Dyeing – Resources

Dyeing – Resources

There are resources out there to help you in choosing a dye powder and mordant, and that tell you how much to use.  I highly recommend checking them out.  The following are my suggestions and opinions based on what I’ve used in the past 33 years of dying.

One resource is Karen Casselman’s “Craft of the Dyer”, which goes through various mordants for wool and has a handy chart that shows you how much of a mordant to use for one pound of wool.  She focuses on dyeing with lichen, which can be difficult to find in parts of the country.

Another is “Dyeing Wool and Other Protein Fibers: an introduction to acid dyes” by Susan Rex.  The author provides a comparison between the more common dyes and provides formulas for figuring out how much you need of each type to get the color you need.  This is a difficult to find resource and you are more likely to find it on a used book site like Abes Books.

Note:  neither of these books is for the faint of heart or the beginner.  These are detailed dye books for the intermediate to advanced dyer.

For beginner dyers, I recommend Majic Carpet dyes.  These are food grade dyes, but don’t be fooled.  From the distributor of Majic Carpet dyes “My dyes are professional grade acid reactive dyes…Majic Carpet Dyes are for master dyers and beginners and everyone in between.” (please see comment section below for further comments about the dyes from Wanda Kerr).  You still need a mask everyone!  And separate utensils and pots.

While I enjoy using Majic Carpet dyes, and have used them for years, I also have found them to not be as lightfast as other dyes.  However, lightfastness can also be affected by the dyeing process and the mordant you use.  I used to use vinegar, but now use citric acid.

Books using Majic Carpet dyes are: Barbie Baker-Dykens dye books (“Formation of New Formulae” and “Basic Color Theory”), or Susan Logue’s “Past & Present Antique Colors & Spots”, Christine Little and Susan Logue’s “Antique Colors and Spots – Book II”, Christine Little’s “SkyBluePink With a Green Smell – Book I”, and “Seeing Spots Before Your Eyes – Book 1”, available from Encompassing Designs in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia.

If you want to use ProChem dyes there are a multitude of dye books out there too.  I like Gene Shepherd’s “Prepared to Dye”, but I also bought the DVDs for the book to clarify some issues.  If I had to choose between one or the other, I’d buy the DVDs first.

There are a lot of dyeing resources available.  Many more new ones since I started dyeing.  Plus if you search the Internet you can find detailed instructions on different dyeing methods.  Just make sure they are suited to the fibre you are dyeing.

Silk and wool are animal fibers and take up dye differently and use different dyes than cotton or synthetics.  Nylon will dye with the same dyes used on silk and wool, but all three will take up color differently.  I find silk to be the lightest, then wool, and then nylon the darkest.  Also some colors are made up of more than one color pigment, and different fibers prefer to take up different colors.  Meaning you could put nylon, silk, and wool in a medium green dye bath and get a blue green nylon, a light yellow green silk, and a wool closer to the desired green color.  Of course, this also depends on the dye used.

So there’s a few resources for you to work with to get started.  If you have any favorite resources, post them below.  We’d like to know.

Dyeing Tips – General

Dyeing Tips – General

Hi all!  Time for another edition of Dyeing Tips. 🙂  Bear in mind these tips are ones I go by when dyeing the bright colors I prefer to use in my wall hangings.  Whether your color is lightfast or not (lasts a long time) depends a lot on the type of dye and chemical used to set the dye, as well as the methodology used for dyeing.  I hope this helps people.

Depending on the wool, pre-wash it before dyeing.  Because my yarns are not pre-washed, I don’t pre-wash a lot of my fabric.  However, I simmer both yarn and fabric in the dyeing process, so they are ‘fulled’, or partially felted, when they dry out.  Any undyed fabric or commercial fabric is pre-washed (for example, up cycled fabric or fabric I want to use off the bolt).  It should be noted here that I am creating wall hangings, not rugs for the floor.  You may feel more comfortable running everything through the washing machine and dryer before hooking, especially if it is a floor rug made completely from wool fabric.

Soak fibre in water with Synthrapol or DAWN original dishwashing liquid soap overnight before dyeing.  Not doing this can cause the dye to absorb unevenly on wool fabric, leaving the inner part of the wool white and the surface blotched.  When the inner part is left white after dyeing we call it “white core”.  It is not good as the color doesn’t stay on the surface of the wool fabric as long as it normally would.

