Experiments with natural dyeing

September – November 2015

In September I started to collect natural materials (bark, leaves, twigs, berries) and experiment with dyeing commercially spun yarn and merino fleece, and some fabric.

I had been on a couple of courses in the summer and wanted to consolidate my learning and extend my knowledge through practical work. Being autumn, there were time constrains (collecting dye-plants is seasonal).

Over the last three months I have does a lot of dyeing, resulting in a “library” of commercially dyed yarn for reference (see below)


I have also dyed fleece and then spun it into both plain yarn and fancy textured yarns. Below are some examples:



Above: cherry twigs

Above: hand-dyed yarns and merino tops


Above: I plied some coarse Teesdale yarn dyed with silver birch leaves with some rather bland naturally dyed handspun to make this lovely textured yarn.

Above: Naturally dyed fleece spun and spiral plied, then wrap-plied with commercially dyed mohair.

Examples of the dye-plants I have used are:

  1. Bark – oak, silver birch, sweet chestnut, cherry (twigs)
  2. Leaves – silver birch, cherry, eucalyptus, ivy
  3. Twigs, leaves and berries – Hawthorn
  4. Walnut husks

I have also experimented with: soaking bark in cold water before using as a dyestuff, no mordants, dying in a copper pot (i.e. using the pot as a mordant/modifier), alum mordant and iron mordant (colour modifier).


Above: Fibres in natural dye bath (copper pot).

The only preparation that I made on the pure wool and fleece was to soak in warm water for a few hours before adding to the dye bath to aid colour absorption. 

In addition to wool, I have been very successful at dying pure silk, and have had some success with cotton fabric. 

I have tried preparing the cotton by soaking in soda ash followed by soya milk. In some cases the results were good, in others not. I found that it was not necessary to pre-soak silk fabric. I have kept careful records of my experiments and the resulting samples in a notebook. In general colourfastness has been excellent with the exception of sloe berries (which were a lovely bright purple initially only to fade within a few days to brown).



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