some turned out great. The only problem was I didn’t have enough to repeat the process to get more of the color and what I did dye wasn’t enough to make any thing. So now I make sure to dye enough wool or yarn to make something.

3. Learn to Love Yellow

Yellows and browns  are the easiest colors to get with dye plants.  I am not a big fan of yellow, however I have learned that Naturally dyed yellows have more life than synthetic dyes.  With so may different varieties of yellow I starting to appreciate it.



OK here is the part you came for. The techniques that I have found to work to get great natural colors.

Turmeric Root


Turmeric is a spice that you can easily get at the grocery store. When used as a dye it gives you a bright yellow.

Supplies needed:

  • Turmeric powder
  • Alum
  • Wool or cotton yarn ( or any natural fibers)
  • A large pot (I used a pot I bought just for dying. If you plan on dyeing with other plants I recommend getting a dye pot)
  • mason jar or glass cup


Fill  your pot half way with warm water. Put in what you plan on dyeing in the pot to soak and set aside.  Measure out two to three table spoons of alum and place it in mason jar. Pour boiling water in to the mason jar and stir until all the alum is dissolved. Add the alum water to your pot stir gently and let sit for an hour.


After your dye stuff as soaked gently squeeze out the water and set aside. Fill pot with clean warm water and add two to three tea spoons of turmeric powder to the pot. Place on stove as set to boil. Once the water boils turn down the heat to simmer, stir and add dye stuff. Allow your dye pot to simmer, checking every few minutes to make sure that water does not boil. This step is especially important for wool.  After an hour has passed, remove from heat and let cool enough you can handle it with out burning your hands.  Rinse in warm water and hang to dry.

 Black Beans


Black beans are an inexpensive way to get blue to gray and green colors naturally.

Supplies needed

  • black beans (1 lb bag)
  •  2 bowls one with lid
  • colander
  • alum
  • dye stuff
  • baking soda ( use if you want Green)

Pour black beans into the large bowl and cover with cold water. Let sit minimum of eight hours. I let my beans soak for about 12 hours.  Prepare your dye stuff using the same method as above.

Carefully strain beans with colander catching the bean water in your bowl with the lid. Your bean water should be a purple blue color if not dump it and start over(Trust Me).  If you want green dye add one to two tea spoons of baking soda to bean water and stir. Let your bean water soak in the bowl with a lid letting the sediment settle to the bottom.   Submerge you dye stuff put on the lid and let set for a minimum of eight hours, carefully rotating your dye stuff for even color. I left mine for twelve hours.  Remove from dye pot and rinse in cold water.  hang up to dry.


There you have it.  My experience so far with natural dyes I plan on experimenting with different plants through out the summer season. I hope this has inspired you to try natural dying. If you do, I would love you see your results.





Weaving landscapes

When I was in school, I wove this piece called Landscape.DSCN3409

This tapestry style wall hanging is eight inches wide and three yards long. I  hand dyed the warp and weft. and used a chevron weave structure to give the illusion of pine trees. Out all my works this is one of my favorite pieces. I love the look of atmosphere that I achieved with this piece.  I have recently been working on making more weavings like this one only on a much smaller scale.

The plan is to weave little landscapes scenes  measuring 14 inches by 11 inches so that they will fit in a standard size frame. I started by winding a white cotton warp and dyed it with a painting technique. Once it was dried I warped my 8 shaft table loom.  For the first weaving I created my own draft that I called hills and valleys.

I then dyed weft threads in a variety of colors.  I have a few pictures for inspiration but most of the tapestry weaving is intuitive.  Here is the first one finished. 0420171130aI was inspired by the plateaus and mesas from my visit to Arizona. This one that I’m still working on is inspired from paintings and photos of rivers and streams. 0420171127a

I still have a lot of warp to play with and I intend to make five more of these experimenting with weave structures and weft colors.

Playing With Paint

I have recently set down my knitting needles and shuttles and picked up a paint brush. I’ve been inspired by images of watercolors that a customer brought in to be framed, so I decided to try to paint again.

