simple teaching aids

My house is a mess, but, I have a few new teaching aids for Kool-Aid dyeing at Wolcott Farm on Sheep Shearing Saturday this weekend!!


A poster is always a user friendly display. I still want to affix colored wool samples to the board…although, there will be plenty of Kool-Aid dyed wool roving around on display!

sheepyhollow_teaching aid

I printed and laminated simple how-to instructions/Kool-Aid color recipes.


Do you like my wooly beasties [apparently before shearing]??


You never know what you can do with a little paper, colored markers, water-color paint and a wee bit of imagination!?

Sheep Shearing Saturday at Wolcott Farm Center

Won’t you please join us at Wolcott Mill Metropark Farm Center on Saturday, March 9, 2012? Katie and I will be in the farm kitchen dyeing wool with Kool-Aid! If you’d like to learn more about ‘dyeing’, here’s another awesome resource!


65775 Wolcott Road, Ray, Michigan 48096

(586) 752-5932


Saturday,  March 09, 2013

10am – 4pm 

$5.00 PER PERSON          (Pay at the door)


Join us at the farm for a fun filled day!!

Watch and listen to a professional sheep shearer.   Visit our artisans and watch demonstrations on weaving, spinning, felting, and more.  Make a wool craft.  Many beautiful items will be available for purchase.  Learn about the visiting Alpacas, their fiber and uses.  Enjoy a snack and go for a horse drawn wagon ride (rides weather permitting). You are also welcome to visit our resident farm animals.

For further information contact us at (586) 752-5932


What’s on my workbench?

… or more accurately, my kitchen counter?

Check it out: a bleached ART sheepy project.

I got the idea from here :

photo via show tell share

…and thought it would be a fun project for my 4H kids???

Naturally, I had to try it for myself FIRST – and it had to be sheepy!!!

This is the reverse side, before rinsing.

And this is the final rinsed project.

Here’s a close-up.


I followed the directions from Show Tell Share. You’ll need a Clorox Bleach Gel Pen for WHITES and fabric. I found mine in the laundry detergents aisle at Meijer. I used an inexpensive 60/40 cotton polyester blend (black) to ‘experiment’, but – Show Tell Share – recommends a cotton jersey (she also used a linen fabric for her table runner). I ironed a piece of butcher paper to the back… because I have it readily available in my pantry. Otherwise, place on several sheets of newspaper to protect your work surface. I free-handed a sheep with the fine point end of the bleach gel pen… but you can draw any ‘simple’ design. Too much detail and you’ll lose some of it in the final results… the bleach does absorb/spread/blur a little bit.

Let the bleach sit about 20-minutes. Peel the paper backing and rinse in cool water. You may run through a cycle in the washing machine. There you go. You can customize a table runner, place mat… or kids’ DIY T-Shirts?

I thought it would make a nice ‘banner’ or table skirt for a craft show display or Ag fair…

The sky’s the limit! I’m gonna try a dairy goat next… hope her udder turns out!!!

And here’s the dairy goats!

I love ’em both!

Where’s my bleach gel pen??? I think I’ll pencil-in: “Dairy goats – the other white milk”!

Plant a Natural Dye Garden!

Every second Thursday of the month I spin with a talented group of ladies known as the Hadley Spinning Guild. It’s a relaxing escape and the perfect end to a busy day.  The conversation drifts effortlessly from topic to topic encompassing current events, spinning technique & tips, recipes, what’s new, fiber terminology, animal husbandry…and so on. It’s as varied as the background and experience of every one of our members!

One such discussion was about NATURAL DYEING. Judy commented that she has a lovely prolific mulberry tree in her yard and would love to know what/how to dye with its fruit? So, since I’ve never dyed with ‘mulberry’, I decided to do a little research and follow-up.

Did you know…dyer’s mulberry or FUSTIC, was introduced into Europe in the 16th century and became one of the most popular sources of YELLOW because of its strong tinctorial qualities. The strength of its coloring made it more economical than other yellow dyes and it was often used with indigo to make green. The fustic dyestuff was made from the hardwood/wood chips – not the mulberry fruit! Simmering the dye bath for a longer period tends to produce MUSTARD tones and the use of iron as a modifier gives shades of olive green.

Another resource indicated that white mulberry gives yellow; black mulberry and its fruit, violet; red and greyish colours are obtained with use of different mordants. The leaves give olive green when brought in contact with iron and almost orange when treated with alkaline salts. I also found “mulberry natural dye extract”  made from nettles and spinach (??) which can also be used as a food colouring — think Easter eggs?

Did you know…natural dyes are often referred to as VEGETABLE dyes, though many are obtained from animal and mineral sources. Despite the introduction of good quality synthetic dyes, which are reasonably cheap and plentiful, natural dyes produce a subtle beauty of tone that perhaps may never been equalled by use of even the finest synthetic dyes. Natural dyes also come from roots, flowers, leaves, fruits and barks of plants, or from animal sources such as cochineal (Dactylopius coccus is a scale insect and gives red or crimson-colored dye) and mineral sources such as red soils. Natural dyes have the advantage of being found in abundance in the natural environment. Red isalso obtained from the roots of the madder plant (Rubia tinctorum). Yellow is made from the reseda plant, vine leaves and pomegranate skins. Blue is derived from Indigo plants…and so on.

