Natural dyeing: Early Bird Gets the Worm

The spring is on it’s way and I know that it’s much further away in other parts of the world that are more south. Spring and the early summer are ideal time for natural dyeing. When you are collecting different leaves and plants that’s when you get the strongest, the most vibrant colours. Snatch the plant’s early in the growing season.

In Finland the best time to collect plants is around the end of May and the beginning of June. Sadly this year I’m going to totally miss this time, because in this month I’m going on a road trip across the US and I wont be back to Finland until the end of June. But that’s okay because I couldn’t be more exited about the trip. This doesn’t stop me from giving tips to other people. I thought that I would look back at my first year of natural dyeing and all the different things I have used in dyeing. To this first part I have collected the things that I collected from the nature myself.

greens from the leaves

Yellow is the easiest colour to achieve with natural dyes. I think that most green leaves and plants give yellow colour (not all and some more than others). Most greens that I have got (above) are green because I have used grey yarn instead of white.  Only exception is the lupine, the yarn was originally white and the colour turned out pale green. I have seen an almost neon green/yellow colour from lupines that where picked up early in the summer. As I said earlier the better. The birch leaves and the heather where dyed early in the summer, meadowsweet, fireweed and cow parsley much later. Obviously other factors have a lot to do with the end results, like where the plant has grown, in what kind of soil and how much you collect them. Natural dyeing is not exact science.

colours of earth

I got some lovely brown colours from lichen and juniper bark. Every country has their own laws, in Finland you need to ask permission from the land owner if you are going to collect moss, lichen or subshruds such as heather. Everything else you can collect from where ever you want, but it’s good to respect nature anyway. I was very lucky that the back yard of our summer cottage offers lots of different kids of plants to use. When the fall came I went to the woods to hunt cortinarius semisanguineus also known as suprise webcap. The colour that you get from them is so pretty! I want to find more of them next fall. I also need to find an old and mossy spruce forest so I can find bloodred webcaps. And I feel that I’m going to experiment with mushrooms more in general.

Knitting with the colours of nature

During the past few months I have collected quite a versatile collection of different coloured yarns, that I have dyed naturally. I find these colours very inspiring and I think they go so well together.  I think that’s part of the charm of the natural dyed yarns, the way they match so well. The autumn is here. I can’t believe September is almost gone already! The weather is getting colder here in Finland and because of that and these yarns I feel like knitting.





I started out with this knitted beanie. This wool yarn use to be grey before I dyed it with heather. I wanted a simple cable pattern beanie with a pompom on top. This pattern is not from anywhere, I just made it up as I knitted it. It’s not perfect, but I still quite like it. These photos with the beanie were taken by a friend of mine Riikka with a lovely Marianna as model. These photos are a little sneak peek into a project that I have been working on during the past few months. This week we had a really nice photo shoot, I can’t wait to share that soon.





Natural Dyeing: Cow Parsley, Meadowsweet and Fireweed

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.



Natural Dyeing: Juniper bark

There was one small juniper tree  that had come to the end of its journey growing at our yard. I was interested to try what kind of colour I could get from its bark. Stripping the trunks was surprisingly easy. All I really needed to do was to pull the bark out with my bare hands.  I let the bark soak in water for one day before boiling it for one hour. Rest of the process was similar to dyeing with lupine (read about it here.) Boiling juniper bark smells really good! I’m serious, if somebody develops a juniper scented perfume I’m the first one to buy it! The colour was pretty too.








I think this brown colour is really pretty. All the yarns I used are wool yarns and were mordanted beforehand with alum.


I reused the dye for the second time but added madder powder into it . This gave the yarn it’s redness.


Natural Dyeing: Heather

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.)

Natural Dyeing: Lichen

Dyeing with lichen differs from the ”normal way” of plant dyeing. It’s kind of like making a trifle. I have tried dyeing with lichen before, but I used the kind you find in trees and I found that the results where pale and more greenish. Using lichen from the rocks is a different story, I really loved the colour. Now I’m must say that I’m really bad at identifying different kind of lichen. I just collected “a lichen cocktail” from all the different kinds of lichen I could find. I think in dyeing the most commonly used lichen is called kiventierra in Finnish. If anyone can tell me how these following lichen are called, either in Finnish or English, I would be very interested to know!

Useful tip for collecting lichen from rocks (or from trees): It’s best to do it on wet weather, preferably when it has just rained. Dry lichen does not want to let go of the rock. You can also create fake rain by using spray bottle and that will make collecting easier.







As I said the dyeing technique is like making a trifle. Take a pot and make the first layer with lichen then add a layer of yarn, then lichen and so on. In the end the yarn should be completely covered in lichen and in direct contact with it. Then add enough water so that the water almost covers the top layer.


