Mom Plays at Dyeing

So, you all know I bought my first fleece this fall and have been bitten by the dyeing bug.  It has been great fun playing with this fleece and dyeing it all sorts of colors.  This is the sum and total of what I’ve done so far, about 90% of the fleece finished:

colors of fleece

The materials I’ve used are:

The yellow on the left is done with onion skin; the yellow on the right is done with Tumeric.

The blue at the middle top is done with black beans.  The blues at the bottom are done with red cabbage and blueberries….and some black bean overdye for some of it.

The big bag of brown is done with black walnuts.  The smaller bags of brown from left to right are sassafras leaves (carded,) 2 shades of sassafras roots, and lily of the valley leaves.

The weird green is tumeric, over-dyed with black beans.

The red and pink are the pokeberries (carded) you saw earlier.  The orange is my wild and daring attempt to mix 2 colors with 2 different mordants: the tumeric, overdyed with leftover pokeberry dye.  I carded that one also, and it blended into a very pretty orange.  We’ll see how it last over the years.

So what did I learn?  Well, for one thing, Rebecca has pretty much all the best colors already…..I have nothing new to add really, except for perhaps the sassafras and the red cabbage.  Sassafras was really fun because the root smells SO NICE even right after you dig it up.  And boiling it in the kitchen is heavenly.  This is what the baby tree looks like:

baby sassafras tree

It’s a weird tree because it has 2 different kinds of leaves growing on the same plant.  It’s not a very pretty mature tree.  We have one, and it throws off babies all over the place.  I dug up the root for my project from a middle size sassafras tree that we decided to cut down because it was growing too close to a pine tree we wanted to keep.  I chopped out some root, and also collected root bits from baby trees.  The directions in my book: “Natural Dyes and Home Dyeing” by Rita J. Adrosko says to use the bark of the sassafras root.  But while the bark has most of the color, even the inner roots give color if you boil them long enough.

pots of colors

Here you can see the sassafras boiling away on the back left burner.   Also happily dyeing are the tumeric, black walnut, and lily of the valley.

Besides the things that were successful, I tried raspberries, red walnut bark, sycamore bark, carrot juice, goldenrod, random blue berries growing in my yard, red dogwood leaves, pine needles, grapefruit skins, and other things I can’t remember.  I boiled most everything.  It was great fun because it made my kitchen smell wonderful…..mostly…..I got some complains on the onion skins and red cabbage.

Speaking of which, the red cabbage was pretty neat too.  It made a lovely steel blue grey.  See it in the picture below:

mostly blue dyes

It is the middle blue on the right.  The upper blue on the right is the red cabbage over-dyed with black beans.  The lower blue on the right is blueberries over-dyed with black beans.  The blue on the left is plain black beans, dyed just like Rebecca described except that I boiled it a bit before letting it soak overnight, and I didn’t know about only using the top portion of the dye.  The red/orange fluff is the tumeric-pokeberry before I carded it.

So basically, I dyed everything except the pokeberries with wool that was mordanted in alum, just like Rebecca explained.  Then with each food or bark or plant I tried, I did 2 steps:

First I simmered the food/bark/plant for 30-60 mins.  and drained off the resultant juice into a jar or pot if it looked like there was some actual color to use.  I strained it through a bit of old panty hose or kitchen strainer.

Secondly I put the mordanted wool in the dye color and simmered it for 30-60 mins.  After that, I let it cool completely.  I did not let it soak overnight because I reasoned that it would not soak up any more color after it had gotten completely cold.

Lastly, I rinsed it and dried it.

mostly warm dyes

Here you can see my warm colors: from left to right-

onion skins, lilly of the valley leaves, sassafras roots, black walnuts, and tumeric.

What am I going to do with it all?  Well I’ve saved the last 10% of my fleece to try the mulberries that come out in the spring because they are supposed to make a royal purple.  I’d also like to try the goldenrod again.  I had picked my goldenrod and put it in the freezer to boil and dye later.  THAT did not work.  The flowers turned brown and the dye was brown.  Do NOT freeze your flowers!

I’d also like to try the red cabbage in fleece that was mordanted in white vinegar….remember your old middle school science project…making litmus paper with red cabbage?

After I’ve finished dying the fleece, I will decide how to spin it.  Maybe try carding some of the colors together.  I think it would be nice to spin just the browns together and make a variegated brown yarn.  Then do the bright colors together for their own brighter variegation.  I dunno.  I’ve got all winter to think about it.



2 thoughts on “Mom Plays at Dyeing

  1. WOW mom that is so fun!!! I had not tried doing turmeric FIRST then black beans; i like that green better than the one I usually get. And the sasafrass is interesting. It is the tree I thought it was! I might have to try the orange now… especially since you said you read somewhere that turmeric doesn’t need a mordant?


  2. I took the time to look up a couple web sites where I got the idea you don’t need a mordant for Tumeric. This one is the best:
    I will try it too since this weekend I’m going to do the big dye with my actual yarn and try to make the 2 1/2 pound batch of semi-solid red. While I’m at it, I’ll try to make the orange with some yarn that is mordanted in vinegar instead of alum.
    So to make the semi-solid, I simply drape some of the yarn out of the pot and let it soak up the dye in a capilary fashion….which will make it lighter than the stuff sitting in the pot? Anything else to know?
    The most recent Vogue I just got this week has about a dozen patterns done with RED yarn!!! I loved it!!!


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