Natural Dyes: Our Results

Today we surveyed the results of our recent project and divided our skeins among our members. In recent months we have experimented with indigo, weld, osage orange, cochineal, and walnuts. Here is what we have.

  • Weld mordanted with soda ash to adjust the pH and boiled (top, left)
  • Osage orange – we found that pH matters (bottom, left)
  • Osage orange overdyed with indigo (top, second from left)
  • Weld overdyed with indigo (top, third from left)
  • Indigo overdyed with walnuts (top, fourth from left)
  • Indigo dipped three or four times for two minutes (top, fifth from left)
  • Indigo dipped once for two minutes (right end)
  • Light indigo overdyed in cochineal afterbath (bottom, right)
  • Cochineal mordanted with cream of tartar to adjust the Ph dipped for ten minutes (bottom, second from right)
  • Cochineal mordanted with cream of tartar to adjust the Ph dipped for one hour (on reel)
  • Cochineal overdyed with black walnuts (lower row, center)
  • Indigo overdyed with cochineal (bottom, second from left)

We also put together a goodie basket to be sold at the raffle for the Conference of Northern Califiornia Handweavers (CNCH) conference in 2020. Here is what we have so far.

A lovely day with much accomplished!

A Blue Sunday

We started our natural dye project in earnest. This will give us colored wool to use in the tapestry project we have started. This month we activated our indigo pot. We have one that we store in a covered pot so as not to waste any of our indigo, We bring the pot out several times a year. Normally we do this outside in the summer. This helps bring the temperature of the pot to an appropriate level by using some sunlight and allows us to do the entire process outdoors. We are dyeing carefully weighed wool skeins that we will continue to use in upcoming months to over-dye with other colors to get a number of colors to use in our tapestries. Some have already been dyed another color and we will overdye them with indigo blue.

The indigo bath must achieve the right pH and the right temperature in order to successfully produce color. We heat it if we need to and add commercial dye remover until we achieve the appropriate pH. We must be careful not to introduce oxygen into the pot which, amazingly, looks like its green, not blue.

dipping a yarn skein into an indigo dye bath

When the yarn is removed from the pot, it looks green. But as it gets oxygen from the air it starts turning blue . It’s magic!

But the yarn that had already been dyed yellow turns green!

four skeins of blue and green yarn drying on the fence

This is just the beginning! More colors to come.


May 21, 2017, Meeting

On this warm day we met to once again experiment with our indigo pot. There were seven of us: Phyllis, Sandy, Sharolene, Ann, Anne, Natalie, and Laura.

indigo dyed garments hanging on the fence



Ann’s shawl on the left was originally bright pink until it was dipped into the indigo pot. And her shirt on the right was bound into pleats with rubber bands at the neck and the hem for a decorative resist when in went into the pot.

Natalie, one of our new members, is also learning to spin on a wheel that has a history and is in need of some tweaking. Several of us helped her determine that there was a bit of a wobble when the wheel went round but we think she can make an easy fix.

old spinning wheelShe was also able to experiment with a simple resist pattern dipped into the indigo pot.

a cloth decorated with areas of white on a blue backgroundLaura was our guest who has been fascinated to learn more about indigo. She changed some items in her wardrobe from white to rich indigo blue.

three tops dyed with indigoWe experimented with immersing items in the dyepot for a longer period of time versus repeated dips to see if there was a color difference. There did not appear to be but we will see if the color fades less in the one we left in the pot longer.

We also discussed ways to connect with others like Natalie and Laura who might like to share in our adventures with spinning, dyeing, and weaving. A very nice day!


January 2017 Meeting

We had our usual indigo dye pot and a cochineal dye pot as well. (Cochineal comes from a small beetle that lives on cactus pads!) We are also making kumihimo lanyards for the Conference of California Handweavers (CNCH) meeting in 2018. Here are some photos of some of our efforts. Of course, Phyllis’s dog Flicka had to take a look too.

April 17, 2016 – More Shibori

We had a lovely meeting with just a few choice members showing up: Sharolene, Frank, Lotus, Marcia and Phyllis. We continued with our indigo-dyed shibori project. There are some interesting comparisons of wet versus dry indigo in these pics. They are duplicated to show how much darker the wet indigo is.

This is Lotus Baker’s handspun handmade beautiful vest that she made for the CNCH fashion show a couple of weeks ago.  You can’t tell by the look of it but it has a wonderful feel and drape. She made it using plain weave on her rigid heddle loom. These photos don’t do it justice.

January 17, 2016, Meeting – Our Indigo Pot

The rain held of long enough for us to use the patio for the indigo dye pot. Sandy, Phyllis, Carol, Lotus, Elaine, Marcia and Anne used the pot and shared other projects. The indigo pot has been in use for around twenty years! and just needs a little refreshing and warmth to get it back up to speed each month. Here are some of the items we dyed.

There were other activities too. Lotus brought some yardage she has woven in plain weave on a rigid heddle loom from yarn leftover on weaving bobbins. While she was here, she worked on socks she is knitting from the toe up with both socks being knit at the same time on circular needles. Sandy used her sewing skills to mend a beautiful quilted Mung jacket that belongs to Phyllis.

There were probably other things going on too, but this is a sampling.

July 19, 2015 -Phyllis’s Medal and Overdyeing a Shawl

We had a fun meeting on July 19th, 2015 at the home of Phyllis Karsten. Phyllis just got back from the senior games and won a first place medal in her 90+ class. She just missed the world record by something like 40 seconds.  Way to go Phyllis!

Phyllis at Senior Games 2015.
Sandy Kupper (left) and Phyllis Karsten (right). Photo of Phyllis at Senior Games 2015. Phyllis shown with her first place medal.

Sandy brought the extremely soft woolen shawl that Jean Shoe so expertly and lovingly made, like all her hand work. But we felt the colors were a little too bright for our tastes so Sandy did a quick indigo dip. It muted down the colors wonderfully. We were very happy with the results.

This was the bright knitted shawl before indigo dip.
This was the bright knitted shawl before indigo dip.
Carol Lewis wearing the indigo dyed shawl.

Frank’s May Dye Project

I decided to do 2 small pieces 18 X 11 inches.  These will be used for covering the covers of handmade books.

Piece #1 I accordion pleated the long way with 1 1/2 inch pleats, giving me an 18 inch strip 1 1/2 inch wide.  Then I pleated the the other direction in 1 1/2 inch pleats.  This gave me a cube  that I tied several times around both directions.

Piece #2 I accordion pleated the long way with 1 inch pleats, giving me an 18 inch strip 1 inch wide.  Then I tied the strip about every 2 inches.

Shibori tied cloth, ready for indigo bath.
Shibori tied cloth, ready for indigo bath.

I then dipped them in the indigo 3 times;  The 2nd and 3rd time I dipped Piece #1, I opened the folds on the corners slightly.

Piece #1
Piece #1
Piece #2 right after one indigo dip.
Piece #2 right after one indigo dip.

Our dye pot was Strong so I only left the pieces in for 1 to 2 minutes.

This after 1 dip of 1 minute
This after 1 dip of 1 minute

Here are the pieces wet.

Piece #1 wet
Piece #1 wet
Piece #1 rinsed and dry
Piece #1 rinsed and dry
Piece #2 wet
Piece #2 wet
Piece #2 rinsed and dry
Piece #2 rinsed and dry


















Very little dye rinsed out and there is no crocking. As you can see the darkest blues are almost as strong dry as they were wet!