Roving Reporter: Natural Dye for Handspun Speckles

Speckles, shibori, flammegarn—there are many ways to refer to a resist-dyeing technique that leaves undyed spots on a skein as it emerges from the dyepot. After making samples in Saxon blue, I decided to try it on handspun sock yarn. I grabbed a smallish skein of 3-ply Horned Dorset that languished in my studio awaiting a dyepot. Off we go!

natural dye

3-ply Horned Dorset mordanted with alum at 10% WOG* and cream of tartar at 5% WOG*.

I vacillated between dreams of bright blue socks with white spots, like those used in the Norwegian Troms Bunad, and blue socks with dyed speckles. For this natural dye project, what might be shorter socks (due to my slightly too small skein of lonely handspun), I decided dyed spots would be the cat’s pajamas. Here is how it went:

natural dye

1. After mordanting the skein with alum and cream of tartar, I gave it a dunk into a pot of logwood extract I was trying to exhaust. This created a light purple base color that I rinsed before going on to the next step.
2. While the skein was still damp, I used 8/2 cotton to tightly tie the skein about every five inches. I wanted small spots of purple, so I tied narrow sections.
3. The tied skein then went into the next pot: Saxon blue. The purple base color made the blue a more typical indigo shade than the teal that Saxon blue produces on its own.
4. After I untied the cotton resists, my purple spots appeared!

My fresh, washed, and dried skein was destined for Anne Merrow’s Up+Down Socks. I love this pattern! Top-down and toe-up versions of the very same sock are included. With seven different size options, I can pick just the right cast-on for a snug sock in my handspun yarn. I chose the toe-up version this time so that I could make the best use of my small skein.

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Socks in progress. Subtle, purple speckles floating upon a sea of indigo—just what I wanted!

*WOG – Weight of goods. This is the dry weight of the skein.

—Kate Larson

Featured Image: Tie it tight for flammegarn speckles. Photos by Kate Larson.


Try resist dyeing!

One Comment

  1. Devin H at 8:19 am February 15, 2018

    That is lovely. And very inspiring. Next time I do a indigo vat I am definitely going to dye up some sock yarns in both just blue with white speckles and dye the skeins yellow and then dip to get green with yellow speckles!

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