Posts in dyeing
Dyeing with Mulberries

Mulberries have become a pretty important harvest here. We have two trees (conveniently right where the berry patch is) that we happily pick from every year. It does take a bit of work to get them. My preferred method has been to spread a sheet over the grass and either shake the branches or pick by hand, dropping the berries to the sheet, then gathering them up. They don’t have the zing a blueberry or raspberry has and the little green stems can make for an interesting texture in your mouth but they are probably my favorite berry here, just behind blueberry. The fact they taste sweet and are a nutritional powerhouse, loaded with vitamin K, C and iron and are free and organic helps their appeal as well, I’m sure. I managed to put over two gallon bags in the freezer as I’m hoping to make a mulberry jelly as well as mulberry cordial. (More on that later.)

But every year, I look with sadness at the berries wasted: way up in the trees, unreachable and eventually falling to the ground, smooshed and dirty. Then I had a clever idea on how to use the “seconds”—the ones that aren’t the best to eat but are still worthy of other uses, like dyeing! I laid a couple tarps down and every morning and every night, over the span of four or five days, I had accumulated enough to feel confident to get a decent color.

Berries, however, are usually what they call “fugitive” dyes, meaning they don’t hold to the fiber and tend to fade or wash away. So I prepared for that possible disappointment in the back of my mind. Although I have been reading up a bit about the science of dyeing, mordants, modifiers, PH and what not, I still like going with my gut. This time I stuck with my familiar route (what can I say? I’m a Taurus) of alum and cream of tartar as a mordant. Then did an after bath with vinegar. Whatever I did, it worked! I will say I used a lot of material in ratio to the fiber so that probably aided in the dark color. I’ll also admit, after I took these photos I realized they aren’t perfectly accurate. It was very hard to capture the color—it’s not so shiny looking, a bit darker and more of a greenish gray with a purple-y brown through it.

Behind the scenes photos here. And this photo shows what the pillowcase I used to strain the berries with looked like a few days and a few heavy rainstorms later.

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Dyeing with Avocado + Dandelions

Last summer, I ventured into the world of natural dyeing. I started off with cheaper yarn and easier dyes like onion skins, black walnuts, beet greens and parsley. After the summer faded, I knew I was hooked on this medium and started planning for the next season. I’ve been stock piling yarn and planting things specifically for dyeing.

I like the idea of focusing on sourcing my dye material locally, using what I’ve grown or foraged for around here*, but occasionally kitchen scraps are too precious to pass up. And after only getting browns and yellows, I’m itching to get some other colors this year. So when avocados (which usually yield a pink hue) came into the house over the last few months, I made sure I saved the skins and pits (storing them in a bag in the freezer.) The pink-from-avocado always stumped me (and most other people) and it wasn’t until I cracked open the pits and saw some orange-y inside did I see how it could happen.

Since I was taking the time and energy to do up the avocado dye, I figured I’d try some dandelions as well. They are dotting the newly lush green lawn and (unsurprisingly) yield yellow. The whole time I was doing this dye job, I realized something about myself as a dyer: I don’t like measuring. I don’t like specifics or technicality. After last season, I told myself I should learn more of the ins-and-outs of how dyeing works, on a scientific level, like PH and reactions and mordant, etc. But I’d rather keep it all simple, intuitive and (surprising for me) a mystery. Some of you have asked if I will start selling hand dyed yarns and honestly, I would love to, especially if I can keep the process as it as it is now: simple, creative and fun. (And I might be looking for testers this year, to give me feedback on quality and whatnot!)

But here are some more specific notes if anyone comes across this post and is looking for a bit of guidance in their own dyeing. Both dyes were 50gm skeins of superwash merino with an alum and cream of tartar mordant. I used the broken pits and ripped up skins of 9 frozen-then-thawed avocados and a bowl full of fresh picked dandelions. I cut back on timing for everything so I might have ended up with richer colors.

*As this little passion grows, I hope to source my yarn and fiber more locally. Then perhaps take a stab at spinning my own yarn to dye. And maybe even raising fiber someday. (Oh, but that is quite the long-term goal…)

Dyeing In Winter

It was as early as August when the walnuts started plunk-plunking to the ground around here. I had grand notions to gather them slowly until I accumulated an impressive amount, enough for a really rich dye bath. But it turns out black walnuts get moldy when you try to store them in humid summer conditions. My dreams of slowly accumulating a large pot full were looking slim. But then a storm came through in September that shook a ton of them from the trees and I was able to forage for and dye my yarn all in one day that resulted in the dark brown I was dreaming of. Shortly after that, I thought, since drying them wasn’t an option for storage, maybe freezing would work?

Last week, when I was rummaging for some broccoli in the barn freezer, I remembered that I had put a bag of 18 black walnuts in there. Since the temperature was forecasted to go above freezing for the first time in what felt like forever, I figured I’d give winter dyeing a try. The snow stopped by mid-morning and I went outside to break up thawed walnuts (with gloves on, of course.) I shoved the pieces into a gallon glass jar and poured hot water over them. When cool enough and well steeped, I strained out the liquid, which I then topped off with a little more hot water. In went a skein of wet worsted weight superwash wool and I let it sit overnight. (The beautiful thing about walnut dye is that you don’t need to mordant the yarn. But based on past attempts the richer brown was when I used alum.)

The next day, after some rinses and soaks, I had this caramel colored beauty. Not surprisingly, dyeing yarn in winter is a much different experience than doing so in summer or fall. But knowing I can keep something like walnuts for a rainy snowy day to feed my urge to dunk a skein of yarn in a dye bath anytime of the year is promising.

(The primroses have nothing to do with the dye process—the windowsill seemed like the perfect sunny spot to photograph the yarn.)

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