Before I discovered the wonderful world of fiber, I used to be a half decent painter. In High school, my work was shown in art shows and even won prizes. I mostly painted with watercolors because they were readily available. In College I took a painting class where I learned how to paint with acrylics.

Instantly I fell in love with this medium. Acrylics are very forgiving, if you make a mistake just simply paint it over.  Watercolor is not as forgiving as acrylic, but I have found that less is more when it comes to watercolor. It takes less paint than acrylic, blending colors together is easier and if I am careful I can get the “glow” of the paper through my painting. Watercolor has to be painted in layers to achieve an atmospheric affect.

0327170842b  Painting is a nice break from my textile work and has given me ideas for my weavings.  I am experimenting with painting my weavings with my newly learned water color techniques.

Orenburg Lace

I enjoy lace knitting as can be seen by my wide variety of shawls. I am a self taught lace knitter and I was fortunate enough to take a workshop on how to knit Orenburg lace from Galina Khmeleva.  Galina is an accomplished knitter, owner of Skanska Designs and accomplished author of two books. Gossamer Webs: The History and Techniques of Orenburg Lace Shawls and Gossamer Webs: The Design Collection. Her work has been published in Spin-Off Knitter’s and Piecework Magazine. She helped knitters of Russia develop a cottage industry selling their delicate lace shawls to the United States.  Today she is concentrating on passing on the traditions and techniques of Orenburg lace to new knitters.  0319171551

With a thick Russian accent and a great sense of humor she shows how to knit edging, turn corners the Orenburg way and the history of Russian lace.  I learned how to properly slip stitches.  For the longest time I’ve been slipping stitching wrong and it has made picking stitches up very difficult. Now that I know how to do it right picking up stitches is a breeze. I enjoyed hearing Galina’s stories about misconceptions do to confusion in translations from Russian to English. For the longest time Americans thought that women in Russia knit with bicycle spokes because the word for Knitting needle is the same as the word for Bicycle spokes. This is because the factories that would assemble bikes also made knitting needles.  The idea that little Old Russian grandmas were stealing bike spokes in order to get a new pair of knitting needles is very entertaining.  Bike spokes do make perfect needles for lace knitting because they are about the size and number one needles and the yarn used to knit these shawls is almost as thin as sewing thread.


Orenburg shawls are all done in the knit stitch, there are four basic stitch elements and are knit with fine luxury fibers spun so thin that the finished shawl can easily be pulled through a wedding ring.  I’m working on finishing my sample and thinking about designs that I can make using the Orenburg techniques.

Ready set Ret!

With this year’s flax up and growing, I can now focus on processing last years harvest.  First I need to remove all the leaves flowers and seed pods from the stems of the flax plants. For this I will use a plastic hair pick. After laying down a sheet to catch all the seeds, I gently brush the flax stocks threw the pick until all the leaves and seeds are removed. Brush it until its bald.  DSCN4097DSCN4104

now that I have this hand full of dried flax ready to go it’s time to ret!

The flax fibers are covered in a “plant glue” that while the plant was alive, helped bring nutrients to leaves and flowers as well as help hold the plants structure. In order to loosen this “plant glue”, the flax needs to be soaked in water so that mold can break up the glue and free the bast fibers.

Flax farmers have two methods to ret Flax. The first is called dew retting. For dew retting the flax is left out in the field so that the moisture from the ground will collect on the dried plants and encourage the mold. the plants are also flipped and rotated every couple of days. Dew retting takes two to three weeks to break down the glue. a Faster method to ret flax fibers is to soak the stocks in a pond. The Water retting method takes about five days to a week to break up the plant glue.  the farmer submerges the flax under the water using weights. Just like the dew retting, the flax needs to be flipped and rotated to get even coverage.  when retting my flax I decided to use the water retting method.

I recently found a pond liner in the alley way near my house. After checking that there weren’t any leaks or cracks I set it into the ground by my back porch. I filled it with water and wahla flax retting pond!DSCN4108

To make sure my flax stayed together while soaking, I used some cotton string I had lying around to tie the stocks together like so.  then I found a nice big river rock for my weight and dropped it on top. “down she goes!”


