Natural Dyeing

It’s amazing how productive you can be during a period of unemployment.  In fact I’m busier now than when I was on the job!

While organizing my sewing/weaving studio and going through all my supplies, I happened upon the last bits of a natural dye kit I bought from Carolina Homespun years ago.  There were small bags of about 4 different dried dye plants, mordants, some plastic mesh bags and a number of other goodies. In addition, a check of my freezer revealed frozen avocado dye (from the pits and skins). I started with the avocado.

I’ve heard mixed reviews of results with avocado.  After an alum mordant and a couple of days in the dyepot, now I know why.  It turned into a lovely shade of puke.

I certainly couldn’t leave it like that! So the madder root called to me. “Send me your tired, your poor fiber yearning to be free. I will give you beautiful shades of red!”

That’s more like it.  I dyed half the fiber (in plastic mesh to keep it from felting) with an alum mordant and then another round of fiber mordanted with iron (never tried that before).  Madder just gave it’s heart out for me. I soaked each round in a cool dyebath for 2-days because Wild Color by Jenny Dean says it gives the clearest shades.

I saved the final batch of fiber for a plant I had heard about in my guild.  It’s a weed around here called Queen Anne’s Lace or wild carrot.  When my husband and I were working out at our local fitness center, we spotted a patch of it out the window.  The director gave us some scissors and a bag and we gathered about a pound of the stuff.  She thought we were crazy. I cooked it up the next day and plunged the fiber into a hot bath for a couple of hours.

It turned a crazy wonderful greenish yellow color. I was thrilled.

All this natural dyeing doesn’t take very long and it’s pretty relaxing too.  I sit by the dyepot reading or get along with my other work while it sits happily turning colors.  Here’s the results.

From left to right: iron mordant-madder dye; alum mordant-madder dye; alum mordant-Queen Anne’s Lace.

So now I need to spin it up for a weaving project and I think I’ll use some yarn from the Indigo workshop to go along with it.  Plus, since the job market is still looking pretty bad, I’m sure I’ll have time to use the last of the dyes from the kit- brazilwood, osage, and the roots of an old barberry plant we dug up and dried years ago.  I’ll keep you posted.



I’ve had quite a summer of natural dyeing.  In June, Nancy Zeller of Long Ridge Farm in New Hampshire conducted a 2-day workshop for my guild on Indigo Dyeing.  It was wonderful!

First she brought samples of indigo dyed textiles.

Then we got to work creating our vats. Nancy inspected Karen and Betsy’s vat to make sure it had the proper pH, temperature, and low oxidation.

My partner Amanda, a biology professor (lucky me) and I had a great time working together at the workshop. She was very adept at using pH paper and understanding the reading.

Before the workshop, I took some cotton gauze fabric and shibori stitched it all over.  I got some great results after I dyed it in indigo and then after removing the stitching, dipped it in a woad vat (another blue dye we got to play with).  I was pleased.

Indigo was magic.  I came home with enough of a vat to reinvigorate it and dye some more.  In the meantime, I spent this last weekend experimenting with the lovely yellow dyes of Queen Anne’s lace.  More about that in the next post.

Each issue of Vav Maganiset has some kind of inspiration for me.  There is always something interesting to discover but it’s best read during a quiet period in the house with no interruptions.

The recent issue had an article called Dyes from the Natural World featuring Jeanette Scharing, an artist and teacher of natural dyeing techniques.  She is dedicated to extracting dyes slowly from all kinds of natural sources.  One of the pictures referenced dyes being extracted from avocado pits.  It was then that I remembered cutting up numerous avocado pits for a dye day event last summer that I never attended.  I dried the pits and the skins and stored them away.

I got them out last night and took an inventory.

From left to right are the dried skins, old dried chopped pits in the back, and the chopped pit of an avocado I used this week in a recipe.  When you first chop the pits they are a cream color, but a short time after they are exposed to the air, they turn a lovely orange.

After I weighed each of the dyestuff, I placed them in separate jars and poured hot water over them.

I’ll probably leave them like this for a week, simmering them on the stove from time to time.  The pits get very hard and need a long time to release color.  The skins on the other hand might be ready quite soon.

Then, I’ll take out my book “Wild Color” by Jenny Dean (a new edition will be released in November) and try a few different fibers to round out the experiment.  In the meantime, I think this looks lovely on my windowsill.