Squeeze out the soaked wool and rinse before putting in the dye bath.  Some people dye with the Synthrapol in the dye bath.  I find it bothersome as the foam or suds get in the way of seeing how well the color has absorbed.  Plus the dye bath seems to have a greater tendency to boil over.

Never ‘shock’ the wool.  If it’s been sitting in cold water overnight, put it in cold water on the stove and heat up gradually.  It usually takes 15 minutes on my stove to go from cold to simmering.

Dyeing wool should be simmered, not boiled to death!  We’re fulling the wool, not boiling it for a coat.  Also, dyes absorb best at a certain temperature…simmering or just below simmering.

A word about mordants.  A mordant is the agent used to set the dye.  Rug hookers often use vinegar or citric acid, but you can also use dyer’s alum and other chemicals.  Add the mordant according to directions.  You can pre-mordant, simultaneous mordant, and add mordant after the dye stuff is added.  I prefer to add the mordant once the fibre has been in the dye bath and comes to a simmer (approximately 15 minutes on the stovetop).  Be careful not to add too much mordant.  It will make the fabric stiff in some cases (alum) and cause it to disintegrate prematurely.

Vinegar acts as a mordant, but is really a ‘modifier’.  It does not hold color for very long compared to other mordants.  I prefer Citric Acid for this.  Though dyer’s alum is good too.  There are many different types of mordants and before use one needs to research the safety requirements and suitability for the fibres they are dyeing.  A word about alum:  be sure you have dyer’s alum and not regular alum.  Dyer’s alum is a different chemical that gives different colors.

Leave the fibre in the dye bath until all the color has been absorbed.  This usually takes 45 minutes to an hour on my stove.  I suggest ‘cooking’ the fibre for one hour after it comes to a simmer.  Not leaving the wool in the water long enough can also result in white core.  It can also result in the color fading more quickly than it would otherwise.

And last, but not least, keep a record of everything you do.  That way if you have to go back and dye more, at least you have a guideline to go by.  Better to have something in writing than counting on your memory or trying to color match a swatch or stripette (worm) by eye.  Ask me how I know!

There you go!  Those are my general tips for dyeing fibre.  I’ll post another final post on dyeing resources next week.  Have a great weekend everyone!

Dyeing Tips – Safety

Dyeing Tips – Safety

Someone suggested they would like to hear more about dyeing on my blog.  Often you see I will share photos of dyeing in progress and the finished fibre.  But I rarely share dye formulas or methodology.  There’s a reason for that: there are a lot of variables in dyeing.

Different brands of dye react differently to fibre.  Different fibre respond differently to the dyes. Different chemicals in the water can cause a color to come out differently.  Depending whether you’re in the city on municipal treated water, or country on well water, you can get different colors.  Sometimes in the city different chemicals will be added to the water different times of year, resulting in different results in the dye bath.  Also there’s the question of mordant – what you use to set the dye.  Different mordants give different colors too.  And there are more variables yet.

While dyeing can be a fun experiment, to actually dye a specific color twice can be a challenge.  That is why commercial yarn dyers use dye lots on their balls of yarn.  The best advice I can give in the dye business is to dye more than you think you’ll need for a project.  Better too much than too little.

As for safety in dyeing?  Always wear a mask to protect your airways from breathing in dry dye powder when you mix the dye powder with water before adding it to the dye bath.

Wear rubber/latex gloves to handle the dye powders. Dye powders can make a person very sick, so be cautious!

When mixing the fibre in the dye bath there are special dye gloves you can use that insulate you against simmering water.  These are nice for just picking up fibre and transferring it between pots, sink, etc.  They come in different sizes, like regular rubber gloves and the latex gloves.

Always work in a well ventilated room.  When I dye in winter it is only on warm days when I can open the windows and doors and get a cross breeze flowing through the house.  I keep the fan on in the kitchen at all times.

Protect the surfaces you are working on with newsprint or an old cookie sheet with sides that you are designating specifically for dyeing, or both.  I actually have an old metal cookie sheet with sides that I line with newsprint flyers to set my dyes on and mix them.

It goes without saying whatever touches dye does not touch your mouth or get used for food consumption in any way, shape, or form.  Keep a separate measuring cup and measuring spoons for dyeing.  As well as a separate large wooden spoon, tongs, and dye pot.

