I’ve become quite interested in natural wool dying this summer. Oddly enough, it all began with a gift from my dad.
My parents recently published a beautiful coffee table book; The Long Walk, A Year in the Life of a Sheepherder and His Sheep by Duane McGarva. My dad is the photographer and my mom is the writer. They were attending a book signing at a wonderful shop; Warner Mountain Weavers in Cedarville, California. Also attending the event was Rebecca Burgess author of Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes. My dad was so taken by her book that he bought it for me. It is an amazingly wonderful book and I love it!
Natural dying seemed difficult to me and I wasn’t really crazy about the “pale” out come that many of the plants delivered. I had attended a Natural Indigo Dying class…..I must interject a hint to those of you telling your friends that you are attending a “natural dying” class….be sure to emphasis words like : wool, linen, or plant to ward off their concern as to why you need to know how to die…naturally!! Ok, back to the Indigo class at Warner Mountain Weavers. They had been simmering, stirring, and diligently working on their Indigo vat for a solid year! Everyday…yikes. That did not sound, smell, or look fun but bless their hearts, it worked and we came home with some lovely blue yarns and fabric. However, I was still pretty sure that natural plant dying was not going to be for me. Rebecca’s book and another random gift changed everything.
As I have mentioned, I work at an amazing, small high school in Montana. Because of it’s size and the forward thinking staff, the students participate in some pretty cool projects. Remember, it was the Graphic Design class that created this website and blog? One senior in the Ag department raised wildflowers that would be beneficial to bees thus helping increase the bee population. Since I am a beekeeper she gave me several flats of mixed wildflowers. I planted them in several places, curious to see what they were.
Rebecca’s book has a picture of a wonderful sunny yellow yarn which was dyed in the sunshine using Coreopsis flowers. I was so excited to discover these little cuties alongside of the chicken house! I had my own plant dying material.
I had also been saving a small amount of beautiful white wool from a ewe that I had sold. Her fleece was amazing and had been coated. Which means that the ewe wore a canvas coat all year to keep the vegetative material out of her wool.
Pretty clean huh? And, it’s such a pretty color naturally. Unfortunately, most of that color is lanolin which washes out and leaves the wool very white. After washing and drying this wool I used an alum mordant (described in Rebecca’s book).
The next step was to put the Coreopsis blossoms in a gallon jar with water. Place them in the direct sunshine until the water turned orange. This only took a few minutes in the hot July sun.
( Sorry about the reflection of the lid.) Then I added the wool and left it in the sun for a couple of days until I liked the color. Rinsed it in a little vinegar, washed it, and ohhh, ahhh….
Isn’t it lovely? My grandkids and I made another batch and it turned out just as nice. I can’t wait to spin it! Thanks Dad.