Making Vegetable Dyes

Following this guide you will learn how to dye wool using vegetable dyes to create a range of soft natural colours.

Things your will need

You will need an old saucepan, though you should not use aluminium or iron if you want a particular shade. Other things required are cream of tartar, alum, salt, dye materials, soap flakes, wool and water. This guide is for 50g of wool, though you could use more for larger quantities.

Getting started

Prepare the wool: Wind the wool and tie it loosely. Wash it using washing-up liquid or mild soap flakes and then rinse the wool.

Mordant (seal) the wool: Dissolve half a teaspoon of cream of tartar and a dessertspoon of alum in some water. Add this to a saucepan containing two pints of water. Add the wet wool, then warm the water to just below boiling point and simmer for an hour, occassionally stirring it. After removing the wool, squeeze it gently without rinsing and keep it in a plastic bag until you have prepared the dye bath.

Dye the Wool

To make the dye, boil the material you have chosen to make the dye from and then strain it. Below are a number of examples that you could try.

Onion skins to make gold dye: Take the brown outer skins from eight onions and gently boil them in water for fifty minutes. Strain the clear amber liquid to make a pint. To dye the mordanted wool in this liquid, simmer it for thirty minutes without boiling. After removing the wool, wash it in a series of baths going from hot to cold. Finally dry the wool whilst it is still wound up and then wind it up into a ball ready for use.

Broom flowers to make yellow

Collect a pound of broom flowers with tips and chop them into small pieces. Boil them for ninety minutes in water. Strain the dye and simmer the mordanted wool in the dye for one hour. Finally wash and dry the wool as in the previous example.

Lichen to make various colours

Dyes ranging from green to light orange can be obtained from lichens. They do not require a mordant and after crushing the lichen, simmer it with the wet wool until it reaches the required colour.

Other natural dyes include, blackberries which can be used to make pink dye. You could also use dandelions, tea, elderberry, beetroot and various fruits. Varying the season when ingredients are collected and changing the boiling time will alter the colour of the dye.