Using Plants to Dye Yarn

This is what I have been doing in every spare moment.  I’m a little obsessed right now.  I’ve dyed yarn with plants in the past, but never with quite this much intensity.  It really is the perfect activity for me, combining many of my loves:  Plants! Yarn! Chemistry!  Jonny noted that I have been doing all sorts of things this summer and speculated that the reason for that might be that I am not pregnant and I don’t have a small baby, though Job certainly does want to be toted all the time lately.  (At dinner Jonny questioned whether Job is a baby or a toddler now.  Seth replied that he’s mostly a troublemaker and that is so true.)

I’ve been asked to do a post all about natural dyeing, but since I’ve done this all of half a dozen times, I better hold off on a tutorial.  Over the past couple of weeks I have dyed with amaranth, elderberry, and goldenrod.  (I have dyed with tickseed sunflower and dock in the past.) The amaranth has been trickiest, because while it is named as a dye plant all over the place, there isn’t much information on actually dyeing with it, and I discovered quickly that extracting the dye with heat and then dyeing with a lot of heat means you get yarn with almost no color.  So I have been experimenting with it quite a bit.  The peachy and coral colored yarns were all dyed with amaranth (the same amaranth that I planted in my garden as a trap crop for cucumber beetles!)

I have been experimenting with over-dyeing amaranth with goldenrod to get warmer shades of golden yellow.  But I think that the most fun of all was taking pale purplish-gray yarn dyed with elderberry, and modifying the dyebath with washing soda to create an alkaline solution which turned the dyebath and yarn a brilliant green! I have pH Test Strips and I am using them, and taking lots of notes along the way.

I am planning on dyeing with pokeweed very soon.  We have so much of it, and rather than chop it down as I usually do, I’ve let it go this year.  I know it’s going to be a messy business so I need a day without much else on the agenda before I attempt it.  Soon!

Here’s a list of books I have referenced:  My favorite is Wild Color.  I’ve had this book for years, and have learned a lot from it.  Recently I purchased both Harvesting Color and A Garden to Dye For, but I haven’t spent much time with either yet.  I also have The Modern Natural Dyer on pre-order.


  1. Hi! I love every color! Did you mordant your yarn with anything? So how did you end up dyeing with amaranth? Did you do a cold dye bath?

    • Thanks! Yes, I do use mordants, usually alum. For the amaranth I either use solar heat, or very low heat on the stove (no more than 170 degrees F)

  2. I love this so much!
    I also identify with “why am I so productive this summer?” 😉

  3. I love the subtle, gentle colors of the yarn. I haven’t dyed yarn or fabric since textiles classes in art school; seeing your photos makes me want to try it again.

    My favorite picture is of the cat peering at the drying yarn.

  4. Oh so lovely!!

  5. That green is gorgeous!

  6. It looks like you are having a wonderful time with all that dying! That green is just too cool.
    Do consider leaving the pokeweed – it looks lovely. The bluebirds, waxwings, mockingbirds, migrating robins and all the other fruit eaters will be so pleased. I myself have scads of it all over my (suburban) backyard for the benefit of the hungry birds. And it’s native. 🙂

    • We have so much pokeweed–too much! It’s toxic to the goats so I don’t want it all over the place, and there is so much that the birds let the berries shrivel on the plants. I left much of it uncut this summer specifically for dyeing, but there will certainly be plenty for the wildlife too! We live in a pretty wild and unruly place, plenty of forage. 🙂

      • I didn’t know it was toxic to goats! That is so interesting how the goats can eat poison ivy and not pokeweed. (The mockingbirds can of course eat both, and I get little forests of pokeweed and poison under their favorite nesting tree.) You learn something new every day, thanks. 🙂

  7. Your life looks so fun! You seem to do so much more in a day than even seems possible. I’m stuck in a office-commute-daycare loop and barely have time to do anything.

    Lovely yarns, I can’t wait to see what you do with them next 🙂

  8. Fun. I missed a word out!

  9. Lovely colours. I like the picture with your cat. Oh the that could be had.

  10. They are so pretty!!! Next you need to start spinning 🙂

  11. Melissa McIntyre says:

    Wow! Soooo fun! I had forgotten what pokeweed was actually called. Around here we call it “ink berries” When I was a kid that’s what my brothers and I called it because we would smash it up and write with it! Now my kiddos do the same thing 😊

  12. What beautiful colors! Sounds like great fun!

  13. That is so beautiful!!! We have a lot of pokeweed in our yard and now you’re giving me ideas! 🙂

  14. I love that you are using amaranth! When I was in high school I volunteered in Oaxaca on a project that tried to reintroduce amaranth to indigenous communities because of its health benefits and how easy it is to grow there. It might seem weird, but that plant holds a special place in my heart! I know you’re growing it to protect your cucumber plants, but you might try eating it as well if you can. It’s like tofu in that it can be added to anything and will take on the other ingredients’ flavors, but it is SO good for you! Good luck with the natural dyeing, I will definitely have to try that soon. So beautiful!

