Dying Wool

60ed70bea0f6ff5ec70a0bc1f52ac09aThere are many ways to dye wool using materials given to us by mother nature. During shows we often dye wool as it was done during mediaeval days. Although we often do this in our very modern kitchen as well. At the moment I only have an iron cauldron but when working in my own kitchen, I use stainless steel pans. I’m still looking for a copper cauldron fit for dying wool, for this gives a different hue then the same bath in a iron cauldron.
We use plants that are indigenous to Northern Europe. There are many different books available on the subject of dying wool but most combine old and more modern ingredients.

Fill the cauldron

Fill your cauldron with plenty of water and place it over a strong fire. When the water is boiling, you add the plant material needed for your recipe. Here cow parsley (fluitenkruid, nl) is used to give the wool a soft yellow colour.
Depending on the recipe we usually let the mixture boil for about an hour before we add the wool.


Along with the wool we add some alum (aluin, nl). This makes the fibres of the wool more open, so the dye can really penetrate the wool fibres. Alum crystals can commonly be bought at your local pharmacy. After the wool has been added, you don’t want the mixture to continue boiling. On an open fire it is hard to controle the heat so keep an eye on the fire at this point.



Again depending on the recipe we leave it to simmer (not boil) for 1 or 2 ours before we take the cauldron of the fire and let the wool cool down. After rinsing and drying the wool you can see the end result.
Note though that some materials give colours that can fade as time goes by and the wool is exposed to sunlight.


Dye baths

You can often use the same dye more then once. The second and third time you use the dye, the colour given will be less and less bright. Here you see two different hues. They come from the same dye and from the same cauldron, but the one on the right was taken out first. Experimenting with recipes is a big part of the fun of dying your own wool, so don’t be scared and try different variations on your recipe…



In mediaeval Europe one of the favourite plants was madder (meekrap, nl). The crushed root of the plant is used to make a dye that produces beautiful and bright red and orange hues. It was used for centuries in most of Europe. In the 17th and 18th century large parts of the Dutch province of Zeeland were covered with madderfields to supply the textile industry.
For more information on the plant you can click here for the next page



Since it isn’t always easy to find madderroot, there are other materials that are cheap and very common. Like onionskins! You can save up your own onionskins but when you’re at the market at the vegetable-stand, ask if you can have some of the onionskins on the bottom of the crate, there is usually plenty there. If you ask nicely they usually don’t mind.


End product

And here the end product. Although onionskins will give your wool a nice dark yellow colour, this hue is a little darker then normally. It had been darkened by adding crushed oakbark. Oakbark has a substance called tanine (atleast it is in Dutch) which gives a reddish colour and darkens the dye.


Feverfew, tansy (boerenwormkruid), greater celandine (stinkende gouwe), v (fluitenkruid), buckthorn berries, (vuilboom) woad (wede), Alkanet (ossetong), rotting wood from an oaktree, walnutshells and many other plants can be used to dye wool and can often be found near your own home.
For more plants that can be used to dye wool can be found on the recipypage

About gathering the plants:

always check if it’s not a protected plant in your area and wether a plant is toxic. Blossoms should be in full bloom, berries ripe and nuts mature. Remember, never gather more than 1/3 of a stand of anything in the wild to make sure the plant will survive to bloom again next year.

About the dying:

chop plantmaterial into small pieces.Double the amount of water to plant material. For a stronger shade, allow material to soak in the dye overnight. You can soak the fabric in a color fixative before the dye process. This will make the color set in the fabric. Place wet fabric in dye bath. The color of the fabric will be lighter when its dry. Ddyed fabric should be laundered in cold water and separately. Wear rubber gloves to handle the fabric that has been dyed, the dye can stain your hands.

Volg het bord Dying wool van DenBlauwen op Pinterest.

1 Comment

  1. Wat een fijn artikel. Ik vroeg me nog af of die eikenschors vers moet zijn en hoeveel je dan nodig hebt? Ik probeer op een inheems ijzertijdse manier okergeel te maken (dus zonder ui) maar tot nu toe nog niet zo’n mooie kleur kunnen maken. Ik wil het nu met fluitenkruid + eikenschorn en berkenblad + eikenschors proberen.
    Alvast bedankt!


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