Using spinach dye to color our natural wool yarn seemed like a good idea. Natural dyes are easy to work with, but a little time consuming. I had spinach growing in the garden, and more in the refrigerator. It was a really hot Sunday afternoon, perfect for staying inside to beat the heat. Put it all together and you have the makings of a great dye experiment.
My beginning efforts with natural dyes was after reading the book , A Garden to Dye For, by Chris McLaughlin. Her ideas for gathering and growing plants, berries, seeds, and bark, boiling them to release the color and using the water for natural dying, was not a new idea. Up until the late 1800’s it was the only way cloth had color to it. It was intriguing and McLaughlin’s book opened my eyes to the possibilities for our naturally raised wool yarn. I was totally inspired and tried a few colors. A couple years later, I tried again. It was an even easier process this time, after having a bit of experience already. My biggest problem is growing enough of any one plant to be able to fill a dye pot. A gardener I am not.
This year our spinach hung on longer than normal. I was about to pull it all our when I had the thought of using it for a pot of dye. Reaching for my dye books, I looked up what Chris McLaughlin had written in her book about spinach. It could be done! I did some more research and found that certain mordants would help set the color and cause it to be more permanent and less transient. Cool! I started a large pot of water boiling on the stove, grabbed the yarn, and got to work.
The color was less than full when I pulled the yarn from the dye to rinse. I had used mordants, vinegar, and followed all the steps. Perhaps even my large collection of spinach wasn’t enough. I wasn’t put off though. It is possible to overdye the wool again. The next day I started over. In the photo below you can see a subtle variation in the color. The darker on the left, the middle was the exhaust bath and the right was undyed yarn.
The thing to remember about all of these natural plant dyes, spinach dye, marigold, and others is that you need a large amount of plant material to achieve a good depth of color. I went back to the garden and grabbed up all the spinach. Sorry ducks and chickens and rabbits. Then I added some spinach we had in the refrigerator.
When using natural dye, you will get color. It may not be the color you thought, however. I remember when I tried before it took an amazing amount of marigold flowers to get a slightly pastel yellow.
Duplicating a color will also be difficult. I suggest you make notes along the way. This will be your best bet of making a similar color in the future.
Boil the spinach in a large pot for about an hour. Then drain out the spinach, saving the green water. If you cook your spinach and the wool at the same time you will be picking spinach bits out of the yarn for awhile. I know this from experience.
Spinach Dye – The Steps I Used
Wet the yarn in a bowl or pan. I used a 150 yard skein and a 125 yard skein of natural color Border Leicester yarn. The total weight was 125 grams. I used the larger skein first and dyed the smaller skein as an exhaust bath dye.
Pre-mordant the yarn. This will prepare the fiber to take up the dye. Boil 2 quarts of water in a medium nonreactive (not aluminum) pot. Add two teaspoons of alum to a quart of water. Note- most guides to dyeing will tell you to use percentage based on weight of goods. Since I was experimenting, I used teaspoon measurements.
Bring to a boil and simmer. Add the wet yarn to the pot and turn off the heat. Allow to sit in the mordant water for at least an hour. Do not stir or agitate the fiber in the pan, or it could felt.
What is a mordant? Mordants are usually metal ion substances that enable the dye to be absorbed by the wool fiber. Alum is the most often called for mordant in natural dying. Spinach dye will yield a yellow color in the presence of alum. If you want the yellow to deepen into the green shades, add some rust or iron to the water. I couldn’t find anything rusty when I needed it so I used a tablespoon of iron from the farm first aid kit. It’s fun to try to get the most color from my natural plants as possible. I use alum both in the pre-mordant phase and then add more alum to the dye bath.
While your yarn is soaking in the warm water and alum continue to make your dye.
Making Spinach Dye
Boil the spinach in a non reactive (non-aluminum) pan. I prefer to use a stainless steel stock pot. Simmer for one hour. Strain the spinach, saving the dye water. I used approximately 6 loosely packed cups of torn spinach.
To the spinach dye water add 1/2 cup salt, 2 tablespoons of Alum, 2 tablespoons of white vinegar.
(This is my method, devised from trial and error. Other people have somewhat different methods but all will use a mordant and something to adjust the color if desired.)
Add the pre-mordanted fiber to the spinach dye. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for one hour. Cover the pan so the water doesn’t evaporate!
Add a tablespoon of iron to adjust the color to green. It won’t be a dark green. Caution! Don’t try to darken it too much by adding lots more iron. What you will do with that idea, is weaken the fiber of the yarn.
From this technique I received a celery green color. The second or residual dye gave another small skein of yarn a dark cream color. This is called the exhaust bath, because it uses up the remaining color.
What are my lessons from trying to dye with spinach?
This uses a lot of spinach. Next time I will buy cheap frozen spinach from the store and save the good spinach for my salad!
The color will still be muted and soft.
In order to dye a large amount of yarn, a great deal of spinach would be needed.
I need to keep experimenting with the natural colors from plants.
Have you tried making any natural dyes? How did the color work out for you?