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Post update May 28, 2014

I can see this post is still getting some traffic. A friend reminded me that I never wrote more about vegetable dyeing and therefore never clearly mentioned the most important info about it: These dyes are not light or washfast. They are fun to play with, but you should not expect to knit items that are meant to stay true to colour.


When I first became interested in natural dyeing it was winter and by March I was getting impatient from all the reading, NO PLANTS in sight. So I decided to try my hand at using what the larder had to offer.

Frozen strawberries and black currants, fresh beetroot, tea leaves, turmeric, onion peels, and horseshoes in rain water for modifier. My mordants were all ready thanks to the www; alum, cream of tartar, tin salt.

And, I have to say, I had a blast. The colours were amazing and everything just went well. I used the most commonly described method, premordant yarn, simmer my berries, cool overnight, strain, then yarn into dyebath to simmer, cool overnight and hang up to dry. I didn’t rinse before drying except in the case of a modifier bath (iron, copper, alkaline or vinegar bath after the dye pot), then a soap flake wash after a week or so which the colours stand up to very well. Sunlight or laundry detergent: not so well….

Beetroot / Rødbeder

When you boil beetroots, the water turns orange. Yes indeed. Then you add vinegar to the pot and BOOM, instant, deep, fantastic purple. I did one skein at a time, exhausting the dye intensity each time. One skein got an alkaline modifier and turned first purple, then beige when dry (the colour literally ran off). beetroot cold dyeI never did get around to trying a skein in the orange pre-vinegar dyebath, maybe some other time. I did do a cold dye version though, soaking a skein in the juice for about a week in the cupboard, and it worked every bit as well as the hot dye bath.

Strawberries / Jordbær

strawberry yarnNo, you don’t get pink yarn from cooked strawberries, you get salmon orangy. Nothing much I did to it seemed to change that fact. Not really my thing, so I didn’t pursue it further…

Left skein had an alkaline modifier, right skein had an acid modifier, both premordanted with Alum.

Black currant / Solbær

From the garden, saved in the freezer. I just don’t eat that much jam anymore, the bushes grow new berries each year, what the hey, in the pot they go.

Left to right are: Pot ash modifier (alkaline), copper modifier, tin mordant, just dyebath, vinegar rinse.

black currant dye

Red cabbage / Rødkål

Yum, the smell of boiled cabbage…. or not. Surprisingly though, the red cabbage gives up its colour very well and gives a variety of shades and colours with the different modifiers, similar to the range I got from the black currants only more muted. Maybe the chemical properties of the colour in there is the same?

Left to right: Just dyebath, vinegar rinse, tin mordant, iron modifier, potash modifier.

Onion skins / Løgskaller

I’m almost tempted to put this in with the other dye plants, because this dye is supposed to be as colourfast as them. But it is a vegetable, so we’ll mention them here.

First I tried regular yellow onion skins. Alum + CoT mordant. I added one skein at a time, then another as the first was removed and so on until the bath had exhausted. I used only about 25 g of skins for 4x 33 g skeins. Left to right are first and second skein in, the third green one had an iron modifier after dyebath, and the fourth is just a pale, but nice yellow. The last three on the right are done with red onions skins, 1 simple dyebath, 2 iron and the third had pretty much exhausted so I added some orange peels and simmered some more getting a brighter orange. All skeins had about 1 hour simmer each in the dyepot.

onion skins / løgskaller

Onion skins / løgskaller

Turmeric / Gurkemeje

Basically what you do is add a good couple of spoonfulls of turmeric powder to your boiling water, enter yarn. Take out after 5, 10, 20 and 30 minutes to get deeper shades. A short alkaline bath afterwards can really bring out that yummy, warm orange of a buddhist monk’s robe. Leave it in sunlight and it fades in a matter of days and turns beige if you wash with laundry detergent. Works far better on wool than cotton. There’s quite a bit of powder left if the yarn no matter how much you rinse it, not visible but it sheds out when you wind the skeins for instance.

Tea / The

Tea is not really a dye they say, it’s a stain. Well, you can’t really get it out, can you? So, for brown/beige it works quite alright. AND you can use it on cotton. I dyed a couple of baskets I’d made from heavy cotton string. Then took the lid of one and dipped it into a bowl of water where I’d added some of my own iron modifier from horse shoes. The water turned ink black, I couldn’t even see my item. When I took it out, it had turned a really nice chocolate brown and it stays that way without fading.

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