Akin to the above rule is “Do NOT eat while you are dyeing fibre”.  There are too many chances for things to go wrong.  If you must eat, do it in another room.  Do not prepare food around the dyeing process either.  You would be surprised how easy it is for dye to spatter or loose powder to get on the countertop without you knowing.  I just don’t risk it.

Have a roll of paper towels/some old dishcloths designated as dye cloths to wipe up spills.   Comet will wipe up stains on laminate countertops.  Not sure about granite and the like.  Wash the dishcloths separately from your other laundry and store them with the dye equipment.

Never leave the dye pot unattended.  It boils over easily in my experience.  Nothing like a dye bath mess to clean up on your stove!

That’s about it for the first post on dyeing.  Catch up with you later for more!


Dye Days are Here Again!

Dye Days are Here Again!

Hi everyone.  This week I’ve been busy dyeing fibre in-between being sick with a cold.  I must admit, the humidity from the dye pot is soothing on my system.  I’ve been opening the window a bit to air out the place.  Right now our temperatures are well above freezing.  Hopefully tomorrow I can do some more dyeing.

I’ve embarked on a hooked wall hanging project based on our South Korean trip that uses different colors and a different palette than I’m used to using.  I don’t have those colors in my stash.  Consequently there is a lot of dyeing to do.  I am only about half done.  So far I have dyed silk, wool, and nylon.  Also yarn and fabric in both silk and wool, and some old nylons.  I am getting some lovely mid-tone colors.

Have a great weekend everyone!


Friday Review

Friday Review

Absolutely no rug hooking done this week.  However I did work on the website. Or rather my web developer did with my input.  It should be fully operational now. If you encounter a problem please email me under the “contact” button.

I designed a pattern based on our travels in South Korea this spring, and put it on backing today.  It is large – 36″ X 25″ – for me.  I will have to do some dyeing for it.  Probably tomorrow or next week sometime.  I find my days getting busy now I’m back home and well again!

It’s come to my attention that my photos could use a bit more organization. To that end I spent considerable time today organizing them.  I have them in three places, supposedly. Unfortunately, due to technological and human failure, I have some only in one place.  I need to organize and rectify the situation.

How do you organize your digital photos?

I have thousands.  Right now I set up a file system that starts with ‘Photos 2006’ and has folders up to this year.  Inside each folder I have the year and month folders (eg. 2017 August).  After that I tend to fall apart.  Right now key events get their own folder in the year folder, among the month folders.  For example, “2017 Sauder Village”.

This seems to be a good way to keep photos from getting lost.  Unfortunately, I still have to use the search engine more than I’d like to find images.  I need to get these labelled properly and under control.

I have close to 16,000 photos (including duplicates and edited versions).  I’m looking for a good way to organize these so I’m not panicking whenever someone needs a photo of my work.

I plan on a working Saturday and taking a break Sunday. I hope everyone else has a great weekend!

Dye Day


I knuckled down yesterday and dyed some fibre for “Escapees”.  I needed a variety of lighter greens.  My stash is mostly blue greens at this point, and I have a lot of them.  Might need to colour plan a wall hanging to use some of those up.  I also need oranges and grays for “Escapees”, but I have the grays from a long time ago, and the oranges were dyed earlier this year.

My website has been up and down this past week.  There seems to be irregularities with it.  I have my web developer working on it.

I’m thinking of sorting through my leftover worms and offering some for sale in the near future.  I’ve been thinking of doing a scrappy rug for some time, but now “Escapees” has come up and it will probably be a while before I start something else.  I seem to produce leftover worms at an amazing rate!

I’ve finished designing the photo book for our South Korea trip.  Hubby and I are “letting it sit” for a few days before we send it in to be printed.  He may have extra photos and text to add.  I’ve been impressed enough with the program from this company that I’ve decided to create a mini portfolio through them.  It would be more like a look book – just a taste of my work.  It’s much smaller than the large book we’re doing for our trip.  The trip book is 12″ x 12″ and 145 pages long.  The portfolio book will be 5″x7″ and 100 pages long…or thereabouts.  Not entirely sure yet.  First we’ll see if the trip book turns out okay.

In big news:  I will be off August 7th – 12th to watch my niece swim in the Canada Games.  This is a great achievement for her and we are extremely proud of her.

