Over-dyeing with Iron

Recently I dyed fiber with mint leaves from my herb bed and black walnuts collected last autumn by a friend.  Although I was pleased with both experiments–it was a first for me with mint and black walnuts–I decided to see what other colors might be produced by over dyeing with iron.

In perusing the many “natural plant” dye books at my local library, as well as those I have purchased on-line, I had read that over dyeing with just a pinch of iron could produce different shades.  I divided my fiber lots in half, so I could retain the original black walnut and mint dyed shades.

Firstly, I mixed a concoction of boiling water and half a teaspoon of iron.  Then I added the mix to the exhaust baths of each dye, which I had retained in Mason jars.  Each pot was simmered separately with mint dyed fiber and iron mix and black walnut fiber and iron mix.

The results:  mint with iron produced anything from pearl to steely grays and darker grays, depending on the fiber.  Black walnut with iron produced shades of brown, from very light to very dark.  (The warmest brown was obtained by the lace).

In my book, this was a successful over-dye session, and shades were about what I expected from the research.

Mixing a weak iron bath

Mint-dyed fiber over-dyed with a pinch of iron.
Mint-dyed fiber over-dyed with a pinch of iron.
Black walnut-dyed fiber over dyed with a pinch of iron.
Black walnut-dyed fiber over dyed with a pinch of iron.

Chamomile Dyeing

You may have heard of chamomile as a soothing herbal tea used to induce sleepiness, but it also can be used as a natural dye–one of the easiest plants  you can use to achieve natural colors, pale yellow.

The chamomile is a small daisy-like flower, which is often used in ornamental gardens. They may be used as a fresh plant–flower, leaves and stems–or they can be dried and used as a natural dye.

When I dye plants that are new to me, I dye very small amounts, so it was easy to take one ounce of dried chamomile (which is sold in our urban ethnic market) and have enough dye for a very small pot.  I used two cups of boiling water for one ounce of dried chamomile. My plan was to dye scraps of ivory vintage linen, including one scrap which had been previously dyed with indigo.  I boiled the small scraps (less than half an ounce of fabric) for 20 minutes along with the chamomile.  Almost immediately I could see the light yellow-orange liquid color.  After 20 minutes, I removed pot from heat and steeped the dye pot for 3 hours, then rinsed in clear cool water.

The colors were not surprising–pale yellow–but I was pleased with the results.  I had read that you might get green when over-dyeing with indigo.  Since I did not have an indigo vat going at the time, I used a scrap of previously dyed indigo linen. You can see my results below.  If you are a new dyer, chamomile would be a great dye to try first.  No mordants needed, no long cooking, and pleasing results.

Oh, no! Not another blogger!

Yes, another blogger…me.  A nature-lover, fiber maniac, and natural dyes practitioner.

Put them all together and you have me, dyeing old textiles and repurposing newer textiles with natural dyes.  Stitching some of them, giving some of them away, hanging them on walls and balconies.  And wearing them.  And making art with them.

You see, it all started many years ago when my Mom dyed my white First Communion Dress  with green Rit dye.  You remember, throw the dye in the washing machine and toss in the clothing.  Voila!  New dress.  Sort of.  First a holy dress and then a party dress to wear to a best friend’s birthday party. Easy-peasy. A home birthday party with cupcakes and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.  Remember?

Then there were tie-dye, shibori, indigo vat, I-dye and whynotdye?  I rediscovered the ancient art of dyeing early last year when I spent two weeks in the Ozarks using natural dyes on wool.  I experimented with logwood, cutch, madder, osage orange and pine needles and discovered some beautiful, natural colors.  And after putting them all together in a basket, I realized they all looked so right together, so natural.

And that’s what I’ve been doing, using nature’s colors to dye wool and silk, yarn and threads, cotton and linen.  And bringing life to old textiles–napkins, mantel scarves, tea cloths and hand towels.

Follow along and join me in the natural way to dye.  It costs little, can be done at home and I hope it will make you feel good.  To see something refurbished, over-dyed, newly-dyed, repurposed and re-loved.  That old linen shirt with the stain on the pocket.  Aunt Millie’s treasured mantel scarf, handed on down through the family.  And that pale yellow silk yarn?  You say you’re into greens now?  Then you’ve come to the right blog!



Hand-dyed wool roving, using natural plants:  logwood, cutch, madder, pine needles