Urban Foraged Dye Stuffs

Posted on October 21, 2014


My one skein of all white yarn. Lorna’s Laces. Gotten from an ebay purchase that shouldn’t have happened, but I had some wine and buying some more yarn seemed like a great idea at the time. What can I say? I hadn’t knit with Lorna’s yet and wanted to try it. But then my itch for dyeing hit and I let go of the white in favor of something a little more seasonal – floral yellow.


Nate and I went for a bike ride down by the river with an empty shoulder bag looking for the first thing that looked like possible dye material in any kind of large quantities, since this was mostly an experiment. I gathered an undetermined amount (I meant to weigh it before putting it in the dye pot, but I’ve forgotten a few things I meant to do in this process – I’ll do better next time) of Wedelia trilobata and some other, unknown, plant with its own cute yellow flowers.

Into the dye pot they go. Now, normally, according to everything, you aren’t supposed to mix dye pots with eating pots, but guess what, I don’t always follow the rules, and I need to go get another stainless steel pot to replace this one if I’m going to continue to dye in it. So, don’t do what I do – keep your dye pots separate from your food pots!


While the flowers were simmering for their hour long boil/simmer to extract dye, I put the yarn in another pot to mordant. The only other time I’ve done a natural dye was with elderberries and I did a vinegar mordant. It was stinky! Very easy, but very stinky. Because I remembered that we had a small amount of alum on hand, I thought I would try the alum method of mordanting (this is what you do to prep the fiber to hold the dye so that it won’t just leach out during the rinse or subsequent washes post-dye) the fiber this time around. I used 8 grams of alum and 7 grams of cream of tartar, dissolved in boiling water with lukewarm water added on top before adding the skein of yarn to simmer in that pot for the same hour as the Wedelia/mystery plant.


While the yarn was mordanting (proper use of the word?) and the dyestuffs were beginning to make the house smell wonderfully flowery, I flipped through my dyeing books on loan from the Hillsborough County library system – a very useful collection of information in these few volumes. Not much specific information to this region that I’ve come across, but maybe that just means if I get any good at this, I can write the book for the Southeast?


So everything simmered and nearly boiled for more than the full hour that was required. I decided to let the yarn cool in the pot and sit overnight so that it could soak up any dye that it was able to after-the-fact. This morning before work I pulled the yarn out, rinsed it until the water ran clear, let it drip dry over the sink for a bit and then laid it out on a towel on the table (God bless our roommates for putting up with all our bits of plants and post-plant goods all around this house) to dry fully while I was at work. Tonight when I got home, I photographed this beautiful bit of work. Pretty proud of this and glad that the color turned out less pastel than I (and everyone else) was thinking that it might.

The finished product:







I see much more of this natural, wild-foraged dyeing in my future!


Posted in: fibers