Kim's Blog

Archive for Nature Dyeing


Bluefaced Leicester (white) and Shetland (nature dyed, natural fawn and natural brown)

This is the fourth in a series of handspun hand knit shawls. Each shawl was spun using the forward worsted draft.

Énbarr is a white horse, owned by the Celtic sea god. Depending upon the source, her name is said to mean frothing, flowing mane or imagination. If you let imagination take you there, you can see the sea foam tripping over itself as it rolls onto the sand coloured shores.

Shorelines. Constantly shifting and changing. Re-shaped by time, the ebb and flow of the ocean and storms weathered.

….this is why I scour!

Water after scouring “clean” yarn.

If I did not scour the yarn, the spinning oils might interfere with how the dye adheres to the yarn. Cheers all!

Gypsum Flowers and Lilac Blossoms

Hat Box


I had a hat box filled to the brim with nature dyed yarn samples. What a shame to tuck those astonishing nature dyed colours away in a black and white box. This was the impetus for the knitting of my Gypsum Flowers and Lilac Blossoms shawl. I wanted to find a way to use my small sample skeins, no one weighing more than 10 grams, in a project.


Once I took all the skeins from the box and separated them  into colour families, I was particularly drawn to work with the neutrals. Colours I often hear referred to as muddied, dull or “blah” colours. Yes, these colours may pale a bit, when seen next to a red, yellow, rust, or rich brown. But separate them out and compare them to one another and your neutrals will start to sing. These are the colours that hold the power to make or break a piece. These are the colours with both rich complexity and subtle nuance. These are the colours that have the potential to bring unity to your work.

Nature Dyed Neutrals

The skeins I decided to use had been dyed with the likes of logwood chips, black beans, magnolia seed pods, deep maroon hollyhock flowers, black-eyed Susan petals, Royal Sunset Asiatic lilies, birch bark paper, and Chianti sunflower petals. Once all laid out the bands of soft, warm, earthy colours reminded me of white basal sandstones and marine shales, muds and clays. Adding a single skein of a brighter, cleaner green dyed from lilac  blossoms (third skein from the right) completed the mix; lending the line up of colour just the right balance.

Then the knitting began… be continued next blog. ​ ​

Following Glimmers of Inspiration……

It is always so interesting to see where one wee twinkle of an idea can lead us.  As I set up for one of my workshops last year, I took a hat box filled to the brim with nature dyed sample skeins and spilled them all out onto the table.

The intent was to inspire; to help students appreciate the potential in those sprays of leafy branches and bouquets of flowers waiting to be dyed on the table before them. To give them a sense of some the beautiful, rich colours to be coaxed from nature’s bounty. 


Looking out over the table I noticed three distinct divisions of colour. There were: soft neutrals that went beautifully with the greens; a band of yellows and yellow golds that complimented the greys; and a vibrant series of reds, oranges and pinks. The jumble of a hundred plus 10 gram skeins morphed; distilling into three colourways and better yet, three potential projects.

Here is a photo of the first project. In the next few posts I will share the glimmers of inspiration the colours aroused, the steps I was compelled to take and where this simple shawl has led me.

Gypsum flowers and Lilac blossoms.

Mushroom Dyeing

Mushroom dyed yarn samples and Ann Paulsen Harmer's newly released book on dyeing with mushrooms.

Mushroom dyed yarn samples and Ann Paulsen Harmer’s newly released book on dyeing with mushrooms.

It has been just over a month since I attended a Fungi and Fibre Symposium on the Sunshine Coast just a short ferry ride north of Vancouver, British Columbia and my head is still reeling.  I was away visiting family for 3 weeks immediately following the Symposium but once I returned home I got right to work mordanting yarn, collecting and then drying mushrooms to prepare for some dyeing experiments after Christmas and then some more serious dyeing in the Spring (once I have enough wool spun for a project).

This was the 17th International Symposium (the first held in Canada) with 122 delegates from around the world in attendance.  It was a week filled with learning, foraging and the forging of new friendships.  In addition to daily dyepots and forays into the forests in search of mushrooms we were able sign up for workshops.  The three I attended were: an informative, well-presented “Basic Mushroom ID” workshop with Dr. John Field; “Exploring Lichen Dyes” with Alissa Allen and “The Chemistry of Mushroom Pigments” co-presented by Preben Sørensen and Jytte and Jørgen Albertsen, members of the Danish Mycological Society.  I feel most fortunate to have been able to attend and am thankful to the Organizing Committee, the host of Volunteers who worked so hard before and during the Symposium to ensure things ran smoothly and the Workshop Presenters for their generous and sharing  spirits.  It was an extremely well-run and thought out event and one of the most memorable experiences I have ever had.  A huge thanks to all involved.

Preparing Silk, nature dyeing

We have had an early spring here in Vancouver. This means it is time to get busy and mordant some yarn, hankies and fibre to have them ready as the plants come into season. Here are two dyeing hints that may prove helpful to anyone new to nature dyeing.

Shibori tape tied through the skein's centre and around silk hankies.

Shibori tape tied through the skein’s centre and around silk hankies.

