Dyeing with Mother Nature

Dyeing with Mother Nature

Dagmar Klos shares how to get a full spectrum of colors with natural dyes in her new workshop videos.

I'll never forget my first issue of Spin-Off. It was more than 20 years ago, and I was just learning to spin. My teacher had just come from a weekend retreat with Scottish handspinner and mathematician Mabel Ross, so our lessons were all charts and ratios and twists-per-inch for a while. So much to learn, and so many mistakes ahead of me! I bought a bump of coarse Lincoln roving in the (very unnatural) color of raspberry sherbet intending make a scarf: I loved the color, and it was wool so it must be good for a scarf, right? I bought an issue of Spin-Off all about natural dyeing, happily imagining myself picking flowers, throwing them in a pot, and pulling out rainbows of yarn dyed in all the colors of those flowers. Instead I read detailed descriptions of indigo vats, extracts, mordants…all of which sent me searching for a non-existent glossary at the back of the magazine. I was so dismayed that I wrote to Interweave suggesting one—a real commitment back in the days of "snail mail" and postage stamps.

I've learned a lot over the years. I learned to match the fiber to my purpose, whether I'm choosing wool by the breed or spinning the whole world of other fibers available to us. (That raspberry-colored Lincoln singles is still snug in my stash, probably destined to be an accent color in a handwoven rug.) I learned quickly that charts and ratios and TPI are useful, but it's also OK to just sit and spin. And I've learned that natural dyeing is not necessarily "what you see is what you get," but it's also not as intimidating as it seemed at first glance.

In her new workshop videos, Dagmar Klos lays out which dyestuffs yield the primary colors and shows how to dye over or modify those colors to complete the color spectrum.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of working with Dagmar Klos on two new natural dyeing videos about how we can achieve the full spectrum of colors that I imagined way back when. In her down-to-earth style, Dagmar lays out which dyestuffs yield the primary colors, yellow, blue, and red, and shows how to dye over (overdye) or modify those colors to complete the color spectrum. She shows us how to use natural dyes safely at home (because natural doesn't always mean safe), and she demystifies the processes of mordanting, making dye extracts, using indigo, and even dyeing with flowers from your garden.

Natural dyes are notoriously temperamental, but Dagmar has a wonderful bag of tricks for getting consistent results and achieving the colors you want. Working with her also reminded me what harmony, richness, and beauty we can create with natural dyes. Yeah, you can't get rainbow colors just by throwing flowers in a pot. But Mother Nature knows what she's doing, and with Dagmar's help, we can, too.


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