How I Dye

Thank you, all, for your nice comments. Bev, fruit bags and coffee would work. Coffee works well on vegetable fibres too. It gives a little bit different shade of brown, more dull than a tea, I would say. More towards black. Fruit bags will not dye much, but you may try. I have tried them only on cotton.

I have tried the method India Flint describes in her beautiful and very inspiring book Eco colour (thank you, Fiona, for posting about it on your blog!!). I froze pansies (dark purple) and then, frozen, immersed in the lukewarm water. They released a lot of dye. In one pot I added alum, in another vinegar. She writes that it dyes silk very well, the wool doesn’t take up colour so easily. Here you can see what I achieved. Lovely teal with alum and light purple with vinegar (greyish on wool).

Almost everything will dye, but not all dyestuff is light and washfast. It is a matter of personnal preference and opinion what dyes and mordants (toxic mordants like cooper, chrome… usually increase light and washfastness ) one uses.

Caroline, the food coloring seems to be quite fast. I have used the merino already and it is fwashfast. But I don’t plan to use it in my felt work. I just wanted to try it as I read about it here. The girls will felt it.

I have promised to write more about how I dye with natural dyes, I hope some of you will find it helpful. So here it goes.

I usually have about 500 gr of pure white 19-21 micron merino divided into 50 gr balls to have them ready for dyeing. I dye in the kitchen and  have 3 big old aluminium pots, two plastic bowls and 3 buckets, 2 sieves (+one very patient husband). Except “cooking” the wool in the dye and rinsing it after dyeing, I try to do everything else outside and keep stuff in the shed (presoaked wool, cooked dyestuff, dyed wool…)

Day 1.  I soak the wool overnight. If the wool is not completely wet it will not dye evenly. First I fill the bucket, then immerse the wool gently and put a plate with a stone on the top to keep it in the water. All goes in to the shed.

Day 2. Mordanting wool. I follow instrucitons from sources I wrote about at the end of this post. I only use alum as premordant, usually 8-10 % of the weight of the fibres(8-10 g per 100 g of dry fibre)+ cream of tartar (7 %, the one from groceries) where needed. I feel one of the big pots with water, then add alum and then wet wool. Put it on the hob and veeeery sloowly (to prevent wool to felt), over 2-3 hours rise the temerature to a simmer point (about 90 degrees). I keep a thermometer in the pot and have the gass on the lowest. I simmer the stuff for about an hour. Then switch of and leave to cool in the shed overnight.

On the Day 2 I also cook a dyestuff and leave in the bath overnight.

Day 3. Dyeing. Sometimes I mordant more wool than I actually want to dye. In such case I squeeze the wool gently and put in in a plastic bag in the fridge and use it within 3-5 days. I sieve the dyestuff and put mordanted wool in the dye bath. Both should have the same temperature. I have read that wool starts to felt if changes in temperature are more than 5 degrees. It is not much, you will not feel this difference but can see it on a thermometer.

Again, veeery slowly, rise the temperature to a simmer point (or other recommended temperature – consult books re idividual dyes) and simmer for about 45 minutes. Leave in the dye bath overnight.

Day 4. I like to change colour with washing soda. I dissolved a bit (a teaspoon) in a boiling water, add some cold water, pour in the bowl and immerse dyed wool of the same temperature in this bath. You can see how the colour changes. Once it reaches the point you like, take it out and rinse gently under running water of the same temperature (I can’t stress this enough!), otherwise felting will start and you will have to card your wool afterwards.

I rinse the dyed wool and leave to dry outside, in the shed, in the bathroom – depending on the weather. And that’s about it.  I know that it can seem to be a lengthly process and it probably is, but an actual work required is not time consuming. It is more about management than standing at the hob.

And – I have finally finished dyeing with brazilwood. I had 100 g and dyed 5 times altogether, haven’t weighed yet but it must be around 600 or even more grams of merino. This is the 4th and the 5th extract (this all after washing soda dip). Well, I mean I don’t have any dyebath but still the chips. I froze them as I am sure there is still a dye. I just don’t want to “think pink” anymore.



  1. ooh thanks for the info, it’s great that you use more chemical friendly things and I love the fact I could just open my kitchen cupboard and find things to die with.

  2. hello!

    from the colour of your ice-flower dye samples i suspect that your reticulated water supply contains a few chemical additives..both chlorinated and fluoridated supplies tend to “eat” the colour from pansies.
    the rainwater i use at home gives brilliant ultramarine blues from pansies on silk…using just a tiny pinch of alum to 4 litres of water and a sockful of pansies .

    oddly it also seems to work on superfine merino wool jersey, i think because the jersey has been so heavily treated with chemicals in the processing that it no longer behaves like wool at all!
    best wishes

  3. I appreciate your kindness in providing such interesting and comprehensive tutorials, I personally feel wonderful.
    In Latin America lack information on this path and I have a facebook by which to help those who wish to learn this ancient technique is felt. In this I have shared your facebook page and I hope that you know and admire many like me.

    I would like you to translate your notes authorized for those who do not know English, respecting the source of authorship is you.
    Greetings from New Zealand, for a wonderful job.

    Best regards

  4. Dear Monika, you wrote ’10 g dissolved in 100 ml boiling water, 100 ml per 100 g of wool’. If want to dye my new nunofelted dress (around 200 gr), I have to use 200 ml of water, but it is not enough to cover my dress while pre-mordanting. Or I got something wrong? Thank you so much for sharing, we’ve got so many interesting plants here in Cyprus and I’d love to try. I used carob pods already and it is giving beautiful rose/brown color.

  5. Tatiana, I will correct it to simplify the numbers. I use 8-10 g of alum per 100 g of fibres. If you need to dye cca 200 g dress then you will need to dissolve 16-20 g of alum in a small amount of boiling water and then add to the pot where you are going to do mordanting. Fill the pot with the sufficient water to cover the dress and so that it can move freely. Hope this helps.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s