Tag: natural dye

The Great 2020 Dyeing Project (Fade Test Part 2)


December 31, 2020 marked one year since I began the Great 2020 Dyeing Project Fade Test (which also had a small sidequest of the Madder Adventure), which meant it was time to take down the final fade swatches and process them! For the dyegoods, dyestuffs, dyeing combinations, fiber preparation, and dyeing methods that were involved in preparing for this year-long fade test, please see Part 1.

The final dates for the fade tests shifted only slightly from my original plan:

  • One week: June 19 – June 26 (originally planned June 13 – June 20 or June 20 – June 27; I split the difference due to the weather around that time)
  • One month: June 1 –  June 30 (no shift)
  • Three months: April 26 – July 26 (shifted by two days)
  • Six months: March 16 – September 16 (shifted by one day)
  • One year:  January 1 – December 31 (no shift)

My test of the canary-stained wool (using yarn spun from the yellow tips versus yarn spun from the white roots) lasted three months. I also kept a control swatch of each color and material in a dark place. All the swatches were faded in a south-east facing window for their duration.


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The Great 2020 Dyeing Project (The Madder Adventure)

The product of madder, water, wool, and time

Remember those 1272 yards of merino I spun? Well, after I finished spinning it, August was the time for its destiny: the Madder Adventure!

Fiber Preparation

Two lots drying after dyeing

Since I knew madder has a number of exhaust stages (and I wanted to see how many exhaust baths I could get), I divided the 1272 yards (320 grams) into 11 lots of 100 yards (25 grams) plus one lot of 172 yards.

I cold-mordanted the 100 yard lots in 8% alum and 7% cream of tartar (Note: all percentages are a percentage of the weight of goods being dyed). I set aside remaining 172 yards as an unmordanted, undyed control.

The madder I used for all these tests was pre-ground raw goods.

Round One: Clarifying Madder

Lots from the clarified bath
Lots from the “tea”-style extraction

The method: In previous dyeing projects, I had used too little madder to get a rich red, so I decided to use 100% WOG for this test. However, I had also read that madder would be more of an orange-red if not “clarified” (steeped and poured off). For that reason, I made a “tea” with the madder: I steeped the dyestuff in boiling water for 2 minutes and then poured it off into a pot. I repeated this once, and then used the remaining dye for my main dye bath. However, I also used the dye that was first extracted for a bath, giving me two dye baths. The dyestuff was removed before adding the yarn to the baths. All the goods were at minimum cold-dyed for 24 hours; many were heated or at least left in the hot summer sun for most of the day.

The results: The clarified bath only lasted for three rounds (two exhausts), while the “tea”-style extraction lasted for five (four exhausts). While the lots dyed in the extraction definitely have more orange tones to them, the red is also richer; the lots from the clarified dye, while less orange and more pink, are also less saturated.

All lots together

Round Two: Playing with pH

Mini-skeins get dyed in steins! Alkaline bath on the left, acidic bath on the right.

Since I had 300 already-mordanted yards of merino left, and I knew that madder reacts in interesting way to pH changes, I decided to do a smaller pH test. In order to have more skeins for exhaust, I broke my yarn down into smaller lots of 20 yards (5 grams).

First lot results: acid, neutral, alkaline (L-R)

Dye and pH: I used 5 grams of madder in single-use tea bags, putting three packets together so that I could have acidic, neutral, and alkaline dye baths. To shift the pH, I used white vinegar for my acid and household ammonia for my alkaline. I aimed for pH 3 for my acidic bath, ~7 for my neutral bath (roughly my water’s regular pH), and ~10 for my alkaline bath.

I went through a lot of pH test strips during this experiment, as I tested the water of every dyebath at the beginning and end of each lot, at minimum.

As I was dyeing, I discovered I was having difficulty with the alkaline slowly shifting to neutral during the process. I believe this is because the cream of tartar in the mordant is an acid, and it started to neutralize the alkaline as the yarn was dyed.

L to R: alkaline, neutral, acid

Results: I was incredibly surprised by the results! I was able to get three lots (two exhausts) out of each dye pot. While there were minimal differences between the first lot in the alkaline and the neutral (possibly due to the interference from the cream of tartar in the mordant), the differences really showed up in the exhausts. Because the first alkaline lot presumably absorbed more of the red parts of the dye, the exhausts were primarily creamy-yellows. The neutral had brownish-orange exhausts, while the acid (having absorbed more of the yellow in the first lot) had pinker exhausts. I quite like the pink exhausts, so there may be a number of bright orange-reds in my future, too!

Round Three: Some Weird Lots

By this point, I had done two experiments and still had 120 yards of mordanted yarn left — and already broken into 20 yard lots!

So, I dumped the remainder of the pH tests together, without adjusting  the pH (it came out to 5 when I tested at the beginning). I only tracked one specific skein, though I used a couple to absorb the remaining dye; this gave me a red that was unsurprisingly close to my first neutral pH lot.

I also had frozen the dye packets from the original clarified madder tests. With these, I simmered them in pH-neutral water and chucked a small skein in, leaving the dye in during the whole dyeing process. I also originally shifted the pH to 11; pH had shifted to 8 by the end, but I ran out of ammonia for the second lot, so it slowly shifted back to neutral. This gave me a rich salmon pink.