I brought the water to a boil and after that lowered the temperature. You don’t want to keep temperature too hot because the wool yarn might get damaged. I dyed the yarn for two hours. I’m not going to lie – the smell was interesting and I was happy I was working outside, but the result was beautiful. The difficult part is to clean up all the rubbish from the yarn. The last part is to rinse the yarn in cold water.


As I said the result was a beautiful reddish brown colour. In fact I got so excited about my first try that I collected some more lichen and used a bit bigger 10 litre pot.





On the left you can see the colour I got from my second try. I saved the colour liquid from that batch and coloured the yarn on the right as normal by boiling the yarn in the colour liquid for one hour. The yarns I used here where wool yarns I had pre mordanted with alum. You can read my post about mordanting here.


Natural dyeing: Heather, Onion Skins and Birch Leaves

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.



Natural Dyeing: Mordanting

Before I started experimenting with plant dyeing I needed to mordant the yarns I was going to use. I collected all the white and grey coloured wool yarns I could find from my own closets and from the storage room of my childhood home. Some of the yarns where really old. I think that some of the curly ones are from my late aunt’s collections. The yarn might be from a pullover that was unraveled, so it could be made in to new things (everything needed to be saved).

Most of the yarn I used was 100 % wool yarn which is perfect for natural dyeing. Wool and silk absorb natural colour the best. In my experience cotton and linen and more difficult to dye, protein fibers work the best. Do you have any experiences with different materials? I noticed that there is a huge difference in how different kinds of yarns react to natural dyes.



But back to mordanting. Why is it important to do mordanting? This step is to ensure that the colour will stick to the yarn better and that it will be stronger. I wanted to pre mordant the yarn, because I have heard that the results are better that way. It’s also possible to mordant the yarn at the same time as dyeing it. But I think it is handy to get this step out of the way so I can concentrate into more fun parts of natural dyeing. First I winded the yarn into skeins and tried my best to keep them from tangling too much.


I used this very large pot that we use to boil water at our summer cottage (I’m struggling to find an English word for it). The amount of alum is always around 10% of the weight of the dry yarn. I had 1 kg of yarn so I added 100 g of alum.  I let it dissolve into small amount of lukewarm water and then mixed it with the rest of the water. I made a mintage here with the amount of water, it should be 5 litres of water towards 100 g of yarn. I didn’t use enough water but it seemed to work anyway. I soaked the yarn in water beforehand so it was wet when I added it into the pot. I brought the water to a 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.






Lankojen puretus

The weather was as grey as the yarn I was working with and it also started raining, but I got the deed done. I dried the yarn for later use, but I always soak the yarn in water to make sure it’s evenly wet before adding it to the colour liquid, that way the dyeing result is going to be even.

There are other things one can use for mordanting than alum, but I like alum because it doesn’t change the colour of the yarn the way iron or copper do. Unless that’s what you want to do. Copper changes the colour into more greenish and iron brownish colour.  Later I discovered that many people also use cream of tartar together with alum. Cream of tartar should help the alum dissolve better into the water and to absorb better into the yarn. Live and learn! Next time I’ll do things differently but even so I think my way worked fine as well. Have you got any mordanting experiences? What has worked for you?

Ps. Make sure that the pots and other tools you use for mordanting and dyeing are only for dyeing not for cooking.

Natural Dyeing: Onion skins

I think onion skinss are amazing. It’s incredible how much colour they have in them. I used about 115 grams of onion skins to dye these yarns. I got the skins for free from my local supermarket. I might have gotten couple of strange looks while I was going through the onion box, collecting loose onion shells but it was definitely worth it.

I let the onion shells soak in water for one day before boiling them (in the same water) for two hours. For dyeing I used a variation of old wool yarns that I had mordanted earlier with alum. After shifting the dye bath I boiled the wool yarn in the dye bath for one hour (I kept the temperature at about 80 °C). After that I rinsed the yarn. Onion tends to release a lot of excess colour so it’s good to add some vinegar to the last rinsing water. I used wool yarns that I had previously mordanted with alum.





The first yarns on the left are from the first dyeing batch (88 g). I saved the dyeing liquid and dyed another batch of yarn in it(100 g). This batch is the yellow one in the middle. After that I used the colour liquid for the third time but added one teaspoon of madder powder and half a teaspoon of cream of tartar. These are the yarns on the right(77 g).

I think this is a good example of how different yarn qualities effect the dyeing result. I used both white and grey coloured yarns. With white yarn I got lighter oranges and yellows and with grey yarn stronger oranges and greens. I used ordinary onion shells but I also want to try red onion shells. I hear you can get a beautiful green from them. Has anybody tried red onion skins?


Natural Dyeing: Lupine

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!