Stinging Nettles.

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!

NettlesNettles 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.

NettlesTo 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.

Nettles added to dye potIt 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.

Nettle with Alum MordantIt was actually a pretty nice colour, but I wanted a green; full on, in your face green! So I added two teaspoons copper sulphate to the dye bath. And got……….

Nettle with Alum and Copper Mordant - 1st dye bathGreen!!!! 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.

Nettle with Alum and Copper Mordant - 2nd dye bathThis wool is more of a brown/green, and again is like the colours from the dye last year.

Have fun with the nettles; just be careful of the stings!

Red Onions to dye……..

So you might remember that I blogged about dyeing with the skins of white onions back in February; they have the gold/yellow papery skins. I had added a copper mordant to the dye pot at the end in an attempt to create a deeper, richer colour. The photo below shows the result from then.
The yellow colour was from dyeing the wool for one hour in an onion dye stuff; the deeper brown colour was created after adding the copper mordant.

1-DSCF2979After posting it, a reader commented that if I had used red onion skins, I would have gotten the same results. Nothing like a bit of experimentation……..

I tried to keep the red onion dye prep as close to the original. I used the same method I had used for the plain onion skins. I use one third the weight of the wool in skins; 33g of skins per 100g of wool. I also used the same wool type and water source.
I boiled the skins in rain water to get the dye stuff.

1-DSCF3357After simmering for an hour, I drained the water off the skins and used this as my dye.
When I added the wool I got

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1-DSCF3364I have to say that it looked quite promising. After simmering for an hour I got the following results.1-DSCF3378 1-DSCF34001-DSCF3382They are really lovely colours. The question was did the red onions give the same colour as the plain onions with a copper mordant?

To me the answer has to be no; at least not in this case. The copper mordant seemed to have dyed the wool a deeper shade of brown, whereas the red onion skins gave a deeper gold yellow. But to be honest, both dyeing attempts gave beautiful colours…. Now to start saving skins all over again…….

Ivy as a Natural Dye Material

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Ivy; there’s tons of it growing over my yard wall, and Bob had asked what colours we would get with the leaves and berries. So I decided to give it a go.

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I had tried this a couple of months ago without the berries. But this time I wanted to include them so I needed to wait until they had ripened. I hadn’t taken any photos last time, but the results were much the same.

I used the same procedure as with the other dyestuffs; twice the weight of dye material to wool. Also I let the twigs, leaves and berries soak for a week to get the maximum amount of dye in the pot.

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As usual I had pre-mordanted the wool with Alum. I wanted to dye 300g of Aran weight wool.
When I added the wool initially there was no significant change to the colour.

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After an hour, there was a definite change in colour, but not the green I had hoped for. Instead I got a yellow; nice but not what I had wanted.

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So I added copper sulphate to the pot (2 teaspoons per 100g wool), and continued to simmer for a further hour. This gave a better result. It’s green, but still not the green I had wanted. In real life it’s a slightly darker; below is a photo I took in natural daylight the following day, after the wool had dried.

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Last year using the same ivy plant I got a great green that I used in a hat for Bob. This was a different type of wool, and a different year, so that may account for the difference. My little nettle patch is growing, so I plan on trying those for a green……..

Blackberries………… to dye for!

1-blackberriesSo it’s spring, and like all good 21st century vikings I recently did a quick spring clean; well actually I had to defrost my freezer as it had become very badly iced over!
Anyway, while cleaning out the drawers I came across a box of frozen blackberries. I had bought them with the intention of making a Blackberry Crumble but must have forgotten them. They had passed their sell-by date by quite a long time, and so with the principle of waste not want not, I decided to use them to dye some wool. At the same time I could justify using another fruit as a dye stuff.

I had previously mordanted some wool with Alum.

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As in the previous dye experiments, I was so hopeful when I added the wool to the dye-bath; it looked like I was going to get a beautiful rose pink.

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But as in the previous experiments, what you initially appear to get is not always what you end up with . This time we got a blue/gray (the photos don’t show the colour exactly)!

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So there we are; another dye experiment completed.
Quite a nice colour, quite similar to the one I got from elderberries, but to be honest I might use the blackberries for the crumble next time………………

An unexpected blue!!

This dyeing lark can becoming a bit addictive!! Since I started I find myself looking at plants in a whole new light; where before I thought about texture, colour and where the plant would fit in my garden, I now find myself looking at a plant and wondering what colour would it give to my wool? This now also seems to apply to the vegetables I cook!