Below are some of the results of Dye Day in more detail.  I’m loving the casserole dye jobs.   The photos are showing more white than there really is on the fabric.  That’s wool on the left and silk on the right.


There she be!

My new iMac. Still loading updates. Still have to configure mail.  I’m making this post off my iPad.  

I pulled out a new pattern to start hooking.  It’s called “Escapees”.  It’s a design of some nasturtiums escaping their fenced in garden and reaching towards the sun.  Again, an actual photo and place on Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada, where everything grows with wild abandon!  Last week I adjusted the pattern.  This week I’ll be dyeing fibre for the backgrounds. I need some medium toned Kelly green.  

This will be my demonstration piece for the Cathedral Village Arts Festival Street Fair on May 27th.   I will be between Montague and Athol Streets on the south side in the shade. That’s on 13th Ave. in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.  If you’re in the area that day come check out my booth!

Weekly Review – Dye Jobs and other news

Well, here are the results of this week’s dye jobs.  The photos do not do the colours justice.  They are more intense and deeper than the photos show.  I really enjoyed dyeing these colours.  I’ve been away from the dye pot too long!

An added bonus this week was receiving Gene Shepherd’s “Prepared to Dye” DVD set in the mail Monday.  When I wasn’t dyeing fabric I was watching his DVDs.  He does an excellent job of making what some see as complicated into a much easier to understand and do process.  The first DVD in the set covers the basic traditional rug hooking dyeing methods.  The second DVD is devoted to various spot dyeing techniques.  And the third DVD is devoted to various dye bleeding techniques.  I am excited and eager to try some of his techniques.

All this dyeing and class prep got me thinking it might be time for another trip to my favourite rug hooking supplier in Cochrane, Alberta – Legacy Studio – for more supplies.  I’ve been making a wish list for the trip.

I am also busy preparing for tomorrow’s Start to Finish class.  It’s on colour planning and material selection.  By the end of the class we should be hooking rug.

I hope everyone has a good weekend planned.  This weekend is a special event for us.  Hubby is being honoured at a community event and his 65th birthday is Monday!  We plan to make the most of it.

In my studio – Dye week!

Hi everyone.   This week is the first dye week I’ve had in a long time.  I’ve been putting off dyeing since Hubby retired last fall.  Now is the time.  I warned the boarder and Hubby and we had a discussion about mealtimes around dyeing time – I do not mix the two!  Our Chinese boarder had to struggle with the English a bit, but once he figured out dyeing meant adding colour to fibre he was okay.  Have to watch how I use the word ‘dyeing’!

I am running out of my bright coloured fabrics.  Lots of the more sombre colours in my stash still, but not so much the bright ones.  Today will be yellows and oranges.  By the end of the week I hope to have some bright colours to showcase in my Friday Weekly Review.

I had a great From Start to Finish class on Saturday, even if it was a bit rushed.  My student learned a lot, and I learned a few things about teaching too!  I am looking forward to this coming weekend’s class, in which hopefully we’ll move at a slower pace.  I am excited to see how my student’s rug progresses.  I love the simplicity of the design already.

Sunday Hubby and I went for a drive to a small community to check out a new restaurant – 641 Restaurant.  We really enjoyed our time there and I took time to take photos for some ideas for rug making.  Lots of cool things there.

A half finished Shortbread Cookie Cream, or some such. It was raspberry and strawberry sauce with lemon curd, whipped cream, and a shortbread cookie. Lots of fresh raspberries and strawberries for garnish! Excellent!

An interesting chandelier…

Another interesting light fixture.

Hubby and I loved these glasses. Easy to handle and easy to drink from.

A funny sign.

I plan to work on “Moss” more this week as well.

I also want to delve into the rug hooking books that arrived last week more.  We’ll see if I have time.

Hoping to have a successful week, and hoping you do too.


Rest and rejuvenate

Yesterday we were on the road again.  Today we’re resting, doing laundry, and visiting with relatives.

I’ve been interested in what’s been happening while we’ve been gone.  Seems it’s snowed every place but where we currently are.  I am hoping to have clear roads all the way home.

In the meantime, here are some rug hooking videos to check out on YouTube:

Cindi Gay – rug hooking channel – An entire channel on rug hooking I’ve yet to explore! 🙂

Deanne Fitzpatrick – hooking smooth curves – Deanne has an entire YouTube video on rug hooking.