1.  Shibori Tape is a very handy thing to have on hand in your dye studio. When I first started dyeing, as well as tying the skein with figure 8’s, I used old cotton shoe laces to tie two loops through the middle of the skein to mark its centre. Then I found Shibori Tape. I cut off the length I need, strip it down into narrower widths and tie two loops of the Shibori tape through the skein to mark the its centre. I switched to Shibori tape because: it does not absorb the dye; it is easy to find in the mordant or dye bath when I want to give the skein a swish or lift it from the bath; and it can be rinsed and reused.




2.  Potassium Aluminium Sulfate Mordant (alum) and cream of tartar (ctt) mordant procedure:  Many instructions simply tell you to dissolve the alum and the ctt in very hot water before adding them to the mordant bath.   I dissolve the alum first in a jar containing really hot water; boiled water that has sat for just a minute or two. Then with the alum well-dissolved I add the ctt and stir until it too is well dissolved. The milky solution shows you what a mordant bath looks like if you add the alum and ctt together or if you add the ctt before the alum is dissolved.  The nice clear solution is what your mordant bath will look like when you add the ctt after the alum is completely dissolved.  Remember you need the alum and ctt in solution for them to bond with your fibre.  Enjoy!

Alum and ctt added one right after the other; before the alum has had a chance to dissolve.

Alum and ctt added one right after the other; before the alum has had a chance to dissolve.

Alum added first and dissolved completely before the ctt is added.

Alum added first and dissolved completely before the ctt is added.

Brazil wood


A snapshot of silk embroidery yarns dyed with Brazilwood.  Colour modulations obtained via different mordants and dye concentrations.  Enjoy!


Up until last year I had only spun and knit lace yarns from Shetland fibre.  Deciding to delve a little deeper, I purchased five pounds of roving in 5 natural colours: white, light grey, dark grey, dark brown and fawn.  I spun the whole lot up and set them aside for nature dyeing once I decide on a project.

I also wanted to see what kind of differences my own scouring and fibre preparation methods would make to my handspun.  So naturally, I purchased a “few” fleeces from a Shetland sheep breeder on Vancouver Island.  The first natural white fleece I scoured was from a sheep called “Happy” and it sure lives up to its name.  The lustre in this fleece is incredible….it simply glistens….the first skein taken off the niddy noddy made my heart leap.  So, if you have the time and the inclination, starting with fleece is definitely worth your while.  Something to keep in mind too is Shetland fleeces are on the smaller side.  So scouring is not so large or as intimidating a task as it may seem.  I scoured Happy’s fleece in small batches over just a few days.  After the fleece was dry, I simply picked and drum carded the fibre as more was needed for spinning.

I am anxious to see how Shetland yarn dyes up too.  I recall some time ago reading that the dye process makes Shetland “hard”.  I have an inkling, but am not sure what exactly the author meant and am interested to see how my own dyeing fairs….water hardness and pH can be so different between one locale and another…..causing dyers to have very different experiences….even when using the same dyes and fibres.  As soon as my lilac tree is ready this spring….I will be dyeing sample skeins of “Happy” a very cheery yellow colour.

In the meantime, the natural coloured Shetland skeins beckoned me.  They are so beautiful in and of themselves.  Not able to resist, I started a small Allover project, the “Northman Mittens” pattern by David Schultz.  This pattern is a great first project as I teach myself knitting techniques for Allover pattern work.  I must warn you though working with Shetland has proved addictive……………..I have started on the second mitten of the pair and am already dreaming of which natural colours to use for the next pair as I wait for spring and my lilac tree to leaf.

One mitten down, one to go.....

One mitten down, one to go…..and then I think, another pair or two????

Box of Silk “Chocolate”

Since April I have been nature dyeing spun silk and silk cord for a friend for her artwork.  Here is a photo of what was sent her way last week.  This colour palette was derived from pomegranate, cutch, quebracho, gallnut, symplocos, myrobalan, indigo, mock orange leaves, french lilac leaves and flowers, woodland violet flowers and leaves, deep majestic purple coloured gladiola flowers, pink echinachea, pink yarrow, lavender, dyers coreopsis and red dahlia.  To me this box of silk embroidery thread is more like a box of chocolates…..cause they are all just so yummy.

I love nature dyed silk.  The colours are so rich.

I love nature dyed silk. The colours are so rich.

Later this summer, I will work on a range of purples and reds with logwood, lac and cochineal.  Can hardly wait!

Cochineal & Lilac Leaves

One of my goals when immersion dyeing, whether it be with synthetic dyes or nature dyes, is a level dye run.  This means the colour is even throughout the length of yarn.  A second goal is a well exhausted dye bath; most of the dye is taken up by the yarn, with hardly any dye remaining in the liquid.

Colour modulations of cochineal at 2% WOF.

Colour modulations of cochineal at 2% WOF.

To achieve a level dye run and a well exhausted nature dye bath:

  • Strain the liquid from the solids after extracting colour from your dye materials.  Use the strained liquid for your dye stock.
  • Bring the dye bath up to temperature slowly.  This allows pigments the necessary time to bond with the mordants.
  • Gently stir the dye bath every 10 – 15 minutes, both during the processing and cool down phases.


Colour modulations of lilac leaves at 300% WOF.

Colour modulations of lilac leaves at 300% WOF.