Tag Archives: natural dyes

Natural Dying


(left to right: dyed with walnut hulls, fennel with copper, daffodils, fennel with alum, avocado skins)

Ever since I tried my hand at dying yarn with our walnut hulls last autumn, I’ve had the bug to try other natural dying. I bought a couple of inspiring books (Harvesting Color & The Handbook of Natural Plant Dyes) that I’d frequently browse through, but I could never quite find the time to experiment. After giving a fellow knitting friend those two books to borrow and casually suggesting that the wild fennel was starting to sprout up the street, she emailed me saying, ‘let’s try it!’ I made a quick trip down to Dharma Trading Company for undyed yarn and invited her over after we dropped the kids off at school. It was a fun morning, stewing up wild fennel and dried daffodils in large pots while drinking tea and chatting about all sorts of things.

(left to right: dyed with avocado skins, fennel with alum, daffodils, fennel with copper, walnut hulls)

Natural dying is great fun, as long as you go into it without any expectations. In one of my books, one of the authors got a pale green from her fennel dying, so we were both ready to see green appear on our yarn and cotton tablecloth, we got pale yellow instead and barely any color on the cotton when we used alum as a mordant. We divided the fennel dye water into two parts, one for adding alum as a mordant (we combined mordant with dye to save time) and in the next we put a copper pot into the dye pot to weigh down the yarn. If you dye in an unlined copper pot you don’t need a mordant. Since our copper pots are lined, I did the reverse and put the pot inside the dye bath. We got a much different color, as seen above.

After she left I bravely strained out the second batch of walnut hulls I had been soaking since…oh last November. It was fragrant, let me tell you that, but what a much richer dye color it made this time, in comparison with the last batch! The pink/mauve came from avocado skins! Can you believe that? Who would have though avocado skins would turn wool pink!

I have a romantic notion of making an entire fair isle sweater made from yarn dyed from plants grown on my street (update: I DID make the sweater!). I don’t know if that can really happen, but a girl can dream. It certainly has been a fun experiment. You can really delve deep into the chemistry of dying and change colors by adding washing soda or vinegar or all sorts of different things to change the pH. But for now I’m sticking with the basics. I’m now impatiently waiting for the purple iris’ to bloom and then dye to see what they will do!

These blogs really inspired me about natural dying:  Rhubarb in the Garden, Naturally Dyeing, & Tinctory



Filed under In the Kitchen

Natural Dying with Walnuts


We have a number of walnut trees at our new house, but there is this one in particular that grows huge walnuts. State Fair prize winner sized walnuts. I mean, look at that thing! In the past week, those green hulls have started cracking open, almost like flowers to reveal the walnuts inside of them. We’ve been having great fun collecting them, my youngest son and I. One of his favorite activities at school is the nut cracking activity and knowing that his teacher is always in need of walnuts, he runs out there to collect her a bag as often as he thinks of it.

The other month, when we took the day to go to Point Reyes, I came across the book Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes by Rebecca Burgess. Have you heard of her? She started the Fibershed project where she challenged herself for one year, to wear only clothes that were locally produced. And I’m not talking about just sewn locally, but that the fibers were actually grown locally too! Incredible! Well a new friend of mine (and you’ll see why we’ve been keeping in touch if you click over to her blog) recently took a workshop by Rebecca and reading about it left me totally inspired. As if I need another hobby, I wanted to try my hand at natural dying. After some research I found that walnuts are a great and easy start. A gateway drug, if you will.


With walnuts, you don’t need a mordant or anything fancy to make the dye work. From one tutuorial I read, you just place a handful of walnut hulls (doesn’t matter the variety of walnuts) into a jar of water and leave it for a week. Which I did. A mold started to grow on the top by day 7, which is when I scooped off the mold and strained the dye. I had a whole slew of Cascade Eco yarn that was left over from a Shalom gone very wrong. I had been wanting to dye it for ages. So I cut off a little bit of yarn and tossed it into the dye for about 20 minutes or so. Maybe longer or maybe less. I didn’t keep track, it was about as long as it took to clean the kitchen with a ‘yank-everything-out-of-the-cupboards’ baby following me.

And this is how it turned out. I liked it, so I threw about half of my stash into the jar. Ran off to go pick the kids up from school, ran another errand and came home and took it out.

And this is what I had. Pretty, isn’t it? I rinsed it out and hung it to dry.

Now I have this incredible autumnal looking yarn to work with. I left half of the yarn undyed so I could make something that was striped. I’m thinking maybe a striped Oatmeal? I don’t know, any knitters have any pattern/design suggestions?

Do any of you dabble in natural dying? What have you learned? Now I’m eager to learn more!

p.s. You can find me here on Ravelry, and I’m now on Pinterest!

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Filed under In the Kitchen, Recipes