There are a few very important points to take into consideration when using natural dyeing techniques to dye wool yarn.
The most important thing to be aware of is that exposing wool yarn to high temperatures will potentially felt the wool. You must also avoid sudden changes in water temperature.
The second most important thing to consider is that friction in combination to high temperatures will also help the felting process.
So how can we avoid these? There are many little things that we can do as natural dyers to avoid any felting and to make sure that we obtain bright natural rich color such as the ones in the photo below.
Using wool yarn as your natural fibers is great to obtain best results every time! Wool is a protein fiber and it takes natural dyes beautifully.
Actually, all animal fibers do, which means that silk is a great option to use in combination with natural dyes as well.
Dyeing process for wool yarn
In this post I will give a high level overview of how to dye wool yarn with natural dyes. However, please be aware that natural dyeing involves a series of steps that can’t be skipped otherwise the results won’t be good.
I teach an 8 step process both in my natural dyeing live workshops and through my online resources.
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Read here for a detailed tutorial of all the necessary steps in the natural dyeing process and to learn how each step of the process is very important and must be done in the right order.
The photo below shows a a variety of colors knitted into a sampler. I like to take these to my live workshops to illustrate the amazing results that can be obtained as long as you follow the right steps.
You can create beautiful gifts using your hand dyed yarn as well!
Once you have read the full natural dyeing tutorial and you understand how natural dyeing works please come back to this post and keep reading :).
Preparing the wool yarn for dyeing
To prepare your wool you will be scouring and mordanting your yarns.
These processes will ensure that the yarn is clean of any oils or chemical residues and that the fiber is prepared to open up and receive the natural dyes effectively.
When scouring wool, be sure to use lukewarm soapy water and a very soft delicate soap. Don’t handle the yarn too much and rinse well.
I only teach to use Alum Sulphate for wool since it’s non toxic and its better for us and for the environment. For more information about all types of mordants you can read here.
To make a mordant bath start by immersing the wool into lukewarm water and then increase the temperature slowly to a simmering point.
Never allow the water to reach boiling point. Once you finish mordanting the wool, allow it to cool naturally to room temperature.
I like to rest it inside the mordanted bath until next day.
Dyeing wool with natural dyes
Once the wool has been scoured and mordanted, it’s time to immerse it inside the dye bath filled with your chosen natural dye.
Making a dye solution
You need to make your natural dye bath. There are 2 ways to make a dye bath:
- You can use dye extract (dye powder in high dye concentration)
- You can extract the color yourself
You can check out the ultimate list of 40 natural dyes which I have personally used and recommend.
The photo below shows marigolds and dyer’s chamomile flowers which have been dried and were kept hanging in my studio.
Fill your dye pot with clean clear water and place your flowers inside.
Bring to a boil and let them simmer for 1 hour. Strain liquid. This is your dye bath liquid. You are now ready to start dyeing your wool!
Transfer the wool yarn from the cool mordant liquid into the lukewarm dye bath (remember you need to use a stainless steel pot).
Make sure you are not shocking the fibers by exposing them to an abrupt change in temperature.
Bring to a gentle simmer and allow to dye for 1 hour.
You can leave the yarn alone inside the dye bath. Try not to move it around too much to avoid any felting due to friction.
Once the yarn is dyed you can remove it from the dye bath. You can leave it inside a bucket for a while to allow the yarn to cool naturally before you start the rinsing process.
Once you have rinsed all excess dye and the water is running clear you can let it dry on a rack.
Allow to dry naturally, this can take up to 1 day depending on the season of the year you are in 🙂
TIP: I like to squeeze the excess water out before hanging the yarn!
Making Wool skeins
To dye yarn in an effective way here are a few helpful tips!
Making nice and tidy wool skeins is very important before you start the dyeing process.
Make sure you make your skein before you even scour the wool. In this way, you can be sure that the wool won’t get all tangled and you have better control of how to dip it inside the dye bath and how to remove it from it.
The photo below shows several wool skeins which are all hocked to a string divided by color (These are just out of the rinsing pot).
I do this when I am teaching live workshops because we have several dye pots with different dyes going at the same time.
So we gather all the skeins that are going on the cochineal dye pot and we loop them with a piece of string and then we carefully dip it inside the dye bath.
This is helpful because we are not handling the yarn too much and the wool moves freely inside the natural dye bath.
Different types of dyes for wool
The photos below show different colors obtained by using different dyes on the same 100% merino wool.
The yellow is eucalyptus, the pink is cochineal which was modified with citric acid and the bright pink is pure cochineal.
The brick red color is madder root.
This yellow was obtained by using dyer’s chamomile flowers. Please note that the piece of silk has taken the color very similarly to the wool. This is because silk and wool are both animal fibers (protein fibers).
The bright yellow was obtained by using yellow onion skins. You can use natural food dyes such as onions and avocado dyes or tea.
Using color modifiers
You can extend your color palette by using color modifiers such as citric acid and iron water or ferrous sulphate.
The photo below shows the true color of madder root in the middle which was modified with citric acid on the left and iron water on the right.
The photo below shows yarn dyed with eucalyptus which gave a gold color and was then modified with iron water to create a dark military green.
So, in conclusion, it’s super easy to dye your own yarn using a natural dye process. Remember:
- Avoid sudden changes of temperature
- Avoid friction
- Don’t miss any of the 8 steps in the natural dyeing process
- Choose the best dyes
If you are having fun with the kids you can also dye wool yarn by using food coloring.