01 of 03
Dyeing Yarn Naturally
We have always been intrigued by natural dyeing of yarns, though our experience comes from dyeing with Kool-Aid. If you have enough dandelions in your yard, then you should try dyeing with them.
We have a bunch of off-white wool we recycled from a sweater that we like to use for experimental projects like this, so we grabbed a ball, made it back into a hank and got started with our natural dye experiment.
We started more or less following the instructions for dyeing with goldenrod found in Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall's The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing. The book suggests using a mordant, or substance used to fix the dye and make it more water and light-resistant.
The easiest one for me to get our hands on was an alum, which you can find on the spice aisle at many grocery stores. The book suggests using alum in a quantity equal to 8 percent of the weight of the fiber. In our case, we had 30 grams of yarn so we needed about 2.5 grams of alum. That's less than a teaspoon.
To mordant the yarn, fill a pot with water, alum and the yarn. Bring to a boil slowly so as not to felt the yarn, then allow to simmer for 30 to 45 minutes.
Allow the yarn to cool in the pot and either dye immediately or store in a plastic bag so it will stay wet until you dye with it.
Dye Bath Preparation
To make the dye bath, either use the same water you used for the mordanting process or fresh. Add your dandelions―this same method could be used for a variety of natural dyestuffs―bring to a boil and let boil for 2 to 3 hours. Allow to cool completely (the book suggests overnight, which we ended up following) and strain before dyeing.
How many dyestuffs do you need? For goldenrod, the book suggested 100 percent of the weight of the yarn in fresh flowers or 50 percent in dried. We had picked flowers over a week or so and kept them in the refrigerator so they were semi-fresh, and we went ahead and used almost all that we had―70 grams, or more than 200 percent of the weight of the yarn. The yarn did not exhaust the dye, however, so we clearly could have gotten away with less.
The point is that there's a lot you can predict about dyeing with natural materials, and a lot that you can't, so there's probably a wide range in which the amount of dyestuff you have will dye your yarn more or less vividly.Continue to 2 of 3 below.
02 of 03
Dyeing the Yarn
After all that prep work it's finally time to dye the yarn. Put your dye in the pot if it isn't there already and add the yarn.
Bring to a boil slowly and simmer for at least an hour, or as long as you need for the color you want, or until the remaining water is clear. Ours went for about an hour and a half, and we should have taken a picture of it outside of the water because it was a rather disappointing brown color when we decided it had been going long enough.
Allow to cool somewhat in the pot, then drain the excess water and leave the yarn on a towel to dry.Continue to 3 of 3 below.
03 of 03
Finishing and Results
Once your yarn is out of the dye bath, you can give it a rinse with some mild soap until the water runs clear; then you know you have the final color you'll be getting from the yarn.
We were pleasantly surprised that when our yarn dried it was more of a yellow color, though it was still subtle, as you'd expect from a natural dye process.
Once the yarn is dry you can roll it back into a ball if desired and store or use as you would any other kind of yarn.
Natural dyeing, like any dyeing process, takes a lot of time, and unlike with the use of chemical dyes, the results are not always dramatic. But the process is fun and interesting and it will make you feel like you know more about yarn and colors when you've spent some time with some fiber, dyestuffs and a pot or two of water.