dyeing for a change

wheat in grove field

It’s the time of year when I get a bit fidgety. Maybe it’s the balmy weather that makes for restless nights when ideas whizz around my head or just that everyone else seems to be slowing down for their summer holiday while here the stress levels are building in the run-up to harvest. Whatever the cause, the best remedy is to go for a walk.


The hedgerows around the farm are every shade of green with nuts and flowers adorning them and the colours of the wildflowers are ever changing (unlike my garden flowers, which peaked a fortnight ago and are now in various stages of decay) and as I walked, I thought it might be interesting to do something with them. We eat the berries and use a few flowers for gin or jelly but apart from a little jelly printing, that’s it.

For ages I’ve been planning to dye with plants. I’ve borrowed books from the library but never actually got around to picking plants and throwing them in a dye pot. But now, it’s summer. And I’m fidgety. Looking for something different to do.

I started with rose petals and beetroot because I read about it on one of those arty crafty blogs where everything is easy and the photographs of the results are stunning. I followed the instructions and pulled my yarn from the dye pot. I was highly delighted to find it was the same vivid pink as the photograph on the blog. Fleetingly, I had visions of a new career. Then I rinsed the wool. And my new career disappeared down the drain with the pinkness, leaving me with a hank of beige coloured wool. Never mind, I’m sure I can use a bit of beige in a hat or something. The fabric that I’d wrapped around a rusty screw was a dingy grey mauve with some dark marks randomly scattered across it. Interesting. Sort of.

lady's bedstraw

Undeterred, (because when I decide to do something, I don’t give up lightly) I cast about for something else to dye with. At this time of year we have masses of Lady’s Bedstraw growing in the verges, the root of which apparently dyes a light coral colour. The ground around here is pretty hard at the moment but I managed to dig enough to dye a very small amount of wool and a square of cotton fabric as an experiment. I duly soaked and simmered and cooled, taking time to do a little jelly printing with the flowers while I waited.

wool dyed with lady's bedstraw

I lifted the lid of the dye pot and … there lay a hank of beige wool and a square of cotton fabric that is beige with the merest tint of coral. I was a little disappointed. But I can knit wide beige stripes in the hat just as easily as narrow stripes.

I have since invested in A Proper Book because there’s a limit to how much beige wool I can use. The instructions are slightly more complicated than the ones I’ve found on blogs but if I can achieve something other than beige I shall be happy. I’m hoping for something subtle like Annie produces. More yellow than beige. Quite frankly, anything but beige.

Have you any tips? Do tell.

21 thoughts on “dyeing for a change

  1. When I worked at Mitchell Beazley I commissioned a great book called Wild Colour (how to grow, prepare and use natural plant dyes) by Jenny Dean. That was back in 1999 but it’s since been revised and reprinted in paperback and you can get it on Amazon. I think there’s also a version with Karen Diadick Casselman who’s something of a natural dye guru in the US. It gives loads of info on fixing and mordanting (which are important for getting strong colours). Good luck.

  2. It has been decades since I dyed anything. We had a teacher in boarding school that thought us how to do it, however I don’t remember . I like the color of your wool, it looks very natural. Good luck and don’t give up.

    1. I won’t give up just yet 🙂 We still use tie-dyed pillowcases that my children did years ago, though of course using dye out of a tin.

  3. Hello –
    Dying (along with spinning and generally doing things with fleeces of which I’ve many) is on my todo list but a friend has great success with dyes – most recently with St John’s Wort – and if I am allowed to post a link in this comment…
    …I really recommend you have a look at Diane’s blog and I know she’d be delighted if you were to contact her.
    Best wishes, Carole @ La Fosse, Normandy

    ps: I think your beiges are rather nice beiges… but yes, it would be nice to branch out. 🙂

    1. Oups… I’ve just realised that Diane’s adventures with St John’s Wort have yet to take place and the gorgeous photo is from another crafter. But still, it shows what can be achieved.

        1. It astounds me how many interesting, well-written blogs there are out there. I follow about 10 but not closely enough. I sometimes take an early morning dose of blogs with my coffee rather than catch up on online ‘news’papers.

  4. Maybe see if you can pick up some madder root Anne – try georgeweil.com – and practice with that. The bedstraw root has similar biochemistry to madder but is much harder to get good colour from. Once you’ve worked with the madder you’ll have a better idea what to do with the bedstraw.

    There is, frankly, quite a lot of guff on some blogs about plant dyeing … in principle it’s easy and in practice controlling all the variables and getting reliable, fast results can be a challenge. I’ve been natural dyeing for thirty years on and off and I’m still learning.

    Thank you for the link to my blog :o)

    1. Thanks Annie. I’m looking forward to learning much more about dyeing – I just wish the blog had said the colour would wash out to beige and then I’d have been happy. I’ve had some success with feverfew but will get hold of some madder and experiment.
      Happy to link to your blog as that’s what inspired me to have a go.

  5. Goodness you made me laugh! And goodness knows, I needed a laugh today. Thanks lovely. x PS. I’m sure if you worked hard, you could achieve different shades of beige. 50 Shades of Beige, maybe there’s a book in it. 🙂

  6. Hmm, my brief foray into natural dyeing using red cabbage yielded similar results! I remember gathering loads of soursob (oxalis) flowers with my family when my mum was really into dyeing wool for weaving in the 70s. I think they yielded a great yellow. Recently I crushed one of the flowers in my fingers and they were stained bright yellow. I wish you could raid our front garden which is jam-packed with the buggers right now!

  7. I get fidgety and ideas-whizzy now – in the wintertime, here – when I am stuck in doors with plenty of gardening and homes magazine to inspire me!
    beige wool a tad disappointing 😦

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