    • Do you just eat the seeds?

      • I believe you can eat the entire plant, but I’ve only ever eaten the seeds or seen the seeds used in cooking. People in Mexico would use it like a grain in all kinds of stuff like granola bars and tortillas and also just added to stuff like soup and rice dishes.

  15. Hi Ginny,
    Love these colors – so much fun! What is the plant in the jars in the first picture?

  16. Gwendolyn says:

    Thanks for sharing Ginny! That looks like so much fun…and I like reading all the comments, as it makes me go back and look at the pictures again to see what I missed. Where do you get your yarn to dye?

  17. I’m just finishing up some amaranth experiments, too. I did a high and low pH test. The batch with a pH of 4 turned lovely shades of peach and pink. The batch with a pH of 9 is a soft golden yellow. I used a few crushed oak galls to help mordant the color. I love how it turned out. I’ll post pictures soon on my IG feed @ninja.chickens

    I also post some of my dyeing on my blog:

    It’s SO addictive!!

    • I can’t wait to check out your blog post! I saw your photos on IG–so pretty! I have gotten similar results. I got a nice deep coral on merino using vinegar as mordant.

      • Kris from Old Gates Farm says:

        Ginny, I’d love to hear ratios/technique for a vinegar mordant for amaranth dyeing. 🙂

        (Email is probably best–not sure if I’ll be notified for a response on here)

  18. Oh my! Such gorgeous colours! I particularly love the green.. and the photo of the curious kitty with their eye on the skeins drying! HAHA!

    Your projects are so neat. I’m envious!

  19. So beautiful – you may have found a new calling, Ginny! Looking forward to seeing & learning more.

  20. I love natural dyes! Something about the colors pull me in. I adore that green you got!!

  21. This is so exciting seeing these post on natural dying of yarn. Keep going Ginny and keep us readers in the loop with all your outcomes. Thanks

  22. I am bookmarking this post not for the dyeing – which is awesome – but for the plant suggestions for my garden next spring!

  23. This is so cool! I want to come play!

  24. This is so exciting! I love the colors that natural dyeing brings forth.
    We’re moving in a couple of weeks and a dyeing garden is on my dream list for next year.
    Beautiful, thank you for sharing!

  25. Some of the less-colorful yarn photos look like drying freshly-made pasta!

  26. Your yarn looks beautiful! I especially love the green. I do a bit of experimenting with natural dyes, too…in the past I’d used tickseed sunflower, goldenrod, and sumac. This year I’ve done onion skins, goldenrod, and pokeweed. The color from pokeberries is definitely my favorite so far! It’s so vibrant. (And messy, though thankfully the color washes from hands easier than I expected, ha.) I have Wild Color, too, but my favorite dyeing book is Harvesting Color. I just wish it included more east coast plants.

  27. Looking good!

    Be careful with the ph altered yarns when you wash them, if whatever detergent you use shifts the balance the colours can alter again/revert.

  28. You know the trick with poke, yes? Lots of vinegar –you want the dye bath at pH 4. So bright!

    • Thank you! I knew to use vinegar and that I wanted it to be acidic, but the book I’m following didn’t give a specific pH value! Dyeing today…so far so good, though soooo messy!

  29. I love the colors that you obtained from natural dyeing. Perhaps a new craft skill that I might try? I also love the picture with the kitty peaking out from behind the lovely yarn.

  30. OK, sorry, I saw the answer of the green question… This is a brilliant colour!

  31. Wonderfull! This is just so wonderfull. I wonder with what you dyed the green yarn?
    My daughter is the age Job and she is also a troublemaker or maybe better a chaos kid which produces trouble by accident… =)
    With best greetings,

  32. Very cool. What yarn do you use as a base? You will have so many nice colors to knit with all winter long. Hooray.

  33. The colors are beautiful! I would like to try my hand at it one day. What yarn are you using?

  34. Oh what fun!! We have been harvesting our calendula, bachelor buttons and marigolds for dyeing this fall. I don’t have a big enough garden to produce a lot of flowers at once so we need to dry them out instead. I am most excited about dyeing yarn with marigolds. I am hoping to make a lot of baby knits from that yarn! 😉

  35. Reading about you dying yarn reminds me of Gathering Blue, the book that comes after The Giver in Lois Lowry’s series. I love it!

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