Natural Dye Workshop

I went down the back road to my local shops today.  It was incredibly windy, and all the trees were thrashing about; I wondered how the Felty Folk coped with this wild weather. I was thinking away when I saw something move on the stone wall.

Lauder Wall

I went a little closer…

Hidey hole

“Hi Neeva. Are you OK? You look a bit worried”

“Hello Ruth. I’m OK, but I had a bit of a close shave with a dog, and had to scramble up here out of the way. I’m not sure if it’s safe to come down yet.”

“Oh dear, well there’s no-one along here now, and I haven’t seen any dogs here either so you should be safe now,” I said, looking down the road. She slid quickly down the creepers, and into the grass. “Are you going to be able to get home alright in this wind?” I asked.

“It’s easiest if I stay in the long grass around the edges of fields,” she said, “but it’s quite tiring.”

“Go safely Neeva, I’ll see you soon.” I hope she got home OK. That hole in the wall looked familiar, wasn’t it where Kirsty left the Lauder jar in her 365 Jars art project?

Recently I went on a Natural Dyeing Workshop,  just over the Border into England, near Coldstream. I’ve always been curious about using plants as dyes, but never tried it before. The weather was dramatic on the drive there, and I had to resist the urge to stop and take photos of leaden grey skies and bright sunshine on yellow rape seed fields. The sky still looked threatening when I arrived:

Tillmouth fields

Eve Studd of Cornhill Crafts welcomed me as I arrived, and what a cornucopia of dyeing goodies were waiting for me:

Dyers cornucopia

The other workshop goers arrived, including a couple of my friends from the Tea Tree Tea knitting group in Edinburgh, who I was pleased to see again. Eve explained about different properties of mordants, which are used to make the dye stay in the yarn, and to affect the colour. She had pre-mordanted two fleeces: the Suffolk wool  (below middle) had been treated with Alum, the Blue-faced Leicester with Copper (looking a bit green, below right), and the curly Cotswald wool was untreated.

Raw materials

These were some of the dried plant materials we were going to try out: Dandelion heads, Marigold flowers, Rose Madder bark, lichen etc.


Eve had already got about six pans boiling in the kitchen, it was just a matter of adding the leaves and twigs and wool, and seeing what colour they came out. We all got to try dyeing a bit of each wool in the different dye pots. This is the Sweet Cecily pan:

Sweet Cecily pan

It dyed the wool a pale acid yellow. This is the Rose Madder pan before the dye has been taken up by the wool:

Rose madder pan

Eve and Fiona take out the steaming dyed wool from the pan:

Out of the pan

It is then left to dry and cool naturally:

Madder drying

We dyed some wool with Indigo – it’s an unusual dye, the colour doesn’t develop until it’s taken out of the dye pan and oxygen hits it. It’s incredible how intense the colour from this plant can be.


Eve said it smelled horrible, but I didn’t notice this when we were dyeing it. However, when it was hanging out to dry back at home a horrible musty, sweaty smell pervaded my house! Yeuch!

We were struggling to dry our dyed wool because it kept raining, so I protected it with my umbrella – it looked a bit like a jellyfish.

Under the umbrella

The sun came out in the afternoon, and you can seee our colourful results:

Shades in the sun

The light brown wool is dyed with walnut husks, the golden yellow at the bottom is dyed with onion skins, the yellow and greeny shades are dyed with nettles, Dock leaves, Elder and Sweet Cecily. After we had exhausted all the ingredients, it was time to take our dyed goodies home:

Take home goodies

The dark green/teal colour is created by dying wool yellow and then giving it a quick dip in Indigo dye – lovely.

The dyed wool needs a good wash with soap flakes and thoroughly rinsing out to finish. This is what the Rose Madder dye comes out like on the differently treated wools:

3 Madder dyes

The top left was mordanted in copper, top right was in alum, and the bottom one is unmordanted. It’s interesting to see what a difference the mordant makes.

So now I’ve got a whole pile of dyed wool. My friends have asked me what I’m going to do with it – I’m going to use the Suffolk wool for my needle-felting as, it’s got too short a length of fibre for spinning. The rest I will comb (card) and then spin, but I will need to learn how to use, and borrow a spinning wheel to do it, as the drop spindle I use will take far too long, and I could still be spinning it in five years time!



  1. Wonderful dyeing session, wish I’d been there but Buckingham is a little far away. Bril pics, will you spin and weave now? Congratulations to Cornhill Crafts for a great workshop.

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