Natural dyeing summer 2019

Naturally plant dyed sock yarns in shades of yellow, tan, brown and salmon pink

I’m passionate about using natural dyes and spend quite a bit of time experimenting with extracts made from local plants. These can come from my own garden (flowers, leaves and stems of goldenrod, robinia, eucalyptus and birch), from my kitchen (avocado stones, spinach, carrot tops, tea and onion skins) or from the local countryside (elderberries and nettles).

I dye on ethically produced yarn bases that are processed and spun in the UK. Find out more about what ethically produced actually means…

Onion skin dyed crochet motifs
I made a few crochet flowers using some yarns dyed with onion skins last year

So far I’ve not tried dyeing using commercially prepared extracts but I might think about this over winter, when most of my fresh supplies won’t be available. I’ve been very inspired by Maria of Ninja Chickens, who has been putting up videos about indigo dyeing on her new Patreon space. I’d love to dye with indigo, so I’ll have to see if I can grow some indigo plants next year.

Want to know more about natural dyeing?

There are many resources out there but if you want to look back at the podcasts that focus on natural dyeing and some of my other blog posts that have listed resources you can start here:

  • Episode 75: a special podcast showing how I dyed up the August sock club with all natural dyes
  • Episode 52: a special podcast all about starting out with natural dyeing
  • A blog post about Dyeing with onion skins
  • Episode 63 which includes some information about a naturally dyed yarn I made with a plant stew dye pot – and used it to make a hat
A simple crochet hat made with naturally dyed Corriedale DK

Natural dyeing uses loads of plant material

Probably an equal weight of plant material to wool, or even more. Which means its difficult to dye more than one or two skeins at a time, even if you start with a big dyepot full of plant material.

I tend to do an extract and dye up a couple of skeins now and again and make notes about the plant and quantities used, how I prepared the extract, how I dyed with it and photographs of the end result. I then tend to put them together in the shop area in my studio and admire them but I realised a couple of weeks ago that I have enough of a collection to list them on Etsy. This weekend I finally managed to get the photographs processed and do the listings.

You can find them all grouped together in the Naturally Dyed section of my Etsy shop.

I have one or two skeins in each of these colourways – which do look pretty impressive when they are next to each other like this…

Naturally plant dyed sock yarns in shades of yellow, tan, brown and salmon pink
Naturally plant dyed sock yarns in shades of yellow, tan, brown and salmon pink

Natural dyes from whole plants do tend to produce yellows, tans, browns, salmon pinks and all shades in between. The skeins above are dyed with (from left to right) goldenrod flowers and leaves using an eco printing technique; all my daffodils from this year; Robinia leaves and stems; birch leaves and twigs; Yorkshire tea and finally, on the far right, avocado pits and skins.

Naturally plant dyed sock yarns in shades of yellow, tan, brown and salmon pink

The extraction process involves putting the plant materials into a big pot with a lot of water and then soaking, heating, boiling, steeping, reheating and then straining. The results can vary quite a lot with how you do this and finding out the best method for each plant takes a lot of experimentation.

To give you an example, the skein shown here that I dyed with birch leaves and twigs is a very deep tan/gold. The extract was obtained by boiling the birch leaves and twigs twice, for about an hour each time. When I dyed up the August sock club, I prepared the birch extract by bringing the pot up to simmering point and then steeping – no prolonged boiling. The difference was amazing. Instead of tan/gold, the minis I dyed were bright golden yellow!

Similarly, I’ve found that avocado pits dye a much deeper, stronger colour when I add a couple of skins to the extract while the pits are heating up. And I’ve found its best to really boil avocado stones and skins – no gentle simmering with these toughies – to get the strongest colour.

Naturally plant dyed sock yarns in shades of yellow, tan, brown and salmon pink
Naturally plant dyed sock yarns in shades of yellow, tan, brown and salmon pink

Delicate elderberry colourways

When I’d finished dyeing my August sock club, I had some elderberry extract left, but it was quite dilute. Natural dye extracts don’t really exhaust. That means the dye doesn’t disappear completely into the wool, the dye water that is left always has some pigment left in it. But each time you dye in the bath, the extract gets weaker, and the colour more delicate.

I really love the way elderberry extracts give a beautiful pale pink and grey when they reach this stage and I couldn’t resist dyeing some of the Wensleydale DK and some of my non-superwash Corriepol sock yarn to see what happened. The results are fabulous and I am sorely tempted to keep at least one of these for myself!

The first photo below shows the sock yarn…

Naturally dyed sock yarn pale pink pale grey
Sock yarn naturally dyed with elderberries

And this one is the Wensleydale DK…

Naturally dyed Wensleydale DK dyed with elderberries pale pink pale grey
Naturally dyed Wensleydale DK

They are both so pretty… and so vintage. Because they are dyed half and half in different ph conditions, the colours differ but blend together beautifully.

Solar dyed mini skeins

These three delicate 20g minis were dyed with birch leaves and dandelions in a glass jar on a hot couple of days earlier in the summer. There are only three of them and they are available at a little bit of a bargain price.

Eucalyptus shawl set

As is this shawl set… its 300g of Bluefaced Leicester non-superwash fingering dyed as a gradient set using Eucalyptus leaves and stems. I only ever bought 10 skeins of this base; the hank size is a bit small to be able to twist up to take good photos, so I decided not to get any more, hence the bargain price. The wool itself is gorgeous – quite woolly but soft – and each skein has 400 metres of fingering weight yarn. Its pure wool, no nylon, so better for a shawl if you want something natural and neutral.

If you are keen to get some naturally dyed yarns, you might also want to look out for the reveal of the final colourway for the August sock club later in the month.

See you soon with the next podcast episode xxx Kathryn xxx

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