Yarn- 100% wool or other animal fibre such as alpaca, angora
Alum- Either from the grocery store or chemical grade from a supplier such as Maiwa
Stock Pot- if using chemical grade alum do not use cooking pots
Panty Hose or Net
Heat Source- Well veltelated oven area or hot plate
Before mordanting and dyeing, make sure that you clean and soak your wool. The method I use is to put some gentle shampoo in to warm (not hot!) water and let the wool soak for about an hour. I drain that water and refill, letting it sit in plain water for another hour to get the detergent out. Then I drain that and let it sit in more plain water for about 24 hours.
A mordant is an oxide that allows the dye to adhere to the fabric. The most common process for mordanting wool is to bathe it in alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) prior to dyeing .
You can buy food grade alum at most big grocery stores as it’s sometimes used for pickling. I buy mine in bulk from @maiwahandprints , It’s cheaper to buy non-food grade alum in bulk from a supplier if you plan to do a lot of yarn.
If you’re not using food grade alum, you must ensure that you have separate pots, spoons etc for your process. Check your local second hand shop for stock pots or even cooking pots and just mark them as DYE ONLY!
Alum is at 12-20% the weight of your yarn. An easy measurement is 50g (2.5 tbs) per 450g (1 Lb) of yarn. Always weigh/measure powders in a well ventilated area- I do it outside. Mix your alum with warm water and put your pre-soaked yarn in the pot.
use a wooden spoon or ruler to put the skeins of yarn around to ensure they are not tangled up. I use a piece of metal from the hardware store I bent into a shape to fit around the pot ledge
Use a thermometer to GRADUALLY increase the temperature of the wool to 90 c (200f). If you increase the temperature too quickly the wool will felt and you will be very very angry. Once at 90c let the wool simmer there for 1 hour, turning the wool and checking the temperature several times. Allow it to sit in the bath for as long as possible to cool off- I leave it at least overnight. Keep it wet- leave it in the pot or seal in a bag until ready to use.
Once your yarn is mordanted:
Take soaking marigolds and pulse them a few times in a blender to break up the flower heads (I used an immersion blender). Do not liquify! .
Strain them in a synthetic material that will not absorb color. A classic is to cut the leg off of panty hose- I am used a hair net from work that I found in my backpack because I’m not perfect. Tie the top of the panty hose so the marigold flowers are contained inside and put it into the pot
Fill up pot with enough water to submerge yarn. Do not fill the pot up all the way if you do not need to, as it will dilute the color and it will take longer to get a deep, saturated shade. Remember to not heat shock your wool and use water of similar temperature to your wet+mordanted yarn. Do not use the water you mordanted your wool in, as the dye can bind to the alum in the water and not attach to your wool properly.
Put your wool into the water and put it on low heat. Take the temperature with an immersion safe thermometer, I’m using a candy thermometer. Marigolds contain tannins (which are also in red wine, that’s why it stains!). DO NOT exceed 70c (160f) or the tannins will activate and your yarn and the entire dye bath will shift to an irreversible brown. Simmer for a minimum of 90 minutes once temperature was achieved, and continue to monitor the temperature.
Since I was dyeing so much wool in this bath, I turned the heat off and left it overnight with the lid on to hold the heat. 24 hours later I repeated the heating process a second time (turn on low heat, bring up to 70c, leave for 90 minutes monitoring temperature, and turn off heat). I left the yarn to sit in the dye bath for an additional 72 hours off-heat until I rinsed it out. Unlike chemical dyes, your natural dyes will continue to add more color to the yarn as they cool off and sit in the water. A word of warning: dye CAN and WILL mould if you leave it too long.
Wash wool using the same method you used before soaking and mordanting: soak in Luke warm water with a gentle soap or shampoo, squeezing yarn to release dye. Repeat several times until water is clear or nearly clear. Dry away from natural light or the colour will fade.
One of my favourite things about natural dye is how many different shades and tones to can get from the same bath. Liquid sunshine!