Dyeing Yarn Naturally

As part of The Fleece Project, I will eventually have to dye my wool, that is unless I want a creamy white blanket.

Creamy white is nice, but there are too many beautiful colors out there to leave the entire blanket uncolored so I have started reading and searching the Internet.

What I have found is fascinating!

I have always been interested in history and since I began really connecting with fiber, I have wondered how people in the past have colored their garments. Of course, I knew that they used natural items like berries, but how did they do it? How, indeed, did someone figure out all of this stuff?

The second question is not so easy to answer, but the first has quite a bit of information. In my search for knowledge, I connected with a book called “A Garden to Dye For” by Chris McLaughlin. What a fun book!

McLaughlin writes in an easy style that encourages her readers to give dyeing with natural products a try and, though written with a gardener in mind, there is plenty of information on dyeing for anyone to get started.

I have experience with vegetable gardening, and some success with flowers, so I thought I’d give it a try. My first experiment was with marigolds.


Here is the yarn I started with. On the left is Navajo Churro from fleece that I had purchased at the Taos Wool Festival and had spun myself. In the middle is a worsted weight 100 percent silk skein and on the left is a skein of alpaca and acrylic.


Now acrylic will not take dye very well but I wanted to see how it would interact with the alpaca that will take dye.

The first step is to tie the skeins in three or four places. You’ll want to tie them loosely so that the dye will work its way under the yarn. It also helps to tie it with colored yarn so that you can find it easily. After weighing my dry skeins, I washed them in a pot of  water that I had heated to 150 degrees. This is at a simmer, not a boil. I washed them with a Ph-neutral soap. In this case I used some shampoo that I had bought at a health food store.

After scouring, or washing, the yarn for about an hour, I rinsed the yarn and placed it in another pot of simmering water along with my mordant.

A mordant is a substance that opens up wet fiber so that it can accept dye. For my yarn, I used a mixture of alum and cream of tartar that McLaughlin uses in her book.  I mixed this with some warm water and poured it into my simmering pot along with the yarn and pushed on the fiber with a spoon so that the alum/cream of tartar completely dissolved. This mordant bath takes an hour as well so I used that time to cut my marigolds and clean up the kitchen a bit.  I would have gotten my dye bath started to save time, but at that time I only had one pot to work with.


Now, we have pots in our kitchen, but for dyeing you want to use either a stainless steel or enamel pot. Once you use this pot for dye, you will have to retire it from use for food. After all, you wouldn’t want to cook in the same pot that you used for plants, some of which may be poisonous.

After the mordant I simmered the marigolds in the dye bath and then strained the water. The water was a pretty orange because I had used a mixture of yellow and orange flowers with the green bits still attached. Here is how the yarn looked after I dyed it.


I love how brightly the churro wool (left) turned out. The silk (middle) looks to me like clean straw and the alpaca/acrylic resembles a creamsicle. I was very pleased with the results and will try this method again.

One thought on “Dyeing Yarn Naturally

  1. Pingback: Madder yields shades of red – The Contemplative Crafter

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