Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Dyeing Day

Onwards to Saturday, the Ceredigion Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers' annual dyeing day.  Again, this was something that I hadn't tried before, but had wanted to since visiting Shilasdair last August.  Some preparation was required, so I'd spent the preceding fortnight spinning up 200g of Bluefaced Leicester yarn (my favourite!), and mordanting it a couple of days before the meeting.  I was really nervous about this as I don't like handling chemicals, but I got my camping stove out into the garden, rubber gloves firmly on hands, and began heating my alum solution.  The wool was dropped in an hour later - another scary moment, as boiling wool is normally something you don't want to be doing - and there it stayed, simmering away for another hour.

Two days later, and it was time to get dyeing.  It's a lengthy process, requiring each natural dye to be simmered for an hour, then strained and reheated before adding the wool for another hour.  I'd separated my wool into 13g skeins, hoping I'd have enough to try each one of the natural dyes on offer, with a couple left over for the acid dyes and indigo.  And so it was.  At the allotted time, our skeins were dropped into the steaming vats and we waited impatiently to see whether the colour had taken.  Everyone had brought different combinations of wools and both alum and tin had been used as mordants, so the range of hues produced from the same solution was astonishing.

Six hours later, and I was returning home with the skeins in the picture, the dyes being (left to right):

logwood exhaust
blackcurrant (complete with seeds!)
cochineal exhaust
dyer's greenweed
onion skin exhaust
onion skin
acid dyes

I don't know when I'll be trying this again, but I'm certainly not afraid of the process any more.  I'm very taken with the cochineal, logwood and onion skin dyes, and whilst I love the indigo, I know its preparation is a bit more complicated (requiring hydros, caustic soda and careful reduction).

So. Yes. Dyeing. There we have it.  This is what I learned:
  • It's nothing to be afraid of, as long as you weigh everything and use the correct percentages of mordant and dye.
  • Using natural dyes takes time as you need to make sure the solutions come up to temperature and that you don't shock the wool.  
  • Acid dyes are easy to use, as they're set in the microwave, and the results are vibrant.
For more information, I'd certainly recommend The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing by Eva Lambert and Tracy Kendall (2010).


  1. They definitely look like they were worth the effort. Beautiful colours.

  2. Thank you! I've just ordered some logwood and cochineal so that I can dye up a HUGE batch of wool at home... I'll let you know how it works out :)

  3. FAB U LOUS colours!!!! Well done.

  4. Thank you so much! I was lucky that I had a lustre wool and it took the colour so well. I hope I can replicate this at home... I'll let you know how I get on :)