Beetroot……..not what you might expect!

Beetroot stains………everything! It stains chopping boards, fingers, dishcloths and white cotton material a deep crimsony red. So as a natural dyer you’d be forgiven for thinking that you wouldd get that colour if you dyed wool with beetroot. Sorry guys – not gonna happen.

I figured the best way to show this would be to dye some wool with beetroot and share my results.

First thing to do was to get some beetroot, so I headed back to friendly greengrocer and bought some.
All the literature I had read suggested twice the weight of dye material to weight of wool. However I wasn’t feeling overly confident about this project, so I bought 900g beetroots to dye 300g of wool.

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After a quick wash, the wonderful colour was more apparent….. maybe it would work; after all my fingers were now red!

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I chopped the beetroot up, covered with rain water and boiled for an hour. I use rainwater as it is more natural than the tap water in my area.
Then to extract as much dye as possible, I drained that off, re-covered the beetroot and repeated the process. In the pot the water had turn a wonderful shade of crimson.

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In a previous post about mordants, I had commented that some dye materials do not stick to the wool. Beetroot is one of these.  So I decided to do a little experiment; dye one hank in the half the dye-bath with un-mordanted wool. It looked so promising, however as soon as I took the wool out of the pot the colour went; I now had a very pale beige colour.
One thing I should point out is that the photographs are not exact replicas of the colours I’ve achieved, but they should give an indication of what happened.

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It wasn’t a colour that really appealed to me. Anyway, after boiling for another hour, I got this;

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It’s a very pale beige colour. And there you have it; dye extracted from beetroot will not stick to wool that is not mordanted.
But would a mordant make much, if any, difference?

I’d already mordanted some wool and I added that to the dye-bath. Still no vivid red, but at this stage any colour would have been good; this looked more promising.

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When I took the wool out of the pot, the colour held. Not the brilliant red one would expect from beetroot, but a soft peachy gold colour.

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I left the wool simmering in the pot for an hour. I let the wool cool, then rinsed it through in cool water. When i was finished I had two hanks of peach gold wool. They’re quite a nice colour actually.

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As a comparison, this is a photo of the mordanted and unmordanted wool together. The colours in the photo are not as true to life as I’d like them, but I think they give an idea of the colours achieved and the need for a mordant if using beetroot as a dye-stuff.

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This was quite fun to do.
As a dye material, beetroot will not give you a vivid red (unfortunately) but it will give a rather nice peach gold colour. Would I use it again – yes!

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11 thoughts on “Beetroot……..not what you might expect!”

  1. What do I do with 300 grams of nettle dyed wool that’s pretty horrible. Ages to spin, ages to dye and suitable for …….. It was mordanted with alum and had a copper assistant. ? Anyone help

      1. Thanks . I’ll try over dyeing and if it felts well I’ll knit a bag. Never going to use nettles again though.

  2. Interesting post. I know nothing about spinning or dying, but I may have sold my house with the buyer exclaiming over one room that would be perfect for her loom and the joy at having some iron in the water (something I really struggled with when hubby was still wearing white shirts.) I’m guessing iron in the water might have something to do with this mordant thing?

    1. Yes. It would do. I used to put a piece of iron in the water with the wool and the dyestuffs so It darkened the browns and greens. Iron ‘saddens’ or darkens the colour as opposed to alum which brightens it.
      Thanks for the comment ☺

  3. Next time you could try checking the pH of your water! I have gotten pastel pinks all the way to vibrant deep red with beetroot. I used the water leftover from boiling beets for dinner- which is a good tip on how much to boil them- soft to eat, but don’t over boil as the color may turn. I noticed my tap water is on the alkaline side- so adding vinegar to my dye bath not only made the color stick better but made it WAY more intense. Not every dye bath likes this, but for beets it definitely works- on wool that is. 🙂

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