Friday, August 10, 2012

Solar Dye for Wool

I am studying botanical illustration at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens ( and am an avid gardener.  Well these hobbies have crashed together with a class I am taking "Painting Plants that Paint" on dye plants.  We will sketch a dye plant, learn about them and make a solar dye from some of them.  I thought it would be fun to dye some needle-felting wool using solar dyeing and here are my first three attempt using plants from my garden, left to right in the photo above: red hibiscus, fig leaves and woad leaves (the red you see is the onion bag mesh I put the fibers in to hold them loosely together).  Mother Earth News has an article from 1983 (!) on one method to do this:  Fibers must be mordanted, that is, simmered and soaked in a substance mixed in water that allows the dye to penetrate and "stick" to the fibers. In this method, the mordant, alum, is added directly to the solar dye bath, cutting off one step (but, I am guessing, not producing the strongest dye).  The results?

First, the color of the undyed wool (roving) was a slightly creamy white:

And here are the dye results: purple-gray for the red hibiscus, pale yellow for the fig leaves and pink-brown for the woad (though woad was traditionally a source for blue dye, mature woad leaves will produce a pink dye and this dye bath was not properly prepared, as woad can be tricky):

I am currently working on a needle-felted wall hanging of cattails and will post my progress soon.  I might work some of these naturally dyed fibers into it.  'Til next time, I'll be needlin' around!

UPDATE: A photo of the next set of solar dye jars:   Hopi red dye amaranth (which is turning the wool yellow, not red!), muscadine grape skins (lavender wool so far) and turmeric (the color you see).

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating.

    Can't say I've ever known anyone else who dyes wool via this solar and mason jar process. :)

    Looks like fun!