Projects and Records

First warp on the loom!
First warp in progress!

Of course, since I had spent so much time processing, spinning, and dyeing this wool, I also had to do something with it. So I inkle-wove two belts!

Both belts are woven with just the yarn from round one (clarified and tea-style extraction), as I had the greatest yardage of these. For the first belt, I did a gradient of light-to-light, with the darks in the middle(ish), with each band separated with a strand of white. For the second belt, I did a dark-to-dark gradient without separations, edged in white.

Finally, I used these experiments as an opportunity to test my planned format for the Great 2020 Dyeing Project Fade Test. I created a grid with the different dyeing experiments and exhausts with a space for a picture of the yarn surrounded by a border of color sampled from the dye lot itself; it also includes the hex code of that sampled color.

If you would like a PDF copy of this image, you can download it here.

Spinning Merino

Several years ago, my friend Liz passed a washed merino fleece off to me. During summer 2020, I decided to finish processing it and spin it. The staple was quite short, so I decided to card it into rolags. Carding was a little difficult, because I didn’t have the right density of teeth in my cards, but by the end my rolags were looking pretty nice. I spun the rolags using a short forward draw, because it gave me a lot of control over the really short fibers.

The washed fleece (ignore the See’s candy in the background).

Pretty rolags and singles.

Finished singles.

1272 yards of finished, plied laceweight yarn.

Once the yarn was finished, I decided it was the perfect amount to split into smaller skeins for my madder dyeing adventure (coming soon!).

The Great 2020 Dyeing Project (Fade Test Part 1)

After taking a class on natural dyeing using different yellows and indigo in May 2019 at Maryland Sheep and Wool, I decided it was finally time to dye the Romney fleece I bought in 2017. However, I wanted to test sun-colorfastness first, as I had noticed some garments that I dyed with commercial dyes were fading significantly after 2 years of SCA wear and washing.

I decided I wanted to test weld, madder, and indigo (the great triumvirate of medieval dyes) plus cochineal; I also wanted to test these dyes in combination.

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A Bag for a Pilgrim

I made this bag for Lochmere Midwinters in January 2019 as part of their Pilgrim Bag competition. The picture shows the fabric a much darker blue than it is in real life.

Materials & Techniques

Outside Bag Body

    • Material: Wool, handwoven on a rigid heddle loom, fulled, and hand-dyed in indigo
    • Techniques: Handsewn with commercially-dyed wool

Bag Lining

    • Materials: Linen (commercially woven)
    • Techniques: Handsewn and felled with cotton thread


    • Materials: Commercially-dyed wool in Atlantian colors
    • Techniques: Inkle-woven and handsewn onto the bag’s back


    • Fluffy fluffy goodness made of wool


    • Don’t worry! The badge hasn’t gone missing: this is the bag’s first “pilgrimage,” so it does not have a badge yet! After this event, I will sew a badge (perhaps a Spike?) to the front flap.

Pattern & Construction

Thanks to Mistress Karen Larsdatter’s links pages, I first found the pattern by Sabine Scholl, the pattern by Myriam Gateault, and the translation of Scholl’s pattern by Lord Coblaith Muimnech (Ansteorra). In several manuscript images on these pattern pages, there were blue bags with white tassels and details (Atlantian colors!). I then remembered the wool cloth that I had handwoven, fulled, and dyed in indigo—it would be perfect for this bag! Addendum 2019: I used a small rigid-heddle loom to weave the cloth out of a rough commercial wool; I then fulled wool by putting it in my home’s washer/dryer and forgetting about it!

While I prefer the look of the trapezoidal bag in these patterns and illuminations, I wanted to use every inch of my handwoven/hand-dyed fabric, so I settled on a rectangular bag (but still with tassels, because who doesn’t love tassels?). Because the final construction was simple folding and bag-lining (pun definitely intended), I did not use a pattern; I relied on the dyed fabric’s width and cut the lining to match.

Finally, while straps in illuminations are usually a single color, I wanted to reinforce the Atlantian colors of the bag body, so I patterned the inkle-woven strap with white and multi-toned, asymmetrical blue stripes. I wove a long enough piece to serve as a strap, then sewed it to the back of the bag to create the same visual, from the front, that I saw in the exemplars. Addendum 2019: I used a modern inkle loom to weave the strap. The asymmetrical blue stripes were a necessity, as I had a limited amount of match yarn remnants!

Period Exemplars


These three exemplars gave me confidence that a blue-and-white square bag with tassels could be possible across multiple centuries.


Lord Coblaith Muimnech, Lord. “Trapezoidal Shoulder Bag.” Coblaith, http://www.coblaith.net/Bags/TrapezoidalBag/default.html.

Karen Larsdatter, Mistress. “Pilgrims’ Bags.” Medieval & Renaissance Material Culture, http://www.larsdatter.com/pilgrims-bags.htm.

Myriam Gateault. “Schmuck und Accesoires – Pilgertasche.” Diu Minnezît, https://www.diu-minnezit.de/realie_details.php?sid=0&lid=0&rid=119&tid=1.

Sabine Scholl. “Mittelartliche Umhängetasche.” Tempora Nostra, http://www.tempora-nostra.de/mode_umhaengetasche.shtml.