Friday, December 9, 2011

Dyeing with Wood!

Most of my dyeing life (is that an oxymoron?) has been spent using professional commercial dyes. I use Jacquard Acid Dyes and, most recently, iDye Poly for dyeing Ingeo fibers. The advantage of professional dyes is that I can just add the dye straight from its container and spend my time experimenting and playing with color.

I've been hesitant to use natural dyes because it seems to involve so much work! And, I am a tad bit lazy and a lot impatient! Collecting dandelions, making an osage orange dyebath, finding a dye recipe for logwood, choosing a mordant (alum, iron, tin) or not (walnuts), soaking overnight in a muslin bag dipped in rubbing alcohol (sandalwood), phew! See what I mean!?

All that said, I am making an effort to connect to the environment and use resources around me, or within reach, to create eco-friendly handmade items. It's so inspiring to see other fiber artists design and create with natural dyes that I want to do more of it.

I have explored dyeing with natural plants a bit, but I wanted to expand my dye horizons. I took the plunge and purchased some logwood dye. Logwood is extracted from a Caribbean tree and has a long history of use as a dye for purples and blues.

Yes, I know logwood dye extract looks red;
however, it creates beautiful blues and purples.
I dyed in two batches:

Batch #1: Alum as the mordant. I pre-soaked handspun yarn, roving, wool fabric, and scarves in the mordant in hot water for an hour.

Batch #2: Iron as the mordant. I created a dyebath and then directly submerged yarn, roving, wool fabric, and scarves into it. The items were removed, iron added into the bath, then the items returned for approximately 30 minutes.

I purposely layered, folded, and stacked items as they went into each dyebath so that I could get variation in color.

The Results:
Natural-colored Clun Forest wool dyed with logwood and alum.
The alum causes the dye to lean towards warm/reddish purples.
Yarns dyed with logwood and iron.
The two yarns on the left are natural colored Clun Forest wool.
The one on the right is a wool, aplaca, and mohair blend.
Iron causes the dye to lean towards a cold, steel blue.
It is extremely difficult to photograph!

Top: wool roving dyed with logwood and alum.
Bottom left: wool roving dyed using exhausted logwood and iron dyebath.
Bottom right: wool roving dyed with logwood and iron.

Wool fabric used for rughooking, applique, penny rugs, felting, etc.
Left: natural wool dyed with logwood and alum.
Middle: natural wool dyed with logwood and iron.
Right: gray herringbone wool dyed with logwood and iron.
Finally, I dyed some silk scarves. I am really interested in nuno felting scarves and I wouldn't be happy with just plain white scarves as a base! I first dyed the scarves with coffee and tea. Then I layed them across the top of each dye bath. The colors turned out amazing!

Close-up of silk scarf dyed with tea, coffee, and logwood (iron mordant).
I was very happy with the results. I love the range of blues and purples from cool to warm. I'm looking forward to spinning up the roving into yarn. And, I'm looking forward to my next natural dye adventure...sandalwood.


  1. LOve the look of the natural dyes! Lovely!

  2. I am loving the colors, too. It's fun (and good) for me to get outside of the commercial dyer's box!

  3. what colors did you get witht he dandelions?

  4. I never did find out about the dandelions because I didn't collect enough. My trusty book said yellow. I will try again next year along with some hollyhocks.