Wanda Kerr – Dye fixes for ugly wool – Wanda has an entire YouTube channel on dyeing.


Weekly Review


It’s been an interesting week.  I have hooked some on Dancing Tree, and I have spent time dyeing fibre blue .  Mostly dyeing fibre.  Each batch of fibre takes 1 hour to dye.  Plus prep time and clean up.  All told I’d say 1 1/2 hours from start to finish, if you don’t count soaking the fibre overnight so it will accept the dye more easily and thoroughly.

I am also starting to prepare for the Cathedral Village Arts Festival Street Fair.  Checking over inventory and prioritizing what I might want to put on display for sale.  It’s that time of year to organize my thoughts and design a booth to share with my friend.

I am also neck deep in tax season right now, and busy with putting out wild fires in that area.

Hope everyone has a great day! 🙂


WIP Thursday


Not many works in progress.  I knit a few more inches on the Cellular Baby Blanket.


I dyed more pastel blues yesterday.  I’m trying out the colours in my Pro Chem dyes.


Today I’ll be dyeing more pastel blues and hooking more on Dancing Tree.

I also hope to go outside and enjoy the sunshine.  I hope everyone has a great day!


Inspiration Wednesday

It’s another beautiful day today!  Blue skies!  Hmm…and speaking of blue…  Look what came from the kitchen yesterday morning.  And today I’ll be dyeing more blue.  Time to replace some of the lighter colors in my palette.  Have a wonderful day everyone! 🙂

Dye day 1a

Dye day 1b

Dye day 1c

Dye day 1d

In my studio…


This week I am focusing on the background for Dancing Tree.

It is also looking warm enough to open windows and dye some mid-tone and light blues.

And I want to be thinking about what to hook next.  I’m seriously thinking something scrappy might be in order.  For those of you who do not know, a scrappy rug or piece of hooking is a piece made of leftover scraps (also known as worms) from other projects.  I have a huge bag and some boxes of worms that seriously need to be used up.

In…and out…of my studio…

AGR the Barn

Hubby and I were over to the Art Gallery of Regina this weekend to see my wall hangings on exhibit.  It’s nice to see them hanging with so many other local artists.

This week will be a mix of in and out around here.  A lucky someone purchased Prairie Sky – the large version.   So today I’ll be packing it up and hopefully, shipping it off. 🙂

The weather is forecast to be in the teens for most of the week.  That means yard work, and maybe just some general fun with the camera and my rug hooking frame outdoors.  I will also be working on cleaning the room our new boarder will be going into the end of the month.

I still need to put hanging sleeves on Sprouts and Blue-eyed Grass.

Still contemplating my next piece to put on backing.  I may pause to dye some silk fabric, especially if I can open the windows.  Might have to wait till next week for this though.  We are getting a couple of cooler days midweek this week.

AGR Dead of Winter

In my studio…


This week will be a busy one for me.  We have company till Tuesday.  We will be celebrating Hubby’s birthday tonight…for the third time this weekend.  We’ve had a fair bit of company. 🙂

This week I’m hoping to remove the remaining colour from the nylons.  Last week I managed to get them to a pale yellow.  But I am after white, so there will be more colour removal yet.

I also managed to scan sketches of potential wall hangings into the computer.  I have them on my laptop, and did the editing and re-sizing this weekend.  I’ll print them off to put on backing as I work on them one by one.  Usually I draw directly on backing for my wall hangings.  But these are more detailed pieces that I want to maintain element placement and scale, so I am going the long route to putting them on backing.

I also hope to go out on more walks and photo shoots of the neighbourhood for more inspiration.  I love capturing moments in time with my camera.  Though I am still a bit self-conscious about using it.  It’s not a cell phone camera, but a big DSLR camera.

Other activities this week?  I am hoping to start the actual hooking of Blue-eyed Grass.


Weekly Review


I finished Sprouts. And I started Blue-eyed Grass.

I removed most of the colour from the nylons, but need more RIT colour remover to finish the job.

I scoured my sketchbooks for more wall hanging ideas.  Will transfer some on backing today, as I still have to wait to pick up the RIT colour remover.   I will be spending some time sketching as well today.

