Exploring Natural Dyes

Exploring Natural Dyes

In my October blog post, I wrote about getting ready to start an online Natural Dye course through Maiwa. https://maiwa.com/. The photo of materials hanging on my clothesline was the first step of scouring and mordanting the fabrics that I was going to use.

Fabrics drying on a clothesline

Most of the dyes we used came right out of the jar, all ready for the dye pot. However, we did learn to make an extract from the cochineal bugs.

First you have to crush the little guys using either a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder. I had given my coffee grinder away several years ago so I had to do it manually.

Then you add 1 ½”water to them and boil them for a minute, drain off the water into a glass jar, put the bugs back into the pan and repeat that process 5 or 6 times until the water turns pink. Then the water that was drained off goes into your dye pot.

Here is the cochineal dye pot with my white and grey colored wool yarns. At this point each skein is about 34 grams each.

After being dyed  in the cochineal pot, we then divided each skein into 3rds so we could shift the color on 2 of the yarns. In this photo the grey yarn is on the right and the white yarn is on the left.

The top yarn in this photo is after the yarn was shifted with indigo, the middle is straight out of the cochineal dye bath and the bottom yarn is after it was shifted with iron. Grey yarn on the left, white yarn on the right. Aren’t they just yummy colors??

Cochineal wool yarns

This next photo shows the results after dyeing with Marigold. More yummy colors. Same layout, indigo shift, straight Marigold bath, then the iron shift. Grey yarn on the left, white yarn on the right.

And these are from the banana indigo vat that Maiwa taught us to make. Maiwa teaches an in-depth Indigo course that I might be tempted to take one day in the future because the banana vat kind of stumped me. It was very hard to keep it balanced. Sometimes I would see the magic happen and sometimes it was a struggle to get there. It’s all quite scientific and chemistry was never my thing!

These yarns had two indigo dips. White yarn on top and grey on the bottom.

After over 50 hours or more of fairly constant stirring of the pot, one hour for each bath, I came away with some wonderful fabrics that I’ll be able to use for my stitching or my art quilts.

The following are laid out with the Indigo shift on top, original color in the middle and iron shift on the bottom.



Linen (brown and white linen)


More silk (just cuz it’s so pretty!)


I saved most of the exhaust baths and made these scrumptious pieces…and then I dipped them all into a weakened indigo vat for about 2 or 3 minutes. You can see the shifted fabrics hanging out of some of these on the right edge (1-2 inches peaking out). Subtle changes. But oh so many colors!

It was an amazing journey. I didn’t know that there are so many ways to shift the colors, whether you use over dyes, indigo, iron, different tannins and mordants. It’s endless and so much fun. But a lot of stirring…I did manage to get quite a bit of reading done while I stirred!

Once I finished the Maiwa course, I switched to Procion dyes so I could make some color gradations for my Gail Harker Level 3 Stitch color schemes. Quite a difference from the subtle natural colors! Lovely as well, though, in a different way.

Hope you’ve enjoyed all the color! Now I need to get busy and make something out of all these samples!

Best wishes to all of you and may 2023 be a wonderful year for you! Happy creating!

21 thoughts on “Exploring Natural Dyes

  1. What a great post Tesi. I love all the colours you have achieved, though I do have to own up to the fact that I prefer the colours achieved from the Procion dyes.
    I wonder if you would be happy if I sent a link to this post to my local Guild (Dorset Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers)? I’m sure they’d be very interested.

    1. I love the Procion dye colors as well and they are so much easier to use. I’m fine with sending a link to your guild. Spread all that color cheer around!

  2. This is a wonderful post Tesi. You have gotten so many different colours from your dyeing course I bet you are itching to use the fabrics. I hope you will share the outcomes.

    1. I hope to get busy and start stitching on SOMETHING! The Procion dyed fabrics that I didn’t photograph trigger my imagination more with all the color variations on them. Hard to cut those up so I’ll probably keep them whole and stitch on them.

  3. What a fabulous range of colours Tesi! I was loving the skeins but then to read on and see all of your beautuful fabrics I was even more inspired. You’re well set up if we have another “use from your stash” challenge!

    1. Definitely have enough fabrics to last me to the end of my days! That won’t stop me from dyeing more though, lol!
      Funny thing about my stash…I never have the exact color I am looking for.

  4. Great work on all the natural dyeing! It is so much work and time consuming so you must be really pleased with the results. I love the more neutral colors, the bright ones from Procion are always really pretty but sometimes I have issues using them in my work. I would love to have the natural dyed fabric in my stash! I am looking forward to seeing what you create with these. Happy New Year!

    1. Thanks Ruth. Happy New Year to you as well!
      I see now why the natural dyed fabrics are so expensive to purchase. Quite time consuming. However, they are worth the effort to get those wonderful colors.

  5. What wonderful colours. so surprising how the indigo effected the yarns. Not at all what I thought they would be. I like both sets of colours. Natural dying take a lot of skill and a little magic. A pound of marigolds from here will give you a different colour than a pound from over there or last year. My hat goes off to those with the patience to learn it and do it.

    1. The indigo bath was quite amazing although very frustrating to keep at the appropriate levels. It’s all so magical and I think about the ancient ones that figured out what worked and what didn’t all those years ago. Wow. I doubt I will ever be one to gather marigolds, mushrooms, onion skins, etc. Never say never but my hat goes off to those gatherers as well.

    1. It was very time consuming to do all that stirring. At first I didn’t stir as much as I should have but things began turning out much better once I got them moving in their pots a bit more constantly.

  6. Wonderful colours and an astonishing amount of work. I understand your reluctance to use the material for any project. It will be hard to incorporate these lovely fabrics into something else, they are so amazing all on their own.

    1. It’s easy to pull all the fabrics out and just kind of stare at them! They need to be used though! I can always dye more, right??

  7. Tesi,
    I saw these beautiful colors, and fell immediately in love. I had no idea such beauty can be achieved with natural color! The wool fabrics are dreamy!! I have already signed up for their newsletters and class information. Today, is kind of gloomy here in Michigan. Your boost of colorful yarns and fabrics has brightened my day.

    1. The wool and silk took the dyes the easiest and they are super yummy. Definitely worth taking any of their classes!

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