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After my beetroot experiments. someone mentioned red cabbage as another plant that gives unexpected results. Naturally I had to give it a go, so I went back to the greengrocer (he really is a lovely man) and got some cabbage.

While I have no proof that the vikings would have used red cabbage as a dye stuff, it is another example of a colour which my be achieved from using natural dyes.

I used the same principle as the beetroot (twice the weight of dye material to the weight of wool), and the same method of preparing the dyebath.

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I used some wool that I had mordanted with alum before, and when I first added the wool I was quite hopeful of getting a pinky rose colour; it looked quite promising.

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But one thing that natural dyeing has taught me is that things are seldom as they appear; after half an hour the wool had changed colour again…….. to a more slate blue.

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After simmering for an hour, washing and rinsing, here’s what I got…………….. blue! A very nice blue.

It’s another good colour to add to the previous ones.

However I have been told that red cabbage is not completely light fast (and that it may fade in colour). I’ll just have to keep an eye on it and see if that’s true or not.

Now, what else have I lying in my fridge?

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!

Waste not want not……

I was so pleased with my onion dyed hanks – I kept looking at them at thinking – Wow!!
Next day I was going to get rid of the remaining dye but when I had a look in the bath, I thought there might be some dye left. I had some hanks I had previously dyed with lichen, moss and nettles, but the colours were quite muted. What would happen if I over-dyed them with the remains of the onion dye? This would be over-dyeing and exhaust dyeing in one go. Over-dyeing as I was putting colour over an existing colour, and exhaust dyeing as I was using up any remaining dye in the bath.
So I thought I’d give it a go…….

I soaked the previously dyed hanks in rain water (it’s still raining here!!) and in the meantime added a handful of onion skins to the dye-bath, brought it to the boil and simmered for another hour. I drained the water off and I added the wool; I tied the hanks into knots to try get the ‘patchy’ affect – almost like tie-dyeing.I simmered the wool for an hour.
Here’s what I got!

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Originally this wool had been dyed with nettles. It was a very pale green, as it had been the last batch in a previous nettle dye. The pale wool at the bottom of the picture is the original. When I over dyed it I got an orange/green tie dyed effect.

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The next one had originally been dyed with lichen as an experiment. Unfortunately, in the lichen dyeing, the wool had taken up practically none of the dye, so the result from the over dyeing was a definite improvement.

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The last one had originally been dyed with garden moss. Again the original dyed wool is at the bottom of the photo; another pale pastel green. Over dyeing gave it a definite orange colour.

I have to say I was quite pleased with the results. As there would have been some copper sulphate left in the dye-bath from the previous day, the colours were not overly bright, but they were good strong colours. In previous exhaust dyeing with onion skins, I had gotten bright yellows from the last dye bath.
The tie-dye effect creates a wonderful pattern in the wool when you make something with it.

I love exhaust dyeing; it’s a great way to get the most from your dye bath. From the 140g of onion skins I originally used I got a whole range of beautiful colours! And over-dyeing is a way of using previous disappointing dyes and improving on them.

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Mordants, wool and natural dyes.

Have you ever tried dyeing wool with something that had thought would give a brilliant colour?
You’ve looked at the way it looks or stains and thought to yourself ‘Ohhh that’s a good one  – I’ll try that out’ only to dye with it, and get a colour nothing close to what you had expected. Or worse still no colour at all!
I have!
I use wool for nalbinding for viking re-enactment, and thought it would be a good idea to use natural dyed wools to make my socks, hats, mittens and cowls.  So I went looking for information about wool and natural dyes. An early find, and a great book for any natural dyer is Jill Goodwins book ‘A Dyer’s Manual’. It’s an older book, first published in 1982, but the information is still relevant. She also includes a list of dye materials and the mordants that they need.  I have found other books, but this is the one I keep returning too!

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There’s also a wealth of information on the internet. The Woolery is an online site that has information on natural dyes and mordants

http://www.woolery.com/store/pc/Information-on-Natural-Dyes-c567.htm

I found that all natural dyes are either substantive (which need no mordant) or non-substantive (where a mordant is needed).
Substantive dyes include onion skins, acorns and walnut shells. Non-substantive dyes include elderberries, ivy, ragwort and ivy.
So what’s a mordant? Well, a mordant makes the dye ‘stick’ to the wool. It comes from the Latin verb ‘mordre’ which literally means ‘to bite’; the mordant helps the dye ‘bite’ into the wool.
You can use the mordant in several ways;

1)      On the washed  damp yarn before dyeing,
2)      In the dyebath itself when you are dyeing the wool,
3)      After dyeing in the dyebath,
4)      Or for real colour fastness before and after dyeing.

