The number of plant dye recipes are as vast as the number of wild dye plants to choose from. Factors such as fiber, hard/soft water, ph, brand of mordants, after baths, cooking times, temperature, type of pot, spoons, and many others can affect the finished outcome. Because of this, I can only share with you my recipes and experiences, and encourage you to try natural dyeing for yourself!
Materials I use:
1/2 gallon plant material
2 - 4 qt. enamelware pots
4 oz wool fiber
Alum (you can find this in the spice aisle of the grocery store)
Stainless Steel Strainer Spoon (It looks like this.)
Step 1: Harvesting plants
Pick a plant, any plant; from your own backyard, down a back country road, in an abandoned lot, road ditches, etc. Please be conscientious, and not remove too many plants from one area; unless they're invasive, then it's a free for all! Most plants will give a variation of yellow, orange, or green. Kind of like nature, right!
Note: Want to know if your plant will release any color? Pack a jar with plant material and fill it with water. Put on a lid and set it in outside for 24 hours. If your liquid is clear, it likely won't create a dye for your fiber. You can add this to your dye bath in Step 3, if you decide to use it.
Step 2: Mordant
What's a mordant? It's a solution used to open up the fibers and allow the color to set. In one of the pots, fill about 3/4 of the way with warm water. Add 3/4 Tablespoon of Alum and stir until dissolved. Submerge your fiber and simmer for 1 hour. (I don't stir mine, but if you do, remember not to agitate wool, or you'll end up with felt.) Let your fiber cool completely and leave it in the solution until you're ready to dye. If it's going to be a few days before dyeing, you can take it out to dry, and then just soak it in water again.
Step 3: Creating Dye Bath
While your fiber is mordanting, you can be making your dye bath. If you're using petals or blossoms, just throw them all in the pot, as is. If you're using the stems or large leaves, cut them into 1" pieces. You should have enough to fill half the pot. Pour clean water over the plant material until you've filled the pot almost to the top. Let the plant material simmer for 1 hour. Give it a stir once in a while. Let it cool and sit overnight.
Step 4: RemovePlant Materials
It's pretty self explanatory. I use the strainer spoon and get out most of the big pieces. If you're a little more picky, you could strain it through cheese cloth and remove all of the fine particles.
Step 5: Dyeing
Now with the dye in the pot, add your wet fiber. Make sure your fiber can move freely in the pot. If not, add a little bit of water at a time. Don't pour directly onto fiber or it may felt. Let everything simmer for 1 hour, gently stirring, as needed. Turn off the heat and let it cool. For the best results, let it sit overnight.
Step 6: Wash and Dry
Give it a gentle wash in luke warm water. Rinse in clean water of the same temperature. Keep rinsing until your water runs clear. Again, don't agitate your wool, or you'll regret it. Squish it in a towel to get the water out and hang dry in the shade.
Step 7: Be amazed at your awesomeness.
I value the serendipity of working with natural colors. I don't use precise measurements or expect to achieve the same color twice. Mostly, I just wing it. If you'd like more precise, scientific information, here are a few of my favorite resources...
Harvesting Color (my personal favorite)
A Dyer's Garden
Google: Natural Plant Dye Recipes
Ravelry groups: Natural Dyeing or Plant Dyeing
If you have any questions or would just like to share one of your natural dyeing experiences, please don't hesitate to leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!
p.s. Luke wanted to me to tell you, he'll be 8 years old in four more days. He's just a wee bit excited.