Did you know that you can create any color in the rainbow with natural dyes, but green is the hardest color to achieve? Despite dyeing with green leaves, many natural dyes turn unexpected colors, so it is always best to test the color before dyeing all of your yarn. Green is created by dyeing your yarn yellow first, then over dyeing it with indigo or woad!
Here are some easily accessible plants that can be used to create natural dyes. All of the dyes in this list require the addition of a mordant in the dye process.
Fruit and nut trees (Peach, Plum, Pear, Cherry, Almond, Apricot, Walnut)
With the exception of walnuts and blackberries, usually dye is extracted from the bark, stems, and leaves of fruit and nut producing trees and plants.
Direct dyes do not need a mordant to help fix the color on the fiber.
Here are some examples of readily available direct dyes.
A huge variety of flowers, plants, trees, and insects can be used as natural dyes. You can purchase more exotic dyeing materials online, but we are going to focus on natural dyeing material that you can find in your own kitchen or garden!
Preparing Dye Materials
As a rule of thumb, you will need an equal weight of dyeing material to the weight of the fiber that you wish to dye. If you are trying to achieve a darker or lighter color, you can adjust this ratio.
There are many different ways to extract dye from the bark, leaves, berries, or flower petals. Depending on what you are using to dye with, you can try soaking these dye materials in cold or hot water. Some dyes should be soaked for a few hours, others create more vibrant colors if you soak them for up to a week.
Mordant—Alum (also called aluminum ammonium sulfate)
Assistant–Cream of Tartar
Mordants are used with plant dyes to produce a more vibrant and
colorfast yarn. There are many different types of mordants, but we
suggest alum and cream of tartar because they are safe to work with
and you can easily find them in the spice section of a supermarket.
Alum is the mordant, but if you add cream of tartar, it helps the yarn
fibers absorb the alum better. The remaining liquid should have no
metallic salts, so it will be safe to dispose the used mordant bath
down the drain.
Other mordants are usually aluminum, copper, or iron based, and you can create entirely different colors from the same natural dye substance by simply changing the mordant!
Steps to natural dyeing
1. Choose your natural dyeing material and extract the dye. Keep in mind that you need roughly an equal weight of dyestuff to yarn. After you have extracted the color, you can strain out your dyeing material.
2. Soak yarn in water until it completely wet.
3. Heat up your dye solution on the stove or in a crock pot. Keep in mind that whatever vessel you use for dyeing will no longer be food safe.
4. Dissolve your mordant into a jug of boiling water. You will need 1 ¾ tsp of alum and 1 ½ tsp of cream of tartar per 4 oz of fiber.
5. Add mordant to the dye pot and stir.
6. Add your wet yarn to the dye pot and allow the dye solution to simmer as you gently move the yarn around so the dye is applied evenly. Simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, then turn off the heat source.
7. Then leave the yarn in the dye pot and allow it to cool overnight.
8. Remove the yarn from the dye pot, wearing rubber gloves, and gently wash the excess dye from your yarn. Hang your yarn up to dry and cast on a project!
For more information about natural dyeing, here are additional sources we recommend:
“A Dyer’s Garden” by Rita Buchanan
“The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing” by Eva Lambert & Tracy Kendall
“Wild Color” by Jenny Dean
“Natural Dyeing” by Jackie Crook