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.Yellow, Brown and Beige - Natural Dyeing of Yarn.

From left to right: onion+turmeric, rooibos, coffee, onion+turmeric+coffee

Yarns dyed with onion and turmeric

Yarns dyed with rooibos tea

I've been wanting to try dyeing yarns for a long time, but since we live in an apartment I've thought it would be too messy and smelly. Last weekend I was dog-sitting for my parents and decided to give the dyeing a go. Coincidentally there was a yarn sale just a few days before I started to dye, so I bought 18 skeins of off-white 100 % woolen yarn. The yarn was so cheap that I thought it wouldn't matter if I ruined the whole batch, or I could dye them black if the color wouldn't look good.

Yarns dyed with coffee

Yarns dyed first with onion and turmeric, then with coffee

I did a lot of research on the internet going through various options and techniques as well as trying to figure out the best mordant and plants to use. I found out that alum would be the best way to go, but I didn't really want to use any chemicals so I went with vinegar instead. As this was my first time dyeing I wanted to use plants that would certainly work and give darker shades, so I skipped all the leaves, flowers and berries, even though that was what I had initially planned. I would have wanted to try dyeing with blueberries, but after going through other people's results I noticed the yarn would not turn the color of blueberry juice but light blueish grey instead, so I gave up on that plan as well. I rather eat my blueberries instead. 

I soaked my skeins in lukewarm water for about two hour. Then I put them into a saucepan with 3 parts of water and one part of vinegar and started boiling them. Or not boiling, I let the water simmer slowly. I kept the skeins in the vinegar water simmering for about an hour, meanwhile preparing my dyes.

The first dye I made was from onions and turmeric. I had the peels of about 7 onions boiling in 5 liters of water and added 2 tablespoons of turmeric to that. Before dyeing I drained the water through a sieve to get rid off the peels. The second dye was Rooibos tea. I used about 60 grams for 3 liters of water. And the last one I made was with coffee: I brewed two pans of the strongest, darkest coffee I could make with our coffee cooker. That means I filled the filter so full of coffee grounds I possibly could fit. 

I poured the boiling liquids into buckets and after the yarns had simmered for about an hour, I put them in the buckets as well and let them soak there overnight. Next morning I took the yarns out, washed them under running water and put them to dry flat.

Some notions I have about this whole process:

1. First of all, this was really fun and lot easier than I had thought. I will definitely try this again.

2. As I only used natural ingredients there is absolutely no reason why I couldn't dye yarns in my apartment as well.Vinegar boiling is not the most pleasant smell there is but at least it's not dangerous to breath in.

3. I should buy bigger saucepans if I want to dye more than a few skeins per time. Even though I thought I measured everything equally, yarns from different saucepans reacted differently to the dye. My saucepans were quite small (only 5 liters) and could only fit 5 skeins per time (I had two saucepans with vinegar and yarns cooking at a time). Part of the skeins from the second saucepan didn't turn as dark a color as the first ones I set in the onion dye, even though they only had a couple of minutes in between when going into the dye. Since the yellow color didn't want to stick to the three last skeins, (they were something like pale banana shade of yellow) I took them out and put them into the coffee dye. 

Yarns dyed first with onion and turmeric, the coffee.

Can you see the slight variation in colour with these yellow skeins?

4. The Rooibos tea worked the best in my opinion and gave the most beautiful shade. It's a pity I only dyed 2 skeins with it. The research I had made pre-dyeing suggested that tea is not the best dye, and gives pastel brown or beige colours, but in my experience the Rooibos tea worked superb! Something to try again! 

I liked the rooibos tea the most, this colour is beautiful!

5. I should have tied my skeins more loosely but I was too lazy. So the outside of the skeins are now of a darker color than the insides, but I don't think that matters, I kind of like the ombre effect.

6. Next time I should remember to drain the dyeing liquids through a mesh sieve or a coffee filter, because there were a lot of really small bits of tea and turmeric left in the skeins even though I thought I had washed them well after dyeing. 


  1. Love, love, love the colors!! :) (and your blog that I just found)

    1. Kiva kuulla että tykkäät! Olen itsekin tosi tyytyväinen näihin. Toivottavasti tämä ei nyt ollut vaan tällaista aloittelija tuuria, vaan löysin uuden harrastus!

    2. Haha :) uutta kokeilua vaan perään. Olen suunitellut ensi keväälle värjäystä kans. Kasveja ja varmasti täytyy kokeilla näitä sinunkin kokeilemia.


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