Unnatural dyeing

I think it is Grackle and Sun who put this expression into my vocabulary.  I have been looking at the chemical dyes I still have in my possession and wondering about them.  I think it’s best I don’t make any commitments for all future time… but it seems right that I try not to acquire any more.  It also seems right that I use up those I already own, given that nothing I do with them will mean that they were never made.

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Finally, I had a thought.  The thing I love most about the Earth Palette cold pad batch dyes (locally made and allegedly low toxic)–is that you can dye greasy wool with them, rather than washing first and dyeing later.  A friend from my guild called to ask for advice about these dyes (she is an acid dyer usually) and I suddenly saw it: I could dye these amazing greasy English Leicester cross locks from a local grower.  Without prior washing.  I still have a lot of this dye mixed up and ready to use (in fact, this is almost my entire stash: just one bag of sky blue dye left unmixed). The weather was perfect: hot days expected.

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It doesn’t look good when applied to greasy, dirty wool.  Two days in the hot sun and the bag smelled of ammonia from that raw fleece being in the heat.

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The mud that ran out of it when I rinsed was unbelievable.  And then out came clean dyed fleece. Yes, these are before and after pictures of the same locks! I made three different ‘dyelots’ in all.

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The lustre of this longwool is amazing!  Now all I have to do is figure out what to make with it.  I believe I acquired it thinking about dyed English Leicester locks I had incorporated into art yarn batts.  I don’t currently feel motivated to do that kind of spinning–but could make batts and gift them to the Guild.  Or spin EL yarn.  Or let them sit quietly until the perfect idea comes to mind. What do you think?

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Filed under Fibre preparation

18 responses to “Unnatural dyeing

  1. Peri

    Beautiful colours! Where do you source your fleeces? Have you ever done natural botanical dyeing with greasy fleece?


    • Thanks, Peri. It is certainly possible to dye non greasy fibres like alpaca dusty or muddy, especially with strong dyes like eucalyptus. However, grease will stop the dye adhering to regular sheep fleece for the most part. I wash first and apply mordant if needed, then dye. The fleeces I use usually come from local farmers who supply to my guild, or as gifts from friends and acquaintances.


  2. Pia

    Amazing. I’d never have thought that possible on raw fleece.


  3. They make wonderful doll hair for cloth dolls. Just a thought.


  4. I’m for holding off a bit until you get something you really want to make. You can just pull it out and pat it occasionally (as one of my friends suggests😀)


  5. i used these substances years ago and eventually deduced (though the suppliers steadfastly refused to reveal the make-up of this stuff) that earth palette dyes are procion dyes pre-mixed with sodium carbonate. i hope with all my heart that you were wearing a mask.


    • Nothing low toxic about that! I do take seriously that these are chemicals (and particulates), so yes to using a mask. What do you think about the legacy chemical dyes I have in my possession? I have considered whether it is any better to take other courses of action I can think of. Give them to others who I know will just buy more, no matter what I do (not an all bad option, but means accepting I have not convinced them otherwise)? Taking to toxic waste disposal (it doesn’t go to another planet–but bless you for thinking of my health specifically in among the global issues about poisons, perhaps I should too)? I don’t think just leaving them for another decade is an answer so at present as you see, I’m considering using what I have (with mask and gloves) and just not acquiring more. Thanks for your care and advice… and your fabulous and persistent advocacy of the non toxic path.


  6. Keep for the moment of inspiration – they are stunning! The colors are crazy, (not in a bad way) and the gloss of the fleece is unbelievable. My hands were itching to pet them.


    • The gloss of the fleece is just lovely. I really enjoy spinning the cross bred fleeces I have been working with, and last night I started on some Suffolk. But there is something special about the shiny!


  7. Susan

    Yes, keep/pet and inspiration will come! That dye sounds great, hadn’t heard of it before……….


  8. Wow! I can’t believe how different the two are. Beautiful colours.


  9. Rebecca

    Those colours are extraordinary and so very very hard to get anything like that without using toxic dyes…and that is why we fell in love with synthetic dyes! I take the view that it is better to use up what you already have responsibley and safely…and then you are done. I couldn’t think of a better last hurrah than english leicester locks. how clever to use the same water for washing the fleece and rinsing the dye!


    • Yes, I was thinking it over again this morning as I folded laundry and considered what has gone into the clothing I own that has been purchased (labour, water, dyes, pesticides, textile miles, f’rinstance). Really, I wish I’d never purchased these dyes, and the acid dyes I still own. But–wishing don;t make it so, and now I need to find responsible solutions. Pretending they aren’t there isn’t likely to work out… but I don’t plan to buy more. And although some of the colours in this last round of dyeing are lovely, I have been carding cochineal dyed wool and dyeing yellows with plants alongside and–I think I like the naturally dyed colours more, and that perhaps I still need to grow some patience. Big project, that!


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