Category Archives: Dyeing

Natural Dye Series: Part II

Happy Halloween! Nothing will make you feel as though you’re creating a witches’ brew like dyeing with lichen. It’s a unique way to get into the holiday spirit.

In the second installment of the Natural Dye series, I’m going to show you how to use lichens as a natural dye. If you thought the marigold dye from Part I was fun, you will love this installment. Remember the foamy, magenta liquid in the jar from Part I? That’s the lichen dye.

This dye takes about a month to prepare, but it is well worth the wait. Something about it is magical because you’d never expect such a vibrant color to come from a leathery, grey-brown lichen.

For today’s tutorial you’ll need:

  • A glass jar – canning jars or recycled sauce jars are perfect
  • Measuring cups
  • Ammonia
  • Water
  • A handful of umbilicaria pepulosa (pictured below) – this type of lichen is abundant on boulders, and there are several variations. For results closest to mine, try to find this lichen. You may achieve different results with another variation, but that is part of the fun of natural dyeing!

Before you get started, I want to include a note on ethics and lichen dyes. Unlike our marigold tutorial, in which I grew and harvested my own plants, lichen dyeing requires you to search public and/or forested land. Be considerate and mindful of your impact on the land and how you may be disturbing the ecosystem. Do not collect more than you’ll need – a little goes a long way. Avoid scraping lichen from stones as much as possible as lichen is slow-growing and may not regenerate. I went out on a windy day over the weekend and found more than enough on the ground surrounding the boulders.

Once you have your lichen, you’re ready to go. To achieve a magenta dye from umbilicaria, an ammonia extraction is required. After you’ve collected your lichen, place your handful into a jar.

Next, create a 50/50 solution of water and ammonia. I’ve measured out 1 cup each. Pour the solution over the lichen, leaving about an inch of air at the top of the jar. You should notice the solution briefly change to a brilliant shade of red or purple that will fade to brown.

Close the lid tightly and shake to your heart’s content. Give the jar a few shakes each day for about three weeks. Once a week, take the jar outside and carefully remove the lid and swirl the contents of the jar to allow oxygenation. Repeat the process over the next few weeks until the liquid is purple or magenta. This process can take more than three weeks. Do not rush it– it is a practice in patience. I’ve dyed this way many times and have found that I can achieve a gorgeous dye after about a month.

Since I already have another jar of concentration ready to go, I’m going to dive into dyeing.

For this part of the tutorial you’ll need:

  • 1 skein of Universal Yarn Ready to Dye Superwash Merino Worsted Weight yarn.
  • Jar of concentrated dye
  • One stainless-steel pot that you don’t plan to use for cooking – I purchased mine for a few dollars at a thrift store.
  • Tongs – they don’t need to be stainless steel but choose some that you won’t use for cooking.
  • Measuring cups
  • Water

In Part I, you used a mordant to help fix the marigold dye to the fiber. That step isn’t necessary for this lichen. In fact, it can actually dull the color.

Fill a stainless-steel pot with 4-5 cups of water and place your yarn inside. Set aside for approximately 30 minutes.

Pour off approximately 1 cup of the concentration into the pot. Gently stir and turn the yarn to incorporate the dye into the water. I suggest you open your windows for ventilation as you’ll be warming an ammonia solution over the stove-top.

Bring water to just under a simmer. If you have a thermometer it should be about 190 F. Allow the yarn to soak in the dyebath for approximately one hour, occasionally turning the yarn gently with your tongs. Notice how brilliantly saturated the color becomes.

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Remove from the heat and allow the yarn to cool in the dyebath overnight.

Remove the yarn from the dyebath and thoroughly rinse. I do recommend a gentle detergent or wool wash as the ammonia can be quite pungent. Hang and allow to dry completely. Then, pat yourself on the back for your patience. I told you it was worth the wait!

I’m working on a pattern that uses the yarn from Parts I and II of the Natural Dye series. In the future, I’ll show you how to use natural dyes on some of our other Ready to Dye yarns.

Natural Dye Series: Part I

One of my favorite things about this time of year is the abundance of warm colors—the trees are changing, goldenrods are abloom, and my marigolds continue to flourish. All of these things—leaves included, are wonderful resources if you’re interested in dyeing yarns naturally.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to post some tutorials on naturally dyeing yarn, all using our Ready to Dye Collection. First, we’ll use marigolds to make a gorgeous golden dye. Then, we’ll dive into an especially exciting dye: umbilicaria lichen. Finally, we’ll work on a project that incorporates the colors of both yarns. I hope you enjoy this series!

For this collection, I’ve chosen our Superwash Merino Worsted Weight yarn. It’s plump, soft, and perfect for a satisfying quick knit. After dyeing your yarn, I promise you’ll want to knit it up immediately.

For today’s tutorial you’ll need:

  • 1 skein of Universal Yarn Ready to Dye Superwash Merino Worsted Weight
  • Approximately 100 g of marigolds
  • Alum – you can find this in the baking/spices section of your grocery store.
  • Two stainless-steel pots that you don’t plan to use for cooking – I purchased mine for a few dollars at a thrift store.
  • Tongs – they don’t need to be stainless steel, but choose some that you won’t use for cooking.
  • A kitchen scale – I can’t recommend this one enough. Although it isn’t essential, if you’re a knitter, you should have one! It’s useful for much more than dyeing.
  • Measuring cups/tablespoon
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Salt
  • Water

The first thing you’ll want to do is create your mordant. Mordant is what fixes the dye to the fiber.

  1. Dissolve 1 Tbsp of alum into ¼ cup of hot water.
  2. Fill a stainless-steel pot or bowl with enough water to cover your yarn so that it can move freely.
  3. Pour your mordant into the water.
  4. Add your yarn and soak for about an hour.

While your yarn is soaking, you can prepare the dyebath.

  1. Fill your stainless-steel pot with enough water to allow your yarn to flow freely.
  2. Dissolve 1 tbsp of salt into the water.
  3. Pour ½ cup of vinegar into the water – salt and vinegar help to brighten the dye.
  4. Add your marigolds and use the tongs to stir the pot.
  5. Bring to a simmer over your stovetop. Allow to simmer for about 30 minutes.
  6. Lower the temperature so that the water is just under a simmer. If you have a thermometer it should be about 190 degrees F. I’m a bit irresponsible, and I usually eyeball this part. I haven’t had any issues yet, but use a thermometer if you’re worried.

Remove your yarn from the mordant bath. Gently squeeze (do not wring) the excess mordant from the yarn (you can place the remaining mordant into a jar to save it for another dye project if you’d like). Carefully place your yarn into the dyebath.

Continue to soak the yarn in the dyebath over low heat (maintaining a temperature just under a simmer) for approximately an hour. Gently turn the yarn with your tongs occasionally. After an hour, remove the pot from the heat. Set aside to cool. I usually leave my yarn in the dyebath overnight.

Remove your yarn from the dyebath and thoroughly rinse. You can use a wool wash or gentle detergent if you wish. You’ll need to gently shake out bits of flowers and plant matter.

Hang and allow to dry completely.

Finally, admire your results!