One Brown Skein..a journey through a natural dye bath

Home dyed brown skein from gathered  plant materials
 I've been reading the most amazing book this past week. It's called "EcoColour" by India Flint.

It delves into how to use locally available plant materials to make natural dyes using alternative mordants to create a yarn/cloth that is environmentally friendly, agreeable on the skin, ethical and  sustainable.
There is a comprehensive plant list that details what species are recommended for obtaining different colours, applying colour directly onto cloth with flowers and leaves, plant material dye baths using scrap metals and dye vessels as mordants plus an enticing section on eucalypts, which I have not even begun to read yet!

What I was most excited to try first though was a plant based dye from materials found on our property. I had a quantity of homespun fleece to play with so off I went a'gathering...

Oak bark (twigs and acorn caps)
We are so lucky to have a gorgeous, huge old oak tree on our property. I discovered that this would provide a wonderful supply of bark for making brown dyes. I collected around 180g of assorted bark/twigs/acorn caps. These were soaked in a bucket of water for 2 days. The bark and water were then placed into a pot, covered and brought to a gentle simmer for around 1.5 hours and then left to cool in the pot overnight.

Homespun wool soaking in a vinegar/water solution overnight
To prepare the wool for dye takeup, it was soaked in a bucket of water with 1 cup of white vinegar added for around 12 hours. The next day I heaved out my mum's old crockpot that she had given me from the back of the cupboard and decided that it would make a perfect dye pot to be used for the sole purpose of dyeing in. No Food! Ever Again! Not to worry as we still have our regular slow cooker for feeding the family.

Designated slow cooker for dying yarn
The slow cooker is ancient and doesn't get up to the ridiculously hot temperatures that today's slow cookers seem to do. Even on high, it is a most gentle simmer. Yes, indeed, a very useful dye pot here, ready to be put to use.

On the day I had set aside to dye my yarn, the boiled bark/water solution was strained and placed into the slow cooker.

The colour of the oak bark dye before heating - like strong tea (or maybe even whiskey? Maybe? ;))
The yarn (100g), was squeezed out and added to the dye pot and the unit was switched on (high).

Vinegar soaked yarn entering the dye
After about 1 hour, I checked on the yarn to see how it was looking. It was quite caramel in colour. I was after something quite darker and remembered reading that iron 'saddens' colours, making them darker and duller. We have had an old iron horseshoe sitting outside on our windowsill since we moved in, so I decided to put it to use and placed it carefully in the bottom of the pot. I was positively beside myself with excitement waiting to see what would happen next!

The colour take-up after 2.5 hours

..and here, the colour after 5 hours.
Oh, yes, this was more like it. I didn't really know what to expect, but I had hoped for a darkish brown colour and as the yarn cooled down in the dye solution I was very pleased with the colour provided by the oak bark/iron combination. Kind of a greyish brown, a 'wolfy' brown, if you will.

After the yarn had cooled in the dye, it was removed and left to partially dry in an old colander. Not being able to wait any longer, I rinsed it in lukewarm water, gradually increasing the water temperature to 'set' the twist in the yarn.

The water ran clear! The dye had taken!

Hanging up to dry. Oh, the wait!

At last! My first plant dyed skein of yarn. What fun I will have playing with this. (100g approx)
The book has inspired me to try out several other plants we have growing here. I am definitely looking forward to giving the eucalyptus leaves a go which can offer a range of different colours and goodness knows we have more than enough of them to play with!

NB. As the dye solution still seemed to have plenty of colour left, another similar weighted skein was added (with a short pre-soak of 1 hour), and again 5 hours on the heat. It produced a nearly identical coloured yarn that is just the slightest, slightest shade lighter. The leftover dye liquid (still amazingly with colour in it), was placed into jars and labelled, ready for me to play with again another day.


  1. It's beautiful! How much fun to be able to dye your yarn with natural products.

  2. Wonderful! You are amazing. One question, does using the oak bark/iron combo mean this colour is called Iron Bark? LOL. Can't wait to see the results of your eucalyptus leaf adventures. Could be the beginnings of a lovely home grown business. Locally spun and naturally dyed wool.

    Hope you have a very Happy Easter.
    Cheers, Deb

  3. Farmama often talks about the plants she grows for dyeing... I think it's all very clever! You are amazing... I love this sort of thing, you know, taking something that alot of people would say, Why bother? or Just go to Spotlight!, and doing it yourself... that must be so satisfying, Christine! Plus it's so gorgeous too!

  4. Awesome Christine! I'm looking forward to following your journey with this!

  5. fabulhoot! and very inspiring...... ps did everyone know that india has a blog in here:

    can't wait to see what you make from that yummy dyed wool!

  6. Christine that is a whole heap of fabulous. So very cool... Like Dixiebelle said, I was thinking of Farmama as well with her dye garden.
    You spun the wool, you dyed it, and then you will knit with it, that is so satisfyingly better than buying something from the shop. Good on you.

  7. following india is a great place to be

  8. What a awesome earthy colour.. Can't wait to see what you make with it.

  9. I love that brown!:-) Very clever!

  10. SO much fun, jackie. Very satisfying.

    Ha, quite possibly an iron bark colour, Deb. Not sure about your idea, it is just so much fun learning and playing. Happy Easter to you too. :)

    Thanks dixiebelle, I've just trawled through all of farmamas dyeing interesting!
    You know, it's funny, I used to live in Spotlight, but something is holding me back's the overseas mass produced yarns that are turning me off...

    It's exciting, Tammy!

    Thanks for the link, ronnie. I had come across India's blog and then lost the've save me searching again. 'Fabulhoot'! This is a great word, I may just adopt it sometime!

    *sigh* A dye garden does truly sound wonderful, Brydie...perhaps one day. I was thinking though there would be several opportunities to play with what we already have growing though...calendula, rhubarb leaves, beetroot, onion skins, various herbs..and of course, eucalypts. Plenty of eucalypts ;)

    Thankyou Soewnearth..I shall be doing just that!

    I have something in mind, Wendy. A 'man gift' and the clock is ticking, best get cracking!

    I was really happy with this brown, Faeryfay..I think that adding the horseshoe really brought out this colour. Much fun!


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Hi there, so nice of you to stop by! Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I love hearing what you are up to. Christine x

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