Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Solar Natural Dyeing Part 1 - Madder

There's lots that is wonderful about living in the country.  But there are a few things that aren't great.  One is living with well water.  My well has lots of iron in it and tends to be a bit murky when it is being fed with winter snow melt.  That's not great for dyeing  - natural or synthetic.  So I collect water when it rains in buckets and melt snow water when it snows.  Then in the summer, I have a source of fairly pure water for my dyeing experiments.

For quite a few years now, I have tried to harness the power of the sun to heat my mordant pots and extract some dyes.  I bought some great clear 5 and 2 1/2 gallon buckets with clear lids from a restaurant supply place.  They were sort of expensive, as I remember, but I have been using them quite a while now and since they were good quality plastic, they are holding up well.  With lids on tight, the liquids in the buckets get pretty hot on a warm summer's day.  Too hot to hold your hand in the liquid.

This summer I had plans for lots of natural dyeing to get rid of some of the large stash of plant material I have stored.  Plus, I had harvested my madder plants that had been growing for 7 years last fall.  I chopped  up roots and put them in a crock pot to heat and reheat in the early spring.  At first, the yarn was a brownish red.  I cranked up the heat a bit and got more color.  Then, I took out the roots and chopped them a little finer - more color.  Finally as skeins got to be cherry red, the pot ran out of steam and lapsed into a soft peach.  I might have gotten more color, but I was tired of the process and called it quits. 

Handspun wool dyed with madder roots.
I have more madder in my dye supplies and will have another go at dyeing handspun later this fall or winter.  But, I must say dyeing with plants I had nurtured for several years was pretty cool.

8/2013 I just found this little U-Tube Video about dyeing with madder root.  Not a lot of information, but instructive about not getting the roots too hot.


  1. Hello; I love the colors from the madder. What fun you are having. We don't have such plants growing in the north here, but will have to see what is available; so far I have just used marigolds, which turn wool warm and sunny! Fran in Calgary

  2. Hi, These are lovely. I pinned this photo on my natural dye pinterest board with a recommendation to visit your blog. Reading it has increased my sensitivity when it comes to choosing woods for fiber tools.