I recently gave a demonstration on naturally dyeing homestead wool, during a gathering of homesteaders. You can completely change the look of your yarn in an afternoon. Choose the fleece or yarn you wish to dye, gather your raw materials, a few tools of the trade and simple, safe ingredients. The conference attendees were very interested in all aspects of self sufficient living and I was happy to see so many people interested in making natural dyes from plant sources. During the course of the day, I shared three different, easily obtained dye sources. Naturally dyeing homestead wool is an achievable goal, for small flock owners.
Tools Used When Naturally Dyeing Homestead Wool
The tools needed for setting up dye baths, and mordant soaks are simple pots and pans. However, it is safer to obtain a set of used pots that can be designated for dye work. Most plants that yield dye are considered non-toxic. But why take that chance. Second hand shops, charity stores, flea markets and yard sales are good places to pick up some stainless steel pots and inexpensive tongs and strainers.
A kitchen scale is helpful when precise measuring is needed. Weighing your fiber gives you the information you need to calculate the amount of dye stuff needed, for a certain color or intensity of color.
Basic safety equipment, of goggles, dust mask, disposable gloves are good to have. Sometimes, the plant will give off fumes or dust that irritates your respiratory track, as you are working with it.
A hot plate burner or outdoor propane stove keeps the fumes out of your house. I found that an inexpensive single burner, electric hot plate was easier to regulate the heat than making dye on my kitchen stove.
Drop cloths, or newspaper, are handy for keeping the mess to a minimum.
Ph strips give you an idea of which mordants and modifiers might help you reach your desired color.
Mordants and Modifiers
Before you begin dyeing your yarn or raw wool, you will need to soak it in a mordant solution. Simmering the yarn in the pre-mordant bath for approximately 30 minutes, prepares the yarn to accept the dye. Most of the time I pre-mordant a few skeins at a time, using vinegar in the water. Alum is another choice for the mordant and can be used as a pre-mordant. It is commonly found with canning supplies or ordered from a company that sells dye material. (alum is potassium aluminum sulfate)
After soaking the yarn or fiber in the pre-mordant bath, you can hang it to dry, lay it on a towel or go on to the dye phase. If you dry the yarn to use another day, re-wet the yarn before dyeing. You do not have to pre-mordant again.
Mordants help the dye and the fiber communicate. Without a mordant in the dye bath, the fiber may not take up as much color as it could. The mordant helps the fiber be receptive. Some dyes have a lot of naturally occurring mordant activity. Black walnut is high in tannin so you can leave out additional mordant when using this dye.
Alum, Iron, Sumac, Tannins, and Rhubarb leaves are commonly used mordants. Be sure to dispose of the material in a safe manner, away from pets and children, after use.
This is the fun and wow time of naturally dyeing homestead wool. Each substance added to the dye pot will change the intensity or change the color of the dyed wool. Vinegar will brighten some colors, and washing soda can completely change the color! Other choices of modifiers are iron, and wood ash.
Before you begin using mordants and modifiers, have a notebook and pen ready. You might think you will remember the additions you made but it’s likely you won’t. Taking good notes as you proceed gives you a better chance of recreating a color that you love.
Common Dye Materials
Many green weeds can yield soft pretty colors too. The journey is fun. Research the use of different plants used in naturally dyeing homestead wool. Try out the ones that are easy for you to obtain first. Often, I will see something growing in the woods, and wonder if it could be used for making dye. Surprisingly, a number of interesting plants have been tested by others to see if they yield a lasting dye.
Two Page Printout from the Conference
Feel free to print out the following information from my presentation. After you are comfortable with the basic dye procedure, branch out and find some interesting combinations of your own. I hope you agree that naturally dyeing homestead wool opens up a whole new level of creativity.
Naturally Dyeing Homestead Wool Printout
Print out the two page handout by clicking the link or the picture below.