Stinging nettles; I have spent years pulling these out of my garden, and now I find I have a little patch of ground saved where I grow them for plant dyes. Strange how things work out!
Nettles are a common weed, found in moist areas in Europe, Asia and North America. The plants are perennial, and can grow up to four feet in height. The leaves and stems are very hairy, and are covered in both stinging and non-stinging hairs. The stinging hairs break off in the skin when touched, and inject a variety of chemicals into the skin which cause a painful reaction. Traditionally the sap from a dock leaf will ease the pain form a nettle sting.
‘Dock in, Nettle out,
Dock rub nettle out’
Nettle can be used to make a soup. It also can be used as a plant fertiliser.
But for me, nettle leaves make a lovely green dye. With an iron mordant, the dye supposedly turns black; copper produces a lovely grey-green (like for camouflage), and the roots can be boiled with alum for a nice yellow dye.
I had run out of green wool, so I decided that I’d use the nettle in the garden to make some dye up. I gathered 900g of nettles. I tried to use mainly the leaves and non-woody stems. One tip here; wear long sleeves and gloves. They sting like crazy, and the stinging sensation seems to remain, even after using dock leaves!
I chopped the nettles up quite so they fitted better into the pot, added rainwater, and left to soak for several days.
To help break down the plant fibres, and to extract more dye, I simmered the pot each day for about 20 minutes. I drained the dye from the pot and re-covered the nettles ( I was trying to get as much dye from the crop as possible). This new batch of nettle dye-stuff I left for another day and then I drained that dye into the original batch.
As usual I had mordanted my wool with alum. I added 200g of the mordanted wool to the pot. This was a ratio of 4:1. dye stuff to wool.
It appeared to turn a yellow/green colour. To be honest, it didn’t look very promising. Anyway I brought the pot to the boil and simmered it for an hour. The resultant wool was green/yellow in appearance.
Green!!!! Lovely colour, just what I wanted, and very like the colour from last year. And just to use the last of the dye bath, I added another 200g of alum mordanted wool and a teaspoon of copper to the bath. This is the result from that bath.
Have fun with the nettles; just be careful of the stings!