Experiments in Dyeing Wool With Plants

dyeing wool with plants

Hi friends! Since I can’t seem to decide what this blog is about, I thought it would be fun to share my recent adventures in natural dyeing!

As regular readers know, I’ve been knitting and crocheting for four years now. That’s what got me interested in fibre arts. When I stumbled upon a blog post where someone used goldenrod (which grows plentifully in our neighbourhood) to dye fabric, I thought it would be fun to try dyeing some wool yarn with plants. I already had some undyed wool in my stash I could try it on.

So I did what I always do in such situations: I took a book on the subject out of the library.

harvesting color book

This is Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dye by Rebecca Burgess, and it is perfect. I learned all about mordants and afterbaths. She has recipes for all kinds of wild plant dyes from all over North America, organized by season.

Flipping through the book, I was thrilled to discover that you can make natural dyes from a number of plants that grow naturally in the waste spaces around our neighbourhood, and that I was currently in the perfect season (September) to harvest several of them. I decided to try three of them: goldenrod, staghorn sumac, and pokeberry (pokeweed).

Going for walks to harvest plants with Lydia was a lot of fun: she felt so proud as she tried to find the best flowers and berries for the job. And what could possibly feel more wholesome than taking a barefoot walk down a nature trail and filling a woven basket with local wildflowers to dye your own wool? Nothing, that’s what.

Note: I won’t go into too much detail about how exactly I did all this. I highly recommend checking out the above book. I just wanted to share briefly, with the hopes that it might inspire you to try something interesting and new, too!

(I did all of these very slowly, one at a time, over the course of several weeks. They often involved soaking overnight. But I’m cramming them all together in this post.)

So first, we gathered:

Goldenrod:

goldenrod

Staghorn sumac cones:

sumac

pokeberries:

pokeberries

Then I made the dyes!

All of these plants required slightly different treatments, though they all involved simmering the plant matter in water for a few hours, straining, and then simmering the yarn in the dye for an hour or two. Most, I allowed to cool and soak overnight as well.

goldenrod dye(goldenrod dye)

pokeberry dye(pokeberry dye)

Then I squeezed out the liquid, rinsed, and hung them out to dry.

goldenrod hanging

In every case, I was surprised by the final colour: none of them quite matched the colour of the original plant matter.

natural plant dyes - goldenrod, sumac, pokeberry

Here’s a closer look at each:

The bright goldenrod flowers produced a soft, buttery yellow:

natural goldenrod dye

The red sumac berries/cones produced a golden-bronzy colour:

natural sumac dye

And most surprising of all, the purple pokeberries — which turn bright fushia when crushed — produced a deep scarlet:

homemade pokeberry dye

All in all, I was quite happy with the results. It was a fun learning experience! Next year I would use more goldenrod flowers, with the hopes that I could get a brighter colour.

Have you ever tried dyeing with plants? What should I try next?

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Comments

  1. PepperReed says:

    Ever since I saw your Instagram, I’ve been looking at the masses of pokeberry around the yard and planning! Beautiful job!

  2. We used hollyhock to color soaps. Deep black ones, turned the soap a sweet pink.

  3. Hey just wondering if any of your recipes required alum? Was looking into a dying project for my massive crop of marigolds and it recommended alum on several websites for a pre- boil of the fabric before dying. Any idea what is the purpose? Probably a dumb question but I’ve never used alum for anything and am not sure exactly what it is.

    • Hi Amy! Only the goldenrod recipe called for an alum premordant. (The sumac needed none, and the pokeberry needed a vinegar mordant). From what I understand/remember, the mordant helps the dye penetrate the fibre, making the colour brighter and longer-lasting. I think it still works without it, but the results might not be as good. (I think I did my alum mordant wrong and that’s why my goldenrod didn’t turn out very vibrant). Alum is a white crystal that looks like salt; it’s frequently used in pickling. I found it for cheap from a bulk foods store; you might be able to find it in the grocery store wherever you would find pickling supplies.

      Good luck! Marigolds seem to create a lovely dye.

  4. I just wanted to respond to your comments about your blog being scattered and feeling like you don’t really have a focus. I found your blog years ago when I was considering going “no poo” on my hair. Since then I have been following along with the life that you decided to share with us. Your fertility, your sons birth and extensive hospitalization and health concerns, favorite books and movies, bread baking and ponderings on faith. And I love that you are vulnerable and brave enough to let me in on all of that. I am an ICU nurse, I was raised in an intense, conservative religion, I’m a mother and a big time barefooted hippie, and even if your writing jumps topics.. It resonates with me and I am happy that you have kept blogging.

    So anyways, just thank you

    • Thank you, Rebecca! <3 It does seem like blogs have more success when they are able to focus on a certain set of topics. But my current range seems more authentic, so I'm sticking with it for now. :)

  5. These are so beautiful! I have a giant pokeberry plant growing in my side yard, so I need to find something to dye with it. I’ll look up how to make ink… that sounds fun!

  6. The red that came from the pokeberries is CRAZYTOWN. I would never have guessed that was a “natural” color. How cool!

  7. these colours are gorgeous!
    Despite the topic-hopping, I think the commonality in most your posts is learning and getting back to nature. I love the honesty and openness of your blog. I love your approach which seems the same whatever you’re talking about which means even if I don’t do fibre arts myself, I still enjoy reading about your experience.
    BN recently posted..Local Hero: Rebuild BuryMy Profile

    • THank you, BN! I hope there’s at least some kind of common thread running through my posts, even if I don’t really know what it is myself and it’s not obvious at first glance. :)

  8. Beautiful colors! Love the sumac especially

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