Natural dying: first experiments

Filed under: dyed,Fiber Prep,links,Monthly Fiber Giveaway,natural dying — April 3, 2009 @ 3:59 pm

So.. the March Fiber Giveaway is now CLOSED !
Thanks to all who left a comment..

The winner is: Little Miss S, Congrats !! I’ll email you right away to get your adress.

Natural dying has been occupying my mind lately, reading blogs and trying to collect info, even starting to gather some materials. Thing is, most recipes and articles tell you to use Mordants to prepare the wool/fiber before even starting to dye. Alum, Cream of tartar, and other chemical-sounding names… I know most of those are supposedly easy to find and not really dangerous, yet to me they scream Chemical / not-kid-friendly. And if I want to try natural dying, it’s also in an effort to be as low-impact as I can. Also, being able to dye fiber in my usual pots and pans is a huge bonus.

So anyways. I collected some onion skins, and avocado skins/stones. Decided earlier this week I’ll try a very first experiment, just to test waters. Not even respecting some of the basic rules, really nothing but a quick experiment.
Some notes on the whole process:
-I first boiled the onion skins and dried avocado remnants, each in a separate pot. After reading that everything colored could be tried, I started a third pot with curry spice and “safran” (not the actual saffron, a derived from Reunion island that’s a nice yellow-orange colour).
– Heated the pots, and tried to keep the water just under a boil. After the water was nicely colored, I removed the onion skins and avocado remnants.
– I didn’t bother to cut the avocado stones, although I probably should have.
– I read you’re supposed to use alum for avocado, decided to try some aluminium foil instead: didn’t work, the dye ran off completely from the wool. I added some vinegar in the water instead, which seemed to work some.

The results:
-The curry and safran (far right) worked fantastic, giving a deep and vivid yellow/orange color to the white roving. Because there was still color in the pot after I removed the wool, I also redyed some curls that were originally lime green and fushia. They’re now much more intense and interesting colors. :-)
Next time I’ll make sure to drain the water carefully though, so as to remove any of the initial spics fragments, which otherwise end up tangled in the wool.
And before you ask, no the wool didn’t smell at all after a short rinse with wool-soap.
– The onion skins (left) are my second favorite, easy to use, no need for any mordanting either, and the result (on white wool) is a nice shade of mustard. I know I’ll also try red onion skins, and maybe try to add lemon juice or other additives to see if it changes the final shade.
– Avocado (middle) didn’t work for me at all, both because of the need for a mordant, and also because it’s more complicated: I’d be afraid to cut a finger while cutting the stones, and even though I tried to clean the skins well, there was still bits of flesh inside, which transfered into the dye water: yucky on wool ! :-/ I added some vinegar in my dye pot and am not sure if it actually worked. The final result is a pale beige/cream. Pretty somehow, but not really worth all that process IMO.

All in all, I was impressed by those very first results, and it’s for sure encouraging me to try more ! Again, I’ll try to use easy to find and easy to handle food/plants, and will most certainly use red cabbage, beetroot, grape juice and cherries/raspberries when it’s the season !
Some links if you’re interested.


  1. Jamisyn:

    Hi! Thanks for blogging your experiment! I have always wanted to try natural dying. I have some cochineal bugs that I have been dying (hehe) to dye with but haven’t yet. I’m going to a fiber fest next weekend and the vendor in which I bought the bugs from will be there and they have all sorts of natural things like flowers and crazy yellow bark that I think I will purchase this time. Thanks for the encouragement…I may try some this weekend with the bugs and onion skins.

  2. lakerhy:

    I just wondering if there’s any smell left on the fiber? I really can’t stay with a onion garment.

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