Creating custom wool dyes from plants

When it comes to dyeing wool, why not harness the colours available in your own backyard (or park, or florist)? By creating dyebaths from items found in nature, you'll soon have your own custom palette to choose from.

Creating custom wool dyes from plants

Gathering the dye material

Most of the dye materials listed here are commonly available in the wild or can be grown in your garden; others can be purchased. Quantities given will make nine litres (nine quarts) of dye bath, enough for dyeing 250 grams (1/2 pound) of wool. Mordants are indicated in parentheses.

Preparing the dyebath

Simmer for time indicated, remove the dyestuff, and add sufficient water to make nine litres (nine quarts).

Dyeing instructions

  • Unless otherwise noted, start with 250 grams (1/2 pound) of premordanted wool
  • Wet the wool with water
  • Add to the dyebath
  • Heat the bath slowly and simmer the wool for the time indicated
  • Let the bath cool
  • Rinse the wool until rinse water runs clear
  • Dry the wool

Follow these specific amounts and times for best results with the following dye materials.

Fennel (alum)

  • Gather 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) of flower heads
  • Put into pot with water and ­simmer 20 minutes
  • Strain, then add wool and simmer for 20 minutes

Bracken fern (alum)

  • Gather the young fronds (750 grams/1 1/2 pounds
  • Put into pot with water and ­simmer 30 minutes
  • Strain, then add wool and simmer for 30 minutes

Chrysanthemums (iron)

  • Gather 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) of flower heads
  • Put into pot with water and ­simmer 20 minutes
  • Strain, then add wool and ­simmer for 20 minutes

Rose (copper)

  • Gather 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) of leaves
  • Put into pot with water and ­simmer 20 minutes
  • Strain, then add wool and ­simmer for 20 minutes

Wattle, or Acacia baileyana (alum)

  • Gather 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) of leaves
  • Put into pot with water andsimmer 20 minutes
  • Strain, then add wool and simmer 20 minutes

Pittosporum (alum)

  • Gather 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) of leaves
  • Put into pot with water and simmer 30 minutes
  • Strain, then add wool and simmer for 30 minutes

Arum lily (alum)

  • Gather 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) of leaves
  • Put into pot with water and simmer 30 minutes
  • Strain, then add wool and simmer 30 minutes

Coreopsis (alum)

  • Pick 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) flower heads when in full bloom
  • Simmering time: 30 minutes to one hour
  • Strain, then add wool and simmer 30 minutes

Rhododendron (alum and iron sulphate)

  • Gather 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) fresh, green leaves
  • Soak leaves in water overnight, then boil (not simmer) one hour
  • Strain, then add wool and simmer 30 minutes

Note: When using iron sulphate mordant, put two grams (1/2 teaspoon) of it directly into dyebath, then add 250 grams (1/2 pound) wet unmordanted wool.

Marigold (alum)

  • Pick 750 grams (1 1/2 pounds) flower heads when in full bloom
  • Soak flower heads in water overnight, then simmer one hour
  • Strain, then add wool and simmer 30 minutes

Acorn (alum and copper)

  • Gather two kilograms (4 1/2 pounds) nuts that have already ­fallen to ground
  • Soak nuts in water overnight, then boil 2 1/2 hours
  • Strain, then add wool and simmer 1 hour
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