If you have an ADVENTUROUS spirit, consider planting (or harvesting) a few common natural dye plants in your gardens this Spring! Some dye stuff plants to consider: hollyhock, chamomile, pot marigold (calendula), coreopsis, cosmos, dahlia, ivy, hibiscus, daffodil, rhubarb, rudbeckia, elderberry, french marigold, comfry, to name a few. OR, ‘wild craft’ walnut, apple, goldenrod, common yarrow, nettle, dandylion, onion skins and even pomegranates!

For additional reading, check out this article –

Happy fiber’n!

A Natural Dye Garden – Part III

So far, we’ve talked about the basics of natural dye-stuffs, plant selection, mordants, etc. But, before you actually begin to dye (wool) fiber, recordkeeping is probably the most important consideration, especially if you hope to achieve similar dyeing results in the future. Make sure you have notebook paper and pencil in hand and record your process! Don’t leave it to memory…because you will forget the details.

Here’s an example of the dye info you may want to record.


Date:___________________                                SAMPLE/SWATCH:

DYE SOURCE:____________________________________________











Natural Plant Dye Bath Equipment List:

– enamel & stainless steel pots, plastic buckets

– wooden spoons, strainer, thongs, paint stir sticks

– rubber gloves

– drying rack or clothesline

– measuring spoon, cups, thermometer

– scales for weighing fiber & dye plants

– camp stove/portable electric burner (if working outdoors)

– well-ventilated workplace

– access to water

Generally speaking, the dye process (for protein/wool fiber) consists of:

1) Pre-Treatment  – scouring, weighing, mordanting (chemically bonding the color to the wool)

2) Making a dye bath; extracting the dye (substantive dyes or adjective dyes = mordant-assisted)

3) Dyeing the fiber

4) Post-mordanting

5) Rinsing

6) Air drying

So, to get started dyeing, we’ll pre-mordant our wool.

Pre-Mordanting Protein Fibers with ALUM:

1) Weigh the dry fiber; thoroughly wet fiber in tub of warm water

2) Fill your dye pot with warm water (4 gal/pound fiber)

3) Add mordant: 10% WOF alum + 5% WOF cream of tartar (WOF = weight of fiber)

4) Add wetted fiber to bath

5) Bring pot to gentle simmer, 30 – 60 min.

6) Remove pot from heat and allow cooling until lukewarm

7) Remove fiber and rinse with lukewarm water

8) Dye immediately or air-dry for later dyeing (label ~ that the fiber has been pre-mordanted ~ and date)

Now for the fun dyeing part…BASIC DYE METHOD:

1) Add chopped natural plant dyestuff into pot

2) Add H2O and simmer 30 – 60 min. to extract natural pigment

3) Strain dye bath; add wetted fiber (pre-mordant treatment)

4) Bring dye pot to gentle simmer, 30 – 60 min.

 5) OPTIONAL Post-mordant/modifier Treatment

~ OR ~

6) Cool fiber overnight in the dye bath

7) Remove and rinse fiber; air dry

Ta Da! You have just dyed your first wool fiber with natural extracted dyestuff!

Here’s an easy onion skin dye project recipe:

You’ll need 8 oz. of yarn or fleece, 2 T alum, 8 oz. onion skins, cheesecloth or old nylon hosiery to make a ‘tea bag’ for the onion skins, large enamel pot.  (Note: Red or yellow-skinned onions will result in a ‘golden’ color.)

Procedure: Tie the yarn/fiber in several places to minimize tangling. Soak the fiber in the lukewarm water just enough to cover it until it is wetted thoroughly. Dissolve the alum in a small amount of water and add to the pot. Gently heat the water to simmer for about 1 hour. Meanwhile, place the onion skins in the cheesecloth or hosiery and tie to secure the skins inside. Place the ‘package’ of skins into the dye pot and return to simmer. Gently stir occasionally until you’ve achieved the desired color. Remove the yarn from the dye bath and cool before rinsing (don’t shock the fiber!). Or, allow the fiber/dye pot to cool to room temp overnight…then drain and rinse. Hang the yarn/fiber to air dry.

I’ve only skimmed the surface of dyeing! There’s so much more detailed info out there for you to peruse if you’re truly interested in natural dyeing!  


A Dyer’s Garden, Rita Buchanan

Dye Plants and Dyeing, John & Margaret Cannon

Early American Weaving and Dyeing, J. and R. Bronson

Nature’s Colors – Dyes from Plants, Ida Grae

The Craft of the Weaver, Sutton, Collingwood & St Aubyn Hubbard

The Dyer’s Companion, Dagmar Klos

The Herb Companion/The Herb Quarterly (Magazine)

The Weaving, Spinning, and Dyeing Book, Rachel Brown

Wild Color, Jenny Dean (My favorite!)