I was to the opening of the Art Gallery of Regina 40th Salon Show this week.  It was a great evening celebrating a diversity of styles of art and craft.  My work showed well and I was pleased with how it was hung.  A big shout out to the people who made it happen.

It’s a nice sunny, warm day here today, and I hope to go outside with my camera.  Nothing like a little spring inspiration.

Have a great day everyone!

WIP Thursday


Hi everyone!  How’s your morning going?  Mine is going great.  I managed to put Blue-eyed Grass on backing the other day.  Today, if the temperature warms up to above 10 C, I’ll be popping open windows and taking some dye out of the nylons.

If not, then I’ll be drawing more designs on backing for some hooking fun.

In other news, I knit a few more rows on the cellular baby blanket, but not enough for another photo shoot.


WIP Thursday

My current rug hooking WIP is The Barn.  Colour planning is the objective for today.  It could be a challenge that sees me hanging about the kitchen over dye pots again.  We’ll see.  I’m trying very hard to use up what fibre I already have…and I have a lot.

The Barn is a slightly larger pattern than Wascana Creek.  It has similar elements and started out as a plein air piece also.  It will be interesting to see this develop into a larger piece.

I will also be working on updating my hooking portfolio.  I have let it get sadly out of date.

My non-hooking project for the time being is the knit baby blanket.  I tend to put it aside until I know I have an hour to work on it, because it takes that long to knit a full repeat of the pattern.  I’m a slow knitter.  It is a lace pattern that also requires concentration, so I prefer to do it when I’m alone.

That’s my plan for today.

What’s everyone else up to out there in Internet land?


A few of my many sketchbooks...

A few of my many sketchbooks…

What’s a girl to do when she’s sick?  Why planning of course!  I spent most of the afternoon yesterday going through my sketchbooks and coming up with some ideas for next year.  Look forward to new products, new wall hangings, and new ideas! 🙂

In other news, Okra and Paisley Prairie Sky made it back from a very successful summer in Weyburn, SK as part of their Fibre Art Destination 2015.  The exhibits were a huge success, attracting many national and international visitors, as well as more local ones.   Hopefully there will be another Fibre Art Destination in future years.

For now, Okra and Paisley Prairie Sky have gone up on my Wall Hangings for Sale page as of today.

As for my week in review…hmm…not much done that I’d planned.  Too sick/busy processing food.  I did over dye the yarn that arrived the other day.  Here are the results…

Over dyed to yellower greens, but too dark for my purposes.  Would work for a Boreal forest scene though. :)

Over dyed to yellower greens, but too dark for my purposes. Would work for a Boreal forest scene though. 🙂


This one worked just right for my purposes! 🙂

Day Off?!

Yarns-4-kitsWell I’m better rested now.  It’s extremely hot outside.  So I’m staying inside today and…working on putting together rug hooking kits for classes.

I am also going through my greens to see what I need to dye next week.  It’s a terrible time of year for dyeing.  It’s going to be close to or above 30 C the next few days.  But what has to be done, has to be done!  I may try dyeing on our old camp stove, if we still have it.  Then it would be outside.  I remember Shirley Poole dyeing that way at the one and only rug camp I went to.

I need to pick up around here and do laundry too.  Time to get a little bit more organized.  I finally packed away my winter clothes this morning!  My house has that lived in look, if you know what I mean.  I always notice it when I come back from vacation.

I also want to re-design the hanging of artwork on the dining room wall.  I have more paintings I’d like to hang there.  We seem to have a surplus of artwork around here.  Lovely work, but a lot none-the-less.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful Saturday.  Enjoy the nice weather while you can!

In my studio

Almost finished!

Almost finished!

Hi everyone!  Good morning! 🙂

In my studio this week I hope to finish Rose Hips.  It was on my list of things to finish last week, but I ran into difficulties with the leaves, took a morning off for Plein Air hooking, and some things came up other than rug hooking.  So had to deal with them.  It is going to be finished this week.

Also I am hoping to put together fibre kits  for classes.  Once I start working on them I can determine if I need another dye day or two to dye more fibre.

I also need to prepare for a trip to Alberta next week.  We have a memorial service to attend for a very special woman – the woman who taught me to rug hook.

