Natural Dyeing - How to

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A ROUGH GUIDE TO NATURAL DYEING

The following instructions apply only to wool (protein - animal based) fibres and the 3 mordants I stock in My Ebay Shop

First of all a word about variables

Variables such as time, wool type, water and temperature will have an effect on the result, so it is always handy to have a pen and paper handy as it is quite difficult to reproduce the same colour.

Equipment needed:

  • Access to water
  • Heat source
  • Scales
  • Mordants
  • Cream of Tartar
  • Large Dye Pot
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Glass Jars
  • Thermometer (optional)
  • Sieve
  • Gloves
  • Dye Material
  • Wool
  • Pen and Paper

It is a good idea to leave the dye material soaking in a jar of warm water overnight the night before dyeing as this helps to break down the plant matter and speeds up the process.

Wool must always be washed and wet prior to dyeing.

Flowers

Many Flowers give excellent dyes, A rough guide is to use about twice the weight of fresh flowers to the weight of the fibre. Equal quantities of dried flowers to fibre are used.

Fruits

About equal weights of fruit to fibre are needed, but sometimes it may be necessary to increase the proportion of fruit used.

Leaves

About double the weight of leaf to fibre may be needed, tough leaves such as holly may need to be torn into pieces and soaked for a few days before use.

Barks

Small twigs can be peeled and the soft bark soaked and boiled. Allow equal weights of bark to fibre although double may be needed.

Madder

Dyeing with Madder must take place slowly. Pre-mordanted wool is placed in the dyebath with 30% to 40% of its weight of the madder dye. The temperature is then slowly raised to 85C, which must not be exceeded for more than 2 hours.

A quick test run can be made by doubling the amount of dyestuff and using only a few grams of wool, e.g 5g of wool to 20g dye. If the colour is strong then use less dye, a darker tone can be achieved by longer simmering.

Preperation of Dyebath 

The estimated amount of dye stuff is placed in the chosen container together with the amount of water required - at least 5 litres per 100g of wool. the pan is then slowly brought to the simmering point and then kept at this temperature until no more dye appears to be coming out of the dyestuff. Allow to cool and then carefully strain off the solid material. The bath is now ready for the wet wool to be added. Bring back to the boil and simmer for at least 20 mins. the longer it is left to simmer the more intense the colour will be.

Mordants

These fix the dye to the wool and can alter and enhance the colour. Mordants can be used before, during or after the process.

Premordanting

The mordant is dissolved and added to a bath containing ample water. the fibre is added and brought slowly to the boil and left to simmer for about 3/4 hour. It is then allowed to cool and stirred to ensure even take up by the wool.

Alum

To mordant 100g of wool you will need 18g of alum and 6g cream of tartar.

Copper

To mordants 100g of wool you will need 12g of copper and 6g of cream of tartar, or, 2g copper and 100ml of vinegar

Iron

Dissolve 5g to 100g of wool in the dye bath for the last 5 to 10 mins

Alterants

These are chemical solutions used if colour changes are required once the initial dyeing has been done. These can be ammonia, washing soda, vinegar or anything with a pH value at either end of the scale.

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