So the next question I had was ‘what do I use as a mordant?’
Historically there are quite a few that our ancestors could have used, and you can still use them today. These included;

stale urine
salt
vinegar
wood ash in solution
oak galls
raw alum
water  in which rusty iron has been soaked
willow or oak bark
copper pieces that have been soaked in ammonia for about 2 weeks.

I’ve tried some of these, but they can be time consuming to source.  Oak galls are hard to find… and if you’re curious about what they look like…

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And as for the stale urine; I can assure it smells as bad as it sounds! And you have to collect it……….

So being a modern minded Viking I found some modern versions. These are mainly metal salts, which are thought to make the wool more porous. This makes the wool more able to absorb the dye and improve the fastness of the colour, even with the substantive dyes. There are several but I’ve only mentioned the ones that I use.
I mostly use Alum (aluminium sulphate). You can get it from most chemists. It’s used in combination with Cream of Tartar (3-4oz alum to 1oz cream of tartar) which brightens the colour and keeps the wool soft.
I use Jill Goodwins recipe from ‘A Dyer’s Manual’ pages 32-36.

‘Allow 3-4oz alum to 1lb of wool (so you’d need about 1oz of cream of tartar). Dissolve the alum and cream of tartar in a little boiling water and add to the pot. Add the damp wool and bring to a simmer point over about 1 hour. Simmer for a further 1 hour, stirring gently from time to time. Use immediately, or rinse, dry and store for further use’.

One thing to note; don’t stir the wool continuously as your wool may felt (i.e stick together).

I also use Copper Sulphate. Be careful when handling this one as it’s poisonous. It’s also an unpredictable mordant, and tends to ‘sadden’ or darken the colours. Used on its own it gives the wool a greenish blue colour.

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Again from ‘A Dyers Manual ‘the recipe I use is

‘8oz wool,
2gals soft water,
2 teaspoons cream of tartar and
4 teaspoons copper sulphate.’

I’ve made some mordant from rusty iron – and had the same effect from dying in an iron pot. This one also saddens the colour. I found this recipe to make an iron mordant on the internet;

‘boil 5 litres of water with 2 cups of vinegar and 1 cup of rusty nails for one hour. Leave it to stand for 24 hours and then pour off the water. This water is the mordant.’

Don’t use a pot or any utensil that you use for cooking for mordanting wool in as the mordants can be toxic !! And rubber gloves are a good idea too.
When I mordant wool I use a steel pot and utensils that I store separately fro my cooking utensils.
Also using an iron or copper pot can affect the colour (almost as if a mordant had been used!). I also use rain water we collect in a water butt.
Finally, because many of the mordants are toxic, be careful when disposing of them. I tend to store them for future use.

One further word of warning – dyeing can become addictive! Once you’ve tried it and enjoyed it, plants around you take on a whole new appearance!!

Where to start?!!

I guess it all began when I met Bob!

When we met he forgot to mention he was a viking re-enactor! He asked did I want to join him and his friends in their adventures! ‘Fine’, I said, ‘but I ain’t doing fancy dress!!’

Before long I realised there was more fun to be had in ‘fancy dress’ than sitting on the sidelines. So I asked a friend to make me some viking clothes and next thing I was having a viking wedding at sunset on a beach at Moesgard in Denmark! Wonderful memory…….

Time went by, and a friend decided to show me how to Nalbind. That’s viking looped  knitting to you and me…………
I agreed and we spent a weekend in her tent awning at Birr Castle with Audhild teaching me. Great fun  – from there I read everything I could about nalbinding and taught myself more of the stitches. Someone asked if my wool was naturally dyed? No but I though I could try that too!

That was three years ago – and now I find myself looking at plants with a different perspective. Not that they are pretty or things like that……. now I want to chop them up and put them in my dye pot!!! And the weeds that had a been a bane when I loved gardening are now my specials that give glorious colours!

Been a great journey so far and looking forward to seeing where it takes me next……..