I’ve seen two or three videos or blog posts on dyeing fall leaves this past week. It seems every dyer has their own twist. Today I thought I’d tell you one of my ways to dye fall leaves. This way is not fast, but it gives fall colours.  Plus you can dye larger pieces of fabric with it.  Are you ready? Here goes.

First, a safety note: all dye equipment is to be used for dyeing only. Keep separate equipment for dyes and food and store it in a different room. No eating or drinking while in the dye area! It’s too easy to cross contaminate food, drink, and dyes.

For this particular dye job I’ll be using ProChem Washfast Acid Dyes – Sun Yellow (119), Magenta (338), Brilliant Blue (490), and Black (672). I’ll also, roughly, be following Ingrid Hieronimus’ “Primary Fusion” formulas. Very roughly. I never could follow a recipe exactly! I’ll also be using a method called casserole dyeing, or spot dyeing in an old metal casserole pan.

First, soak 1/4 yard of wool, selvedge still on, in a bucket of tepid water with Synthrapol or DAWN Original (blue) dish detergent for 2-6 hours. This is one of the actions that will prevent white core. I forgot to add the DAWN or Synthrapol. I soaked my wool overnight. Hopefully the long soaking will make up for the lack of a wetting agent.

Soaking wool

A brief aside here. White core is when the dye does not penetrate the fabric the entire way. A lot of rug hookers do not like the look of it and equate it with an inferior dye job. It means the dye has not adhered to the fabric properly and may rub off or not be lightfast.

My experience has been that white core dye jobs are not as long lasting as other dye jobs.  I’m not willing to put white core pieces in a floor rug. I plan to thoroughly soak and overdye white core pieces so the dye does go completely through the fabric.

I also find white core a worse problem on recycled white or light coloured wool. Remember to thoroughly scour or clean all recycled fabrics before dyeing! Soaking in Synthrapol or DAWN Original opens up the fibres to accept the dye. You can also use Jet Dry. You don’t need much folks. Maybe 1/2 teaspoon in a 1 gallon ice cream bucket with your 1/4 yard wool.

A word about soaking wool. Never shock it. If the wool is at room temperature, use room temperature water. Shocking it will felt it. We want it fulled, not stiff like a boiled wool coat. Think of trying to hook with wool from those thick felted wool coats!

Secondly, prepare your dye space. Whether it’s a dedicated dye space with its own stove (my first choice), or your kitchen (my last choice), prepare the space in case you have a spill.

I have a second larger old metal casserole pan I put all my dyes and dyeing equipment in. You can use a cookie sheet with sides lined with paper towel or newspaper…anything to soak up dye spills. I also place my casserole pan on newsprint, a large paper bag, or paper towel. I prefer to reuse the newspaper. What I’m after is some way to protect my countertop.

Get all equipment out and handy. I use a measuring cup, measuring spoons (in my case, special dye spoons AND regular measuring spoons), and 60 ml. syringes for this dye job. I also have a set of tongs specifically for dyeing. The tips of mine point down, not straight out. You can use chopsticks and a dedicated large dye spoon to manipulate the wool should you not have the tongs.  

Third, prepare yourself! That means: bib apron, eye protection, face mask, and gloves (preferably latex or thin gloves that you unscrew and screw on dye powder jar lids). Wear closed toe shoes!

Now you’re ready to dye your fabric.

Line a 9×13” metal casserole pan with tin foil, shiny side up.

Arrange damp fabric in hills and valleys, all scrunched up, in the tin foil lined metal casserole pan.

Wearing protective equipment, place the dry dye powders in the bottom of a dry measuring cup dedicated to dyeing only. Add a bit of boiling water. Stir with chopstick until completely dissolved. Add water to make 1 cup.

Pour or syringe the tops of one half of the “hills” evenly in your first colour. I recommend going from light to dark. So apply the Sun Yellow first. Then the oranges and reds. Followed by a green, and a reddy brown. Bear in mind that colours do not always work out as you wished and you have to adjust as you go. Go ahead and adjust.

You don’t have to use all the dye solution if you don’t want to. You can store it in labeled glass jars for later use.

Add water to the side of the pan to 1/2”, if there isn’t already a 1/2” of liquid there. Cover with a tin foil lid. Pop into a 350 degrees F oven for half an hour.

Mix 1 teaspoon citric acid OR 3.5 tablespoons white vinegar (5% acetic acid) and hot water to make 1 cup. Stir to dissolve. Pour evenly over wool. Replace tin foil cover and bake another hour at 350 degrees F.

Pull out of oven, remove tin foil cover, check to see if all the dye has soaked into the wool. The water in the pan should be clear. If not, let the wool cool in pan until it has. This may take overnight.

When the fibre has taken up all the dye, rinse in water the same temperature as the wool. Squeeze gently to remove excess water and hang to dry. If desired, press it before cutting and using.

That’s it! Casserole dyeing fall leaves. Enjoy!

The results.
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