Tea Dyeing

Do you prefer the OLD, faded and worn look of antique needlework or hooked rugs? A simple technique of ‘aging‘ a hand-piece may be accomplished right in your very own kitchen by tea dyeing. Tea dyeing will dull down a ‘bright’ piece of wool or fabric and give it an antique, primitive look.

Start by pre-soaking your wool or fabric in warm water with 1 drop of Jet-Dry. Fill your enamel or stainless steel dye pot approx. 1/4 full of water and bring to a boil. Add about 4 tea bags – I prefer Lipton, but you may experiment with other tea brands. Red Rose gives off a more distinctive reddish tint.  Remove the tea bags and add your wool to the pot and continue to simmer until you’ve reached the desired color/effect. Add 1/4 cup vinegar and boil an additional 10 minutes to set the color. Cool thoroughly, then rinse well with water and dry.

Similarly, make a tea ‘bath’ by boiling a kettle of water, add 4 – 5 tea bags and steep for an hour. When cooled, use the tea bag to blot your finished hand-worked piece to achieve the desired effect. Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees F and place your tea stained ‘piece’ on a cookie sheet in the oven to dry. Check frequently so that it doesn’t burn!

Also…vanilla flavored instant coffee may also be used for ‘dyeing’ a deeper color than tea dyeing. Add about 1 tablespoon instant coffee to 1-2 cups boiling water. Fill your dye pot 1/4 to 1/2 full of water and bring to a boil. Add the coffee solution and your pre-soaked wool. Watch closely for the desired color and repeat as for tea dyeing. I also like to use coffee ‘dyeing’ for staining paper and card stock to create primitive-looking tags & labels!

Enjoy creating a hand-made today… tomorrow’s heirloom.

A Natural Dye Garden – Part II

People have been coloring with natural dyes – animal, vegetable or mineral – since prehistoric times. Dyeing wool fleece or yarn (animal or protein fibers~ vs~ vegetable/plant fibers) with dyes you create from plants, bark, roots, insects, food and such is a rewarding colorful adventure!

Photo courtesty The Natural Knitter by B. Albright; wool fleece dyed with (top clockwise) brazilwood,logwood,mullein & goldenrod.

Categories of Natural Dyes:

1. Substantive Dyes – dyes fixed within the fibers without assistance of other substances or mordants

2. Adjective Dyes – require a mordant for color development and permanently “fix” to fiber

3. Vat Dyes – substantive dyes, but insoluble in water; deposited on external surface of fiber; color develops upon exposure to oxygen (indigo, woad = blue) or light (shellfish + purple)

Mordants Matter! 

French mordre, ‘to bite’; boiled with the fiber to chemically fix the dye to the fiber; often produces much stronger color on fibers. Mordants join the fiber with the dye to set the color permanently. The most common mordants are:

– Alum – common pre-mordant; use with cream of tartar (too much can make wool sticky!); 8% alum or 1- ¾ tsp per 4 oz (100 g) fiber + 7% cream of tartar or 1- ½ tsp per 4 oz (100 g) fiber

– Copper – gives similar results as chrome, but slightly more green; to make copper liquor, add several pieces of copper pipe to a 1:1 solution of water & distilled vinegar to a glass jar

– Iron – ‘saddens’ or dulls (too much can weaken fiber); to make iron liquor, add rusty nails to a 2:1 solution of water & distilled vinegar

– Chrome – toxic; rich, deep color; more permanent than alum; leaves wool feeling soft, silky

– Tin – enhances and brightens

– Oxalic acid – toxic (found naturally in rhubarb leaves – caution toxic!).  To make mordant from rhubarb leaves, simmer 1 pound rhubarb leaves in water w/covered pot outdoors or in a well-ventilated work area for 1 hr; strain.


– Cream of Tartar – used with Al mordants

– Vinegar (5 % distilled) – used with Cu; increase acidity

– Ammonia – used with Al & indigo; increase alkalinity

Variables affecting the natural plant dye bath (in terms of RELIABILITY, PREDICTABILITY and CONSISTENT Dye Results):

– Moisture and temperature during the plant growing season

– Plant’s stage of growth when harvested for dyestuff

– What part of plant was gathered

– Used immediately or stored (fresh vs. dried)

– How long was dye bath simmered or soaked

– Water pH & mineral content (municipal water, well water, bottled water?)

– Bath temperature during dyeing

– Ratio of weight of dye plant to weight of fiber (WOF)

– Mordant used (pre or post treatment)

3 Basic Methods of Dyeing:

♣  Mordant wool first, then add it to the dye bath

♣ Mordant and dye wool in the same dye-bath

♣ Dye wool first, then FIX by mordanting

Simply put, Basic Steps for Dyeing Wool (Protein) Fibers:

1. Pre-Treatment  – scouring, weighing, mordanting (alum is most common)

2. Making a dye bath; extracting the dye (substantive dyes or adjective dyes = mordant-assisted)

3. Dyeing the fiber

4. Post-mordanting

5. Rinsing

6. Air drying

Finally, in DYEING PART III, we’ll talk about preparing a dye bath, dyeing, recordkeeping, simple recipes to get started & resources!