I waited and rotated the flax until about six days had come and gone. I pulled it out of the pond and left it in the sun to dry. here is the result.


I can definitely feel a difference between the pre retted stock and post retted stock. It is no longer green and has a soft tender feel to it. I can even peel some of the outer layers off with my fingers.

With the retting done I now need to break the flax to free the fibers from the old “plant glue”.

Flax day Friday


Year two


Last summer I experimented with growing my own fiber plants. I grew cotton and Flax then documented my process here. I learned a lot from this experience and plan on using what I have learned this year to increase my yields.

Here is what I learned from last year

Start on time or early

Last year I started really late even for the Colorado growing season which meant that my plants had a late start and they weren’t too happy about the hot summer days. The cotton didn’t mind the heat because this plant is a warm climate plant used to long growing seasons.  However because our season is so short, I had to bring my cotton to a green house to let it finish growing.  This year I planted all my seeds right after mother’s day.

By more seeds than you need


Flax is a plant with a very small footprint. You need a lot of flax plants to get enough fiber to spin, which means you need to buy lots of seeds. Last year I bought a pound of seeds and sowed a three by five plot. All of the flax plants were very spread out and were in competition with weeds. This year I have smaller plot and I am mixing my flax seeds with some that I found at my local health food store to fill in the gaps that my fiber flax seeds don’t fill.

Don’t forget to weed


Weeds were a big problem with my flax plot last year. I had a hard time keeping bindweed from attacking my flax. To fix this problem, this year I have increased the amount of seeds that I will be sowing and will try mulching with straw.

With the successes I had with the cotton plants I have planted more of them in pots and all around my yard. Our season might be too short to allow for the plants that are out of pots to produce but who knows, I might be pleasantly surprised. I can’t wait to see what new things I will learn this year.

Dyeing with Dock


The farm where I volunteer has problems with a weed called Curly Dock. Curly dock is a tall plant that has broad green leaves that curl along the edges. When you dig up this plant, you find a long golden color tap root. This plant is poisonous to goats and sheep therefore using them as a weed removal system isn’t the best idea.  It is fairly difficult to dig out and very hard to get rid of.  With that knowledge, I decided to see if we can turn a pesky plant into something useful.

After a short visit to my local library I found a natural dye book called Wild Color by Jenny Dean. I scanned through the pages to find our problem plant. Curled dock (as it’s called in the book) has many dying uses and makes a variety of shades. The leaves when picked in summer make a dark green dye and the roots create beautiful golds and browns.

I decided to give this dye a try, so I went out after a particularly rainy week and dug up a section of weeds. In less than an hour I managed to fill a feed bag with the roots. This sadly didn’t even make a dent in the dock population. I brought home the roots, scrubbed off all the dirt and cut the roots into pieces.  I was surprised at how beautiful the tap roots are.


Once I had a small bucket full of cut roots, I put them into a large pot. I added water and a skein of wool yarn and a piece of felt, then put the pot on the stove on medium to high heat.  Dyeing takes time so I left the pot alone and went off to do something else. I will warn you readers, cooked curly dock does NOT smell good. I had to air out my house to get rid of the bitter smell. In the future I will use this particular dye plant outside.

After about forty five minutes I checked the pot. Here is what it looked like.


I turned off the heat and left the pot to cool. After about a half an hour I pulled out my newly dyed yarn and felt and dumped the spent roots into my compost. Here are the dried results.


I love how gold the color is. The Wild Color book shows the roots dying fiber a dark muddy brown. I managed to dye my felt in a range if color from the bright yellow to the darker browns.  I found this plant easy to use for dying so I plan on using it in my Barn to Yarn class.

My Dyeing procedure:

Step 1: Harvest clean and cut up curly dock roots

Step 2: Soak fiber in a pot of warm water until saturated then add to cut up roots

Step 3: Place pot on medium to high heat. If dying fleece or roving do not let it boil.

Step 4: Check dye after 45 minutes for desired color. Remove pot from heat.

Step 5: Once mixture has cooled, remove fiber, dispose of spent dyestuff, and rinse fiber until water runs clear.

Step 6:  Hang to dry and enjoy.