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Dyeing wool with nettles

Nettles are an amazing plant and produce a beautiful green dye which is colour fast. You do need to use a mordant though which is how these instructions differ from the onion dye.

You need:

  • A big pan – big enough to take your wool and swirl it about.
  • A sieve for straining the dye bath.
  • A large tub.
  • A skein or two of natural undyed wool.
  • An equal weight of nettle leaves.
  • Alum - 10% of the weight of your dry wool.
  • Iron tablets (ferrous fumarate from chemists) or rusty nails (optional).

1) Mordant your wool

Dissolve your alum in boiling water and add to cold water in your tub.

Add the wool and stir gently – leave overnight for the yarn to absorb the mordant.

You can either drain and dry it for use at a later time, or move straight onto dyeing.

2) Make your dye bath

While you are preparing the dye bath you can soak your wool – untwist the skeins and put them in cold water and leave to absorb the water over 3-4 hours. Gently squeeze the water to make sure it becomes evenly wet.

Drain the water off.

3) Dye the wool

Add the damp skeins to the pan of dye and heat it up very gently until it is just below simmering point. Keep hot for an hour and then let it cool down.

You can remove from the dye pot at this point or leave it to steep for a deeper colour.

You can also add a modifier at this point to change the colour.

4) Use an iron modifier (optional)

Using a modifier changes the colour of the wool. Adding iron to the dye pot ‘saddens’ the colour making it deeper and more greyed. I like to do this after I have dyed the wool – if you have dyed two skeins at once you can remove one before modifying to give you a wider range of colours.

Crush an iron tablet and add it to the dye pot. Stir well and leave the wool to steep for an hour.

Rinse and wash the wool well and hang up to dry naturally.

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