On a Friday and Saturday in late March, I stepped away from gritty snow banks and entered a world of common plants and foodstuffs to make a riot of color. I was one of the happy participants in a natural dye class and a subsequent indigo dyeing class held at Halcyon Yarn that weekend. What a fantastic cure for cabin fever. If you get a chance, whether at Halcyon Yarn or at your LYS, take a class! We have a ton of interesting classes; learning and being social is so rewarding, you won’t regret it!
Our instructor, Jackie Ottino Graf, is Production Manager at Swans Island Yarns and has years of experience as a “Dye Mama”. We learned about mordants, which create a bond between dyestuffs and yarn or cloth, and how to use “assistants” which alter the chemistry creating subtle shades and variations of color. We used common materials such as avocado, bark and sawdust, and of course, flowers. These assistants could be as simple as washing soda, vinegar, or cream of tartar. The result was a rainbow of amazing colors.
Who could have thought that chamomile flowers would produce such a gorgeous sunshine yellow, or that logwood chips and citric acid would give such a lovely purple? And twenty or more colors from madder root – hard to imagine.
We used Wild Color, a book by Jenny Dean, with handy charts and a great guide to an extensive list of plant dyes. Instructions on cultivating your own plants, harvesting and extracting color and the variations to expect takes a great deal of the mystery on re-creating these fantastic colors.
The following day we brought our own yarns and fabrics to explore another plant dye technique – indigo – that has a long history. Indigo gave us wonderful blues. And when we over-dyed skeins of onion-skin gold we got a beautiful sea green. Our mood was definitely not blue! It was an exciting hands–on experience in creating color from plants.
Looking to try natural dyeing on your own? We absolutely love Earthues: Botanical Natural Dye Kit and Earthues: Indigo Starter Natural Dye Kit. Get started, or round out your library with these natural dyeing favorites: Eco Colour, Earthues Natural Dye Instruction Book, Wild Color, and / or Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes.