Making colour with natural dyes is an age-old process (until the mid 1800s all colours came from natural sources) and I love the connection with the ancient knowledge and skills that comes from using natural materials to dye fibre.
Many factors influence the colours derived from natural dyeing. From one dye bath to the next results will vary, even from the same part of the same plant – soil, age, time of year and weather conditions all play a role in the outcome – so that each batch of yarn, and even each skein, will be completely unique*.
The first step is to thoroughly scour my yarn skeins to ensure they dye evenly. I’ll scour several at a time by bringing them up to 70-80 degrees for an hour or so in tap water with a little pH netural dishwashing soap. If they’re to be dyed with indigo or a dye material which is ‘substantive’ (i.e. a dye that is applied directly without a mordant) they’re now ready to be dyed after being rinsed. As an example I don’t mordant if I’m dyeing with gallnut. Often though, the next step is to mordant the skeins (usually with a naturally occuring salt – ‘alum’ or potassium aluminium sulphate dodecahydrate) which helps fix the dye to the fibre and increases light, water and wash fastness.
I like to collect as much dye material locally as I can and this includes bramble leaves, heather tops, fallen tree lichen, alder cones and beech mast (and this year I want to try hawthorn twigs and leaves amongst others). Unfortunately I can’t achieve a full colour range struggle with locally collected material and so I also buy natural dyes from respected traceable sources. The exact dye process varies dependent on the dye material but usually involves heat and then soaking for at least several hours. Often I’ll overdye to create more complex shades or add more than one dye material at a time – and if I’m experimanting I’ll keep adding until I’m happy (or otherwise!) with the shade I have achieved.
It is a slow and intensive process but so worthwhile. I hope you will enjoy the beautiful natural colours as much as I do.
*However if you have a special larger project planned I can dye to order to create a larger amount in a particular colour. Please contact me if you have any special dyeing requests and we can work out a custom order.