Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Adventures with Natural Dye (Pompom Autumn 2016)

Have you seen the Autumn 2016 edition of Pompom Magazine?

It is the first time I have felt so excited about this magazine that I ordered a copy before it was released.
This issue has a focus on natural dyes, a topic which fascinates me.

Living "in the wilds", I have no shortage of dye sources on my doorstep and it has long been my plan to get out there with my wicker basket and start foraging.

There has been resurgence of interest in natural dye-ing recently, with the publication of The Modern Natural Dyer by Kristine Vejar, of A Verb For Keeping Warm.  I love Verb yarns, but they are rather elusive in the UK:  my only skein came to me in a sock club.  I am (allegedly) using it to knit P-Rex.
Verb yarn on the right
But I digress...

Pompom Magazine arrived and I immediately cast on the Iara stole by Renee Callahan.
I am using some organic merino from Queen of Purls in Glasgow - dyed UN-naturally (tsk!) a stunning shade of violet, with contrasting natural silver grey Gotland from Guthrie the sheep, who is cared for by Hooligan yarns.
I do not have enough superlatives to describe how I feel about this yarn and this pattern.

Also in the magazine is the Thessaly cardigan by Hanna Maciejewska.
The sample copy is knit up in naturally-dyed merino DK by Anna of Gregoria Fibers, now based in Spain.

Oops - I appear to have bought the three skeins required to knit this cardigan (insert innocent face emoji here!)

There was a typo in the instructions for the mock cable, which caused me some confusion, but I contacted the designer and she was quick to help - I have added her reply to my project page on Ravelry.
So that is ongoing...

There are several other patterns in this book I intend to knit.
Seriously inspiring.

But it doesn't stop there.
I had an urge to hit the cauldron.

I consulted The Herb Book  (mine is an older edition - I didn't realise it was back in print - woo hoo!) and from all the dye-stuffs in the immediate vicinity, the one that jumped out at me was the tansy.
Shilasdair uses tansy flowers to produce a beautiful golden yellow, but she uses an aluminium sulphate mordant.

I was excited to read that you don't need a mordant when using the leaves... though rubber gloves are advised, as this is a powerful medicinal herb, not recommended for use by women in their reproductive years unless they have something they want to lose.

So off I wandered into the adjacent field, gathering the local crop.
The lushest leaves were of course deep within a nettle patch, in clear view of the neighbours.
Oh dear :)

I filled a 5 litre bag with leaves, which weighed in at one and a half pounds.

I chopped the leaves, boiled them up and brewed them for an hour.
I then strained off the leaves and added my pre-soaked yarn.
Noodle soup anyone?

I allowed it to simmer for half an hour, as the Herb Book suggested.
Next time I would probably leave it for longer, in hope of a stronger colour.
I rinsed until the water ran clear, and was delighted that the wool retained a beautiful sunny glow.

On the left:  the undyed yarn.
On the right:  my tansy-dyed version.

For my first experiment, it has turned out really well.
I intend to have another go with my second skein, brewing for longer in the hope of achieving  a deeper colour.
I would like to use both skeins together to knit an autumnal shawl.

There are instructions in Pompom to dip-dye using rhubarb - I've got some of that!
And there is a bag of black kale in the fridge (though I want to eat that).

It has reached a pretty pass when I assess the contents of my fridge for eating versus dyeing!


  1. I'll bet you also have some dyer's chamomile (anthemis tinctoria) growing wild along the roadsides there. The flowerheads make yellow. And, you can make a cup of relaxing tea from them.

  2. (about using urine as a mordant, which I know you know, but this was just interesting)

  3. Hi Roo.... um, I feel awkward, but I am going to just be direct. If you used the flower in the picture, I am 99.9% sure that is not tansy. Tansy has no big petals around its flowers, just button heads and more fern like leaves. It is called reinfan here in Norway and it looks the same in Norway and Alaska, so I am pretty sure it would look the same in your part of the world too. I am not sure what that flower is, but it is pretty! Tansy should give an even stronger yellow... just fyi. Yarrow is also a good yellow and no mordant needed. I can try to insert a tansy will post this and try again.

    1. You are right! It turns out that this is Common Ragwort! The lesson learned is not to trust my husband's botanical knowledge 😊

  4. I couldn't paste it... I am sorry. I do not mean to be critical at all, because I love natural dyeing too. I just googled tansy and images. I hope it helps. There is a group here locally near me, full of women who studied natural dyeing back when Norway had an actual school dedicated to weaving dyeing sewing etc... and they also use mushrooms and lichens. I picked common grey stone lichen and boiled that up in an iron pot. I let my yarn soak for a day, but it became an amazing whiskey color! I loved it! Anyway, we are having a dye day later in September and are going to use some apple bark from a tree that fell in our garden, and some onion skins and perhaps some other things. I have not dyed with those things yet, so it will be fun. It is a very addicting hobby :-)

    1. Exciting! Thanks for spurring me on to check my wildflower book! 😊

  5. Thank you for your understanding! :-) Dyeing with plants is always fun. I heard from a woman here that in her experience, plants grown in different soil and even different years... all can lead to different variations of color. Bit like vintages in wine, so that is kind of fun too. There is something a tiny bit magical about it all. :-) Happy dyeing!

  6. I've been doing some of this garden dyeing too & have read very good advice just to squeeze the wool gently when it comes out of the dye pot & leave it to dry in the shade. Only rinse once it's dry - I've tried it and I think the colour does look better.

  7. What a lovely shade that turned into! Can't wait to see what you dye next. I love this turn toward natural dyeing that I've been seeing pop up everywhere. Your knitting projects on Instagram continue to amaze. Wishing you a good end to summer and start to fall :-).

  8. More inspiration shared, thank you so much. Treated myself to a paper Pom Pom and planning the yellow hat. That stole is going to be gorgeous!