Embarking on new journeys without leaving home: Natural Dyeing

What could a jar of dried and wizened black walnuts possibly suggest about its owner?
A desire to embark on a journey into Natural Dyeing Perhaps?

Absolutely !

Wizened Walnuts: Nut and Husk

Natural Dyeing is something I’ve long wanted to try, hence the jar of wizened walnuts, a classic natural dye material. I fed this interest by taking a course with Elizabeth Johnston at Shetland Wool Week 2018, and after observing the alchemy she performed, it’s a miracle that I’ve managed to contain it since. The ‘big move’ probably had something to do with that.

However, lockdown intervened and as I re-evaluated my knitting and making and explored my stash, I began delving into the books I had bought and the articles I’d saved and decided to have a go at some pretty entry level natural dyeing. I have been working throughout lockdown, so the dyeing experiments I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks have been squeezed in around other things and have not taken all of the last 3 months to produce!

In this first post however, I wanted to share my approach to natural dyeing, because it will influence the choices I make and the experiments I share here.

One of my motivations is to get to know our garden and our neighbourhood better, and by better I mean getting to know the flowers and trees that thrive and flourish. As I’ve been doing so I’ve been re-learning a lot of wild flower names that I knew as a child and have since forgotten. Bringing them back to mind has been a wonderful journey of re-discovery. If you follow me on instagram you will have seen some of the fabulous orchids that grow on the roadside near our house.

Don’t worry though, I’ll not be trying to dye with orchids!

Absolutely not!

So with this in mind I have set some criteria for my initial dyeing experiments:

  • All dye materials will be sourced by myself. Whole dyestuffs will be collected with respect for the environment and bio-diversity.
  • Where root is used, it will only be collected in our own garden (probably docks)
  • Where bark is used it will only be from pruning trees and shrubs
  • Where flowers are used, they will be collected in proportion to enable seed head formation for reproduction and as a food source.
  • Where fruits are used, immature dropped fruits or discarded skins will be used.
  • Any lichen collected will be fallen lichen.
Dried immature fallen pomegranates

We are lucky to have a wealth of traditional dye plants for a hobby dyer on our doorstep. We have a walnut tree (hence the wizened walnuts)and pomegranate trees, dyer’s camomile grows profusely in the hedgerows and on the verges and we are surrounded by various varieties of white and red oak that produce acorns and galls, and host lichen that gets blown off in stormy weather.

Dyer’s Camomile (Anthemis tinctoria)

However, I also want to try some less ‘traditional’ dyeplants, for example, we are in an olive oil producing area and olive trees produce a lot of leafy waste and prunings. Our hedgerows also get choked with old man’s beard, and even moving this far I have not escaped the grip of bindweed in the garden – surely it must have a hidden virtue or potential for something?

Old Man’s Beard (Clematis Vitalba) leaves


  • Where possible, garden waste and/or invasive plants will be prioritised, even where the dye potential is less well know,


  • Learning will be shared, that which works, but just as importantly what goes wrong. Experiments have their failures and I absolutely expect this!

Finally for now, but importantly

  • Where I draw on the experience of others, this will be fully acknowledged by appropriate citation and reference, including ‘traditional’ knowledge. Information gleaned from ‘paid for’ resources will be referenced and shared appropriately respecting the author’s copyright and intellectual property

So, expect lots of links to blogs where other people have tried things, and to accessible academic papers which may include both experimental findings but also discussion of traditional knowledge.

A Tasting Library

As I write this introductory post, I can promise future posts on olives, old man’s beard (clematis vitalba), dyers camomile and ‘baby’ pomegranates.

I’ve also tried mordanting with oxalic acid (swiss chard and rhubarb) and I’ve now been able to source alum online so have been experimenting with that. Once I have more ‘findings, a future post will compare the effects of these different mordants with different dyestuffs, including colour and colourfastness. My windowsill has a numbers of samples from these early experiments being tested for lightfastness… so far so good…

Rhubarb Leaves

I’m really looking forward to sharing this and would love to hear about your experience of, or views about natural dyeing.

All the very best,

Tess xxx



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