Work in progress!

Dyeing with Hampshire Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers

We are always happy to give advice and information. Come along to a meeting (see our programme) or contact us

General information about Dyeing

Definition: Dye:- to stain; to give a new colour to; to colour, to tinge


For those new to dyeing consider the following:

The effect you are looking for.

The fibre you are using.

Will you want it to maintain its colour with prolonged exposure to sunlight?

The effect of your activity on the environment.


If you are looking for a specific colour and want a predictable and repeatable colour, then you are going to have to use a commercially available chemical dye.


Different fibres will take up the same dye to give different colours. If you want to dye wool, silk, other animal fibre or nylon then acid dyes are suitable. For vegetable or viscose fibres Procion dyes are suitable. Dylon dyes can be used on either. I wouldn't try dyeing polyester - it has never worked for me.


Even commercially produced dyes will fade in strong sunlight to some extent. Natural dyes are no worse than commercial ones for light fastness if used correctly. When one uses commercial dyes they do not involve environmentally damaging substances for you to have to dispose of but you have to consider that their manufacture probably did produce toxic by-products.


Natural Dyes dyed balls of yarn

The photo to the right shows the results of one of

our dyeing workshops: each ball has one strand

each of wool, silk and mohair; and shows how

different fibres take up the same dye to give

different colours.

Natural Dyes are vegetable or sometime animal substances.

Most natural dyes need some additional chemical agent to

make them bind to the fibre and modify the colour.

This agent is known as a mordant. Mordants are usually metal

salts that are poisonous if you eat them, well known ones are:


Iron - Ferrous sulphate:

Copper - Copper sulphate (or other copper compounds):

Chrome - Potassium dichromate: Really poisonous and environmentally unfriendly

Tin - Stannous Chloride: Environmentally unfriendly


For various reasons, too much mordant is a bad idea, only small amounts of mordants are needed and it can be environmentally damaging to put large quantities into the public sewers. Alum can benefit acid loving plants so small amounts can safely be diluted and emptied in your garden, similarly iron is useful for all green plants and copper is a fungicide that is used in gardens. Chrome however is best avoided because it will kill off your plants and some people are allergic to fibres dyed with it.


Other substances like vinegar and cream of tartar to mention but two, can be beneficial to assist dyeing. It is important to get the quantities of dyestuff, fibre, and mordant correct so get a book - and follow the instructions.


Dyes from indigo weld and onion


These colours are from dyeing wool skeins with indigo, weld and onion skins using alum as a mordant and iron as a colour modifier. Some of the greens have been obtained by overdyeing indigo with Weld or onions. Using Iron to 'Sadden' the weld gives the more olive greens.


Some natural dyes don't need a mordant, an example is green walnuts or just the hulls, which after being soaked in water then mashed and stewed will give a range of browns according to how long you stew your vat of dye and fibre. If you use mordants with walnuts, or similar dyes, you will get different colours


                                   Madder                                                                             Weld                                                                Woad

Here are photos of some of the well known dye plants.

A good book on this subject will make all the difference.



Suppliers and Resources (these are just a few, there are other suppliers available)

Turkey Red Journal (thanks to London Guild), a free online journal all about natural dyes and dyeing

RECOMMENDED BOOKS - (others are available)

Gill Dalby's Natural Dye Fast and Fugitive, is acknowledged as the bible on dyeing.

Judy Hardman and Sally Pinhey's Natural Dyes tells about how to grow the dye plants as well how to use them and has good pictures.

Jill Godwin and Jenny Dean are authors who have also have written good books on natural dyes.

These recommended books are available to members to borrow from the Guild Library

Websites and Blogs to have a look at, there are others available to find on the internet:

Isabella Whitworth -

Debbie Tomkies -

Check the other resource pages in case there is a supplier or resource listed that covers more than one craft