About this blog space

This blog space is a place for me to primarily put all my wool gatherings, adventures, experiments. I am now a mum of two astounding daughters, and I used to be a DIY musician and co-ran a tiny independent label (Slampt), so this punk can-do attitude plus feminist analysis and Art school experience somehow informs my wool work! I am also deeply moved by GREEN, trees, weather, colour combinations in nature, and texture. I aim to source wool from round the corner or at the very least UK grown and processed, and to create no toxic waste. This means I get to see sheep as often as I can, sometimes at wool fests.
I am on Ravelry and Etsy as FatHenWildWool and Facebook as Rachel Holborow.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Adventures in Green

So as green is my FAVOURITE COLOUR to an extent I really can't explain, I am going to share what I have so far discovered about dyeing wool green with plant dyes and WITHOUT use of copper sulphate, as it just seems too toxic. I'm an asthmatic and I hate to poison the environment, so harsh mordants don't seem the best way to go for me. I also am not happy to use Acid dyes, primarily because to my knowledge they are derived from petrochemicals, and as we purposefully don't even own a car for this reason, it doesn't sit comfortably with me. I'm sure there's plenty of info out there on the petro chemical industry, so I'm not going into it here.
Anyway, GREEN!
My favourite shade of green is a mossy green, not conifer, not Granny Smiths Apple, not quite grassy green. This I have discovered on my travels with plant dyes is hard to obtain. As I don't use copper sulphate, I have a complicated route to green, which involves over dyeing, and as many as three pots. My current favourite is:
Tumeric / Elderberries / Urine
If you first prepare your wool, carded or unprepared, but definitely with no lanolin left in, as it acts as a resist to dyes, by immersing in luke warm, then slightly warmer water. Try to get any air bubbles out gently as they can also act at a resist. Just be gentle in general with the wool, do everything slowly and change temperatures slightly, to prevent felting as much as possible. A silky wool in a Top like Blue Faced Leicester is highly likely to trap air.
 I then make a Tumeric dye bath in a big stainless steel pan, which is EASY. For approx 100g of wool, as little as 25g Tumeric will get a very strong Yellow. (although sometimes, when it's old?, tumeric gives an orange)( I also hear that Tumeric fades with time, which may or may not be true) This may be too strong for you if you want a grassy green/conifer green, in which case use less Tumeric, or take the wool out quickly, after a couple of minutes. Heat the pan with water and Tumeric in for only a few minutes on a simmer (There should be enough water to cover wool well when added, and I use rainwater, harvested from a water butt, off the flat roof, as it should be soft water). You want the water to be less than a boil or the wool will felt, but a bit warmer than would be comfortable for your hand, as then it will set to the wool. You can also add some lemon juice for some extra mordanting, and acid yellowness. You only need to leave it in for 10 mins or so as Tumeric is so strong, or you can leave it in until water has cooled to help the wool adjust and not felt. You will find that the Tumeric does not really dissolve but is more suspended in the water, so if you want an even colour you will have to move the wool around gently to get all over coverage. I'm not bothered about that, as one reason I dye for myself is to get interesting varigated colours for interesting spinning and knitting of yarns.
Okay so, then, take the wool out of the tumeric, and wash gently at a similar temperature to the dye pot it was in, to minimise the chance of felting. You are aiming to get as much yellow and pwder out a s you can at this stage. As Tumeric is kind of greasy, a bit of Bio D washing powder or washing up lioqid at this stage helps, but you need to wash the bubbles out too, with as little squeezing as poss.
Phew! Then have a cup of  tea and let the wool rest, whilst you wait for your Elderberries dyepot to heat up!
For your elderberry dyepot first pick a carrier bag full of Elderberries then add them plus a 70fl bottle of vinegar (4 Cups?) to some soft water (enough to cover berries) and heat up. DO NOT BOIL as you are aiming for a pinky purple NOT a grey, which will result in boiling water. Simmer for approx 1 Hr, or until alot of the colour has gone out of the berries. The water should be a rich pinky purple. Whilst the water is still hot immerse the wool, which should be of a similar temperature by having been rested in water baths of gradually increasing warmth. This is the bit that irritates me, so if I'm dyeing for myself I rush it and end up with slightly felted wool, which needs more pre drafting for spinning... Then leave the wool in the dye bath for as long as your patience allows, but definitely 8hrs. It should be a kind of pinky gold/tannish colour.
Then rinse the wool, you can use cool water as the dyepot is now cooled.
Then add it to a bucket that your husband hates full of GONE OFF URINE solution. To make gone off Urine collect the family's wee for a few days then put a lid on it for at least 2 weeks. My Husband refused to donate his wee... It doesn't need to be a full bucket load at all. This gone off urine has Ammonia in it, a strong Alkali. When you immerse pink/ red shades in alkalis they go green! I guess this is because plant derived reds are acidic, especially if they've had vinegar added. It doesn't work with madder though.
The bucket has a very smelly liquid in it  after 2 weeks, and you can add some water to it too, before you add your wool, to make enough solution for your wool to sit very comfortably. An hour should be long enough to turn it magically GREEN.
You will want to wash out the disgusting wee smell anyway, but don't forget to do it gently in cold water. This method has given me variety of greens, from yellowy green to conifer green, including the elusive mossy green when I'm lucky. You can get a greyish green by ommiting the dyeing yellow stage. You can dye with weld, nettles, dock leaves, horse radish etc for the yellow stage, with an alum mordant if you wish, but the effects will be more subtle. I also have got excellent greens, from mossy to sea green by combining indigo dyed wool with yellows, mordanted as appropriate. It seems to work best with indigo as the first dye, then the yellow, when the wool has dried out.
I have slight reservations about using Tumeric as it does seem to fade over the years. I also don't like using the spectralite chemical as an oxygen reducing agent in the indigo process. But I guess I need to do the full 'woad brewing process' then...

All above photos use elderberries, tumeric and urine to get different effects. Nothing is guaranteed in the world of plant dyes, excitingly....


  1. Very interesting process. I like the idea of avoiding harmful chemicals when dyeing. (The bit about your husband made me laugh out loud!)

  2. I do try to protect him from the worst excesses of my wool habit, but sometimes it's unavoidable..