“Grown to Dye” DIY Tips

By Deena C. Bouknight

Debby Greenlaw, featured in the March issue of Columbia Metropolitan in an article titled “Grown to Dye,” shares her fiber arts techniques for those who wish to try their hand at this old-fashioned craft.


Step 1:  Weigh the quantity of dyestuff.

A general rule of thumb is to use equal weights of dry raw dyestuff and dry goods (fiber, fabric). Light and medium values require less dyestuff.

Step 2:  Add enough water to cover the dyestuff plus a little more to allow for evaporation during heating.

Extracting the dye from the dyestuff ahead of time instead of dyeing the goods directly with the raw dyestuff prevents pieces of the dyestuff from catching in the goods or dyeing them unevenly.

Note – If  adding dyestuff directly to the dyepot, place the dyestuff in some type of bag (such as a nylon mesh bag). Natural dye powders or extracts go directly into the dyepot.

Step 3:  Heat to and maintain simmer for 30–60 minutes. Be aware that some dye pigments are heat sensitive and will lose their brilliancy at higher heat.

Step 4:  Check color after 30 minutes; check again every 5 minutes if desiring a deeper color. When the extraction is complete, let the bath cool down, remove the dyestuff, and strain for smaller pieces.

If you think that there may be more color left in the dyestuff, first pour the extracted dye solution into a separate pot or container. For subsequent extractions, repeat procedure using fresh water each time. This procedure can be repeated until no more dye color is released.

Step 5:  Ready for the dyeing process.


Step 1:  Place the extracted dye in the dyepot. If you’re using a powder/liquid dye extract, completely dissolve it in warm-to-hot water and then add to dyepot. If using a dye extract, the concentration level varies; this information is provided by the supplier.

Step 2:  Add enough water to cover the goods and so they can move freely. The additional water will not weaken the value of the color, which is determined by the amount of dyestuff in proportion to the amount of fiber.

Step 3:  Soak goods to be dyed in water for at least 30 minutes.

Step 4:  Add the well-wetted goods to the dyepot.

Step 5:  Slowly heat the dyepot to a simmer, and hold at this temperature for at least 30 minutes. Gently rotate the goods to allow even penetration of the dye.

Note: Special care must be taken with wool to prevent felting. 

Step 6: Check the color of the goods after 30 minutes. When desired color (typically color appears darker when wet than when dry), turn off the heat.

Step 7: Remove goods, gently squeeze out excess liquid, rinse in water, and hang it to dry

Alternative – Let fiber or yarn cool down in the dyepot overnight. Some dyes, such as cochineal, intensify while cooling.

Step 8: After you have removed the goods from the dyebath, assess the color of the bath. If some dye is still present, you can dye more goods in what is now termed the exhaust bath. Each successive dyeing will yield a color of lighter value than the previous one.

For more hands-on information about fiber arts and to learn about fiber workshops, visit Debby’s Flora & Fiber Handcrafting Traditions site: http://www.florafiber.live.

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