I have been a bit late in the game for natural dyeing this year. Here in Finland beginning of June is definitely the best time for natural dyeing, thats when you get the best colours. I did some natural dyeing with lupines years ago and I got beautiful almost lime green colour. This year was my first time dyeing with lupine flowers and my goal was to get blue. This blog is called The Easy Blues, but ironically the blues are definitely not easy in the natural dyeing world. With lupine the blue colour is in the flowers, but the colour is very sensitive to heath so you need to keep that in mind when dyeing with them.
Lupine is not a native plant to Europe and in Finland in resent years we have been trying to get rid of it. But you can still see roadsides full of it. Lupine is great at spreading around and it’s not good for native plants who are having a hard time growing with them. So harvesting them and stopping them from spreading the seeds is good for the environment. Still Lupine is an excellent dyeing plant. The stalk and the leaves have yellow colours. If you dye with the whole plant normally you get green colours. Trying to get the blues that’s a different story. As you can see I got beautiful turquoise colour, but I was not lucky with the complite blue this year. I think its because I was doing the dyeing at our summer cottage and forgot my digital thermometer at the city, so I was just guessing the temperatures and I think I went too hot.
For the yellow yarn I used only the stems and leaves. I had pre mordanted the yarn with alum. I have written a blog post where I go through the whole dyeing process and you can read all about it here. For the green (which I don’t think is captured the right way in this photo) I used the flowers and a little bit of stem. It’s like basic colour theory more flowers (blue) means more green and more stems is yellow.
Now for the blue (which again is more turquoise in real life). I read this blog post from Tetri Design (all in Finnish). In the blog post Anna-Karoliina Tetri gives good instructions for getting really bright blues. She also highlights the fact that you can’t “boil” the colour out of the flowers because the heath will destroy the pigment. Basically you put the flowers and water in a pot and ad the premordanted yarn TOGETHER with the flowers. She has tried two different ways. Lifting the temperature to 80 degrees celsius and keeping it for 45 minutes or lifting the temperature for 45 degrees celsius and keeping the temperature for 2 hours. After that she lets the yarns stay with the flowers in the dye bath for at least 15 hours. She said that both methods resulted in similar results, the lower temperature gave slightly lighter and more blue results. The higher temperature was darker but slightly more green, which makes sense if the heath destroys the blue pigment. I think it a good idea to use a grey coloured yarns for darker blues. I have experimented with that before as well.
I tried the 45 degrees instructions, but as I said I forgot my thermometer, so I have no idea what the actual temperature was. And that’s why I think my blue has green in it although its a beautiful colour! I’m not complaining at all. With natural dyes you never know what you will get.
You do need fresh flowers because the colour will disappear also from dried flowers or withered flowers. This could also be why I got turquoise, because between picking the flowers and starting the dyeing process the family needed to cook lunch and eat it too. So I guess the flowers where not as fresh as they could have been.
The surroundings (walking distance) of our summer cottage actually had surprisingly little lupine compared to the previous years so I didn’t really have material to try again with the thermometer. This is a positive problem for the environment! I might try again next year. I’m interested to know how well this colour will last. Does anyone have any experience? I still have woolen socks that I knitted from the lime green lupine yarn I dyed in 2014 and they are looking good. Has anyone gotten really amazing blues out of lupines? Do you have lupines in your parts of the world?
During my summer of natural dyeing I have found many plants from which you can get similar kinds of shades of yellow and green. Usually white yarns turn to yellow and grey yarns to green. I have collected some of them in here. All the yarns displayed have been mordanted previously with alum (read about it here.) I used the same technique as I did when dyeing with lupine (read about it here.)
I collected the cow parsley early in the summer when they were blooming. The result was not the most intensive one but still pretty.
Both meadowsweet (on the left) and fireweed (on the right) were collected early in June when they were not yet blooming.
I did a little weekend trip to the summer cottage and dyed with heather for the second time. I was curious to see what the difference is when I use heather from the beginning of June and from late August.
I don’t think this is the most scientific of experiments, but I did collect heather from the same place I collected the last time and I also used the same wool yarn. The yarn on the right is from the early June and the one on the left is from the middle of August. The colour was definitely more intensive in June, but the second colour is still beautiful.