But before we go, I will be celebrating the end of one of the groups I attend for summer break this week as well.  Plus the gym, and possibly more company.  We enjoyed company for a bit this weekend, and expect some today briefly, and again on Wednesday, and possibly Thursday.

Then Friday evening at 7 PM at the Mackenzie Art Gallery is the opening reception for Dimensions 2015.  I hope to attend. 🙂

Natural Dyeing

Onion skin dyeing lightfast test results.

Onion skin dyeing lightfast test results…with the exception of the red, which is onion skin combined with Koolaid and regular white vinegar.

Hi everyone.  There’s been a lot of talk about using natural dyes these days. I find a lot of people like the idea in theory, but when it comes to buying artwork they want guarantees their piece is not going to fade anytime soon.  For that reason I use mostly commercial dyes.

This is not to say that natural dyes fade more easily or quickly.  It all depends on what mordants (chemicals used to set the dyes) were used when in the process, how much was used, and how the dye bath was processed.

I thought I’d share an experiment I did in dyeing in 2003.  I used natural dyes – onion skins to be exact – and various mordants, or chemicals, to set the dye (make it stick to the fabric).  Not only that, but I applied the mordant at different times, creating an even more varied color range than usual.

This post is just an overview of the project.  To go in-depth would take some time.  The general process is this:

  1. You make a dye bath of onion skins.  I used the large yellow onions we get on the Canadian prairies from Superstore.  Be careful.  From what I hear, different onions give different results.
  2. I prepared my fiber for dyeing by soaking it overnight in a mild detergent, specially formulated for fine textiles, and water.
  3. I pulled together my mordants for the job.
  4. I pre-mordanted some wool.  Pre-mordanting means I treated the wool with the mordant before dyeing it.
  5. I started the dyeing process.  It took me several days to dye all the wool below.
  6. I recorded my dyeing process as I went.
  7. I hung everything to dry.
  8. I put strips in paper to check for light fastness (see above photo).  I left them in a south facing window for a month before opening the tops up to reveal little if no color difference.

Mordants used:

  • Alum,
  • Copper Sulphate,
  • Copper pennies (mine did not have enough copper in them),
  • Baking Soda,
  • Aluminum,
  • Salt,
  • Washing Soda,
  • Iron, and
  • Iron and Cream of Tartar.

There are lots more mordants out there, including human urine!  It’s said the ammonia in urine is the mordant agent.

When you use the mordant in the dyeing process also determines color.  Pre-mordanting happens before dyeing the fabric.  Simultaneous mordanting is when the dye and mordant are in the same water at the same time with the fiber.  And adding the mordant after the fiber has been dyed leads to either blooming (a brightening) or saddening (a dulling of colors).

When dyeing with copper now it’s best to use a copper lined pan or a piece of copper pipe.  Unless you have access to a bunch of pre-1970 Canadian pennies.   The color difference is significant because the Canadian mint changed the composition of pennies in the 1970s sometime.


Warning!  Colours are not good in the photos and probably not on your monitor.  But the range is from gray to browns to greens to yellows, and everything in-between.

Pre-mordanted Alum, onion skin dyebath, and new wool.

Pre-mordanted Alum, onion skin dye bath, and new wool.

1) Pre-mordant Alum and onion skin on new wool.

You must be careful to get the right type of alum!  I once did a dye workshop with a friend using the wrong type.  We were very disappointed.  No bright yellows.  You must use dyer’s alum, available at dye houses across North America.

Simultaneous Alum and onion skin on new wool.

Simultaneous Alum and onion skin on new wool.

2) Simultaneous mordant Alum and onion skin on new wool.

Alum added after the dye bath, causing the color to brighten or bloom.

Alum added after the dye bath, causing the color to brighten or bloom.

3) Alum – blooming – and onion skin on new wool.

Simultaneous Baking Soda with onion skin on new wool.

Simultaneous Baking Soda with onion skin on new wool.

4) Simultaneous Baking Soda and onion skin on new wool.

This makes a nice mushroom color.

Iron added after dyeing, and Cream of Tartar added to the bath to make the colour darker.

Iron added after dyeing, and Cream of Tartar added to the bath to make the color darker.

5) Iron – saddening – and onion skin on new wool.

I used a horseshoe made at the Calgary Stampede.  And yes, leaving the wool in the dye bath for longer periods of time results in a fuller, deeper, richer color.

