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How To Dye Yarns And Fabrics Using Backyard Herbs: Part 1

Dyeing yarns and fabrics can be creative and enriching, especially if you have raised the wool and spun the yarn or woven the fabric. While your garden is growing, you may be able to imagine the bounty of your harvest simmering in large enamel pots, releasing their hues onto the gently moving skeins of wool bathing in the colored water. The end results will be yards of beautiful, pleasant colors that will become clothing for your family and friends.


Before getting started, you will need a few supplies:

  1. Fibers – wool, cotton, linen and silk can be dyed. Wool is the easiest. (These directions assume you are dyeing wool.) Finished fabrics can also be dyed, though it is more difficult to achieve even color distribution throughout the cloth.
  2. Cotton thread – skeins should be loosely tied so they can be boiled, yet be recovered as skeins.
  3. Soap – mild dish detergent or soap for washing skeins free of all grease and dirt, else the mordants may repel dyes.
  4. Water – lots of water, preferably soft. Minerals in hard water may affect the clarity of your dye. Rainwater is ideal if you can collect it. If you use hard tap water, add a water softener.
  5. Pots – stainless steel or enamel is best. They will not affect the dye color. Dyeing a pound of fiber at a time requires a pot that holds 4.5 gallons of water in addition to the yarn or thread. Set aside pots specifically for dyeing, as some mordants are poisonous.
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  7. Stirring rods –to stir and lift yarn. Glass is best, but plastic or wooden dowels can be used. Wood does absorb color, so you will want one for each dye.
  8. Sieve – a colander, sieve, or cheesecloth to strain out plant matter.
  9. Mordants – alum, chrome, iron and tin. Cream of tartar is added to brighten dyes.
  10. Measuring cups and spoons – stainless steel, glass, or plastic.
  11. Thermometer – Needs to read to 212° F.
  12. Scale – a letter scale will work.
  13. Rinsing containers – a sink, buckets, or other large containers for washing and rinsing fibers.
  14. Rubber gloves – to protect your hands (optional).
  15. Notebook, tags, and a file box – to record your experiments.

Preparing Yarn

Before dyeing, you will want to mordant your wool to prepare skeins for dyeing.

Other Options

Shades and the mordants used can be found in “A Dyer’s Garden” or in Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Rodale Press, Emmaus Pennsylvania, pages 163-175.

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