I also coloured grey wool yarn and the result was beautiful green colour. Heather has quickly become one of my favourite plats to use in natural dyeing.
I have noticed that this Norwegian wool yarn (Viking Naturgarn) repeats the colours really beautifully. I mordanted the yarn beforehand with alum (read about it here). Before starting to boil the heather I let it soak in the water overnight, after that the process was similar to dyeing with lupine (read about it here.)
I took class on natural dyeing in the beginning of the summer and I though I share some of the things I dyed there. All of the plants I used for the colouring where collected in the beginning of June. Beginning of the summer is a great time for plant dyeing because the colours are more vibrant the earlier it is in the plants growing season (at least here in the north). The yarns I used where all 100% wool yarns and they were mordanted with alum. Read about mordanting here.
I used about 280 g of heather and dyed 108 g of wool yarn. First I soaked the heather in water over night. Then I boiled the heather in the same water for two hours. After that I dyed the yarn by boiling it in the sifted colour liquid for one hour.
For these yarns I used the liquid dye that was made out of onion skins. This was the third time that liquid was used. I added 3 g of madder powder and 1 g of cream of tartar to the liquid and I dyed 40 g of yarn. This really brightens the orange colour up. Check out my post for dyeing with onion skins here.
I used 319 g of birch tree leaves and dyed 73 g of wool yarn. You do need a quite a lot of leaves for dyeing a lot of yarn. I boiled the leaves in water for two hours and then I dyed the yarn by boiling it in the sifted colour liquid for one hour. To get a bright green colour like this, it’s important to use early leaves from the beginning of the summer.
Lupine is not really a native Finnish plant (it originates from the North America). Still it has taken over the country slowly but steadily during the past 200 years. It cannot be denied that Lupine has become a fixed site on the Finnish landscape, especially on the roadsides. Some people still regard it as unwelcomed weed but I think it is one of the nicest looking weeds there is. The colour I got out of it was quite pretty as well. There are many ways to do plant dyeing. The technique is still pretty new to me and I’m in no means an expert but this is how I have been doing it so far. I’m not the kind of person who loves measurements and exact monitoring of temperatures. Often I go with the gut feeling and don’t bother with thermometers or digital scales.
1. I collected 1 kg of lupines. I used the whole plant; leaves, stems and flowers. I put them into a 10 litre pot and filled it with water, just enough to cover the lupines and I boiled them for two hours.
2. I dyed 100 g of white 100% wool yarn. Before dyeing I mordanted the yarn with alum. This step is to ensure that the colour will stick to the yarn better and that it will be stronger.
I used 10 g of alum. That is 10% from the weight of the dry yarn. I added alum to lukewarm water and then added wet yarn in. I brought the water to boil and after that kept the temperature at around 80 °C. Wool yarn does not like to be boiled and boiling can also evaporate the alum into the air when the alum should be absorbed into the yarn. I just checked that the water was not bubbling and let the yarn stay in the pot for one hour. It’s important to stir the yarn every now and then to ensure an even distribution of alum.
3. After two hours the colour had dissolved into the water from the lupines and the dye bath was ready to be sifted. The dye bath should be left to cool for a bit before adding the yarn but I don’t always have the patience. Sometimes if I don’t have time to continue the dyeing on the same day, I will leave the plants in the water and wait for the next day to continue.
4. After mordanting the yarn I transferred the wet yarn into the dye bath. I brought the dye to boil but after that kept the temperature around 80 °C. I left the yarn in the liquid for one hour, stirring it every ones in a while to ensure an even colour.
5. When the dyeing process was done I rinsed the yarn until no more colour dissolved from the yarn. If the colour keeps on dissolving it’s good to add some vinegar to the rinsing water.
5. And finally I let the yarn dry. It’s important not to dry it in sunlight because the sun fades natural dyed yarns and fabrics.
And this is the end result, a lovely light green. I have seen an almost neon green colour out of lupin but those lupins where collected in the early June whereas mine where later in June. So many different factors affect the result, the time of year, the soil and the growing conditions as well as the quality of the yarn. All and all I was pretty happy with my first natural dyeing experience that I did on my own. Stay tuned for more!