6) Iron and Cream of Tartar – saddening – and onion skin on new wool.

Aluminum added after dyeing to sadden the color, or make it duller.

Aluminum added after dyeing to sadden the color, or make it duller.

7) Aluminum – saddening – and onion skin on new wool.

Salt added after dyeing, saddening the color, or making it darker.

Salt added after dyeing, saddening the color, or making it darker.

8) Salt – saddening – and onion skin on wool.

Washing Soda added after the dyeing, causing the fiber color to bloom or brighten.

Washing Soda added after the dyeing, causing the fiber color to bloom or brighten.

9) Washing soda and onion skin on new wool.

Pre-mordanted Copper Sulphate, onion skin dye bath, and new wool.

Pre-mordanted Copper Sulphate, onion skin dye bath, and new wool.

10) Pre-mordanted Copper Sulphate and onion skin on wool.

Copper Sulphate added after the dyeing caused the color to bloom or brighten.

Copper Sulphate added after the dyeing caused the color to bloom or brighten.

11) Copper Suphate – blooming – and onion skin on new wool.

Malt vinegar added after the dye bath, causing the color to bloom.

Malt vinegar added after the dye bath, causing the color to bloom.

12) Malt Vinegar and onion skin on new wool.

Simultaneous Canadian pennies (not enough copper in the ones I used).

Simultaneous Canadian pennies (not enough copper in the ones I used).

13) Simultaneous copper pennies and onion skin on new wool.


As you can see you can achieve a wide range of colors just from using the humble onion skin.  Not only that but you can combine mordants to achieve further variation in color.  Other plant materials are worthy of experimentation as well.

To see an application of onion skin dyeing, here is a table piece I hooked in 2000.  I dipped all the wools I used in an onion skin dye bath to “marry” them together.  That means to make them all look like they belong together.

Rice Bowl -  ~ 12

Rice Bowl – ~ 12″ x 22″ – $300CAD

I have found the alum mordanted wool to be extremely lightfast, and have used some of it in my Prairie Sky wall hangings.  I have a bookcase full of wool that receives south/south west sun every day (this is NOT a good idea folks, but I’m working with limited space).  In it are the yellows and golds from my onion dyeing experiment.  They seem to be holding up well.  However, some of the mordants, like vinegar, do seem to slightly change color over time.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive treatise on natural dyeing with onion skins.  For that you need to take a real live class with an experienced dyer.  But I hope it gives you an idea of the variety of results that can be achieved, and a bit about the complicated nature of dyeing.

Saturday Review


Well I did do a dye job yesterday.  I love the results!


As you can see one piece turned out lighter than the other.  That’s not unusual in the dyeing business.  Not sure how it will work.  I will have to try it out today.  I’m thinking I’ll use different parts for different areas of the background.

I also dyed some yarns and ribbon to vary texture in the background.  They are even lighter yet.  Hopefully the background will not be too busy!


I had a blog post all typed up describing spot dyeing, but it disappeared.  I never know what’s going to happen with technology around here!

Basically spot dyeing is when you mix up multiple colours of dye and pour it in spots on some fibre that is all scrunched up and sitting in a casserole pan lined with tin foil.  You add the mordant (chemical that sets the dye), cover the entire thing in tin foil, and steam it in the oven for about an hour.  Pull it out, let it cool, rinse thoroughly, dry, and, voilá, beautiful fibre to hook with! 🙂


As for my Saturday review…my chief goal this week was to sort out the Customs situation with the Sauder Village pieces.  That was accomplished to the best of my ability.  Also to draw the patterns for Rose Hips and Saskatoons and get them on backing.  And to start hooking Rose Hips.  All that was accomplished too.

I’ve had an opportunity for another exhibit put in front of me, but am not sure I want to enter.  I have three more exhibits to prepare for, and I’ve sent work to two already this year.  This would make a sixth.  I have to think about it.  It would mean some fast hooking between now and June 22nd.  I don’t think I could manage that.  But I might manage using a newer piece already hooked.  Hmm…will look in my stash and re-read the requirements.

I don’t receive a lot of notice for some of these exhibits.  I prefer about a three to four month lead time to fit a new group exhibit into my schedule.  Especially when I have so much on the go, like this year.

Well that’s about it for this week.  Hope everyone has a great weekend!  Thanks for reading! 🙂