Blue Harvest

This summer, I grew Japanese indigo

japaneseindigoplantsand woad


in the garden for the first time. I harvested all of my plants on September 28th (already a long time ago, lots of stuff has been going on here) except the woad plants I left to let them grow a second year in an attempt to get seeds.

After harvest, I had 465 g of Japanese indigo leaves stripped off the stems and 433 g of woad leaves. I’m pleased with this harvest, which came from two rather small patches of land with maybe 12 Japanese indigo plants and a similar number of woad plants.

Following the instructions from “A Dyer’s Garden” by Rita Buchanan, I poured just-boiled water on the woad leaves (it smelled a bit radish-like) and hot (was 44C) tap water on the indigo leaves, then heated them slowly on a double boiler to 71C. It smelled a bit minty almost.

At that point, you strain the leaves out of the dye bath and add base. I used what I happened to have around the house, which was sodium carbonate (it seems that the actual base used doesn’t matter, all that matters is that you must raise the pH). I added 2 spoonfuls to each dye pot.

Then comes the magic! By pouring the dye bath several times from one container to another, you introduce oxygen, which oxidizes the precursor indican into the blue form of the indigo molecule. During this step, my woad dye bath changed from reddish brown to dark green and developed a blue-green foam, and the Japanese indigo bath changed to a classical indigo blue with this lovely blue foam on top:


After oxidation, I added one spoonful of sodium dithionite (reducing agent) to each dye bath and let them stand undisturbed until they presented the yellow-green tinge that they should, which took about half an hour. Then it was time to dye! I left my yarn in the dye bath for about 2o minutes.

As expected, there was much less color in the woad bath, which I only used for one 100 g skein. The Japanese indigo bath dyed 3 100 g skeins, and the last one was as intensely colored as the woad skein.

I then tried the used leaves of both the woad and Japanese indigo on 10-g test skeins of alum mordanted wool, using a standard dyeing method (so just keeping it hot but not boiling for an hour). And here they all are:


Bottom – yellow/green skein is Japanese indigo leaves on alum mordanted wool, the tan/beige one above is woad leaves on alum mordanted wool. Then the 3 skeins dyed with Japanese indigo, the first and darkest one is the lower one. Finally on top, the skein dyed with woad, maybe you can see its slightly green tinge mixed into the blue.

Seeing these colors that I not only just dyed, but also grew in my garden, I feel such a sense of accomplishment!!! And I have a renewed respect for blue. Imagine the trouble people went through in the past to get this color.

Conclusion: I will be growing Japanese indigo again next year for sure. I’m not sure about woad, since the dye content is a lot smaller.

Reed Flowers


Reed flowers are in season! I took the photo above on a beautiful August day at the lake. The sound of the wind through the reeds is positively mind-cleansing, which apparently I’m not the only one to think, judging by the number of YouTube videos of just that phenomenon. So now you too can enjoy it, even if you are in a skyscraper somewhere:

But I can promise you there was nothing mind-cleansing about my search for this dyestuff. They often grow a little bit out into the water, in places that are a bit hard to reach. I found a good patch of them growing in shallow water, I just had to cross a small forest. It looked fine, but it was actually a bottomless swamp, which I sank into to mid-thigh. Afterwards, I was a bit shocked, but otherwise fine! And I picked about 100 g of the silky soft, discreetly burgundy colored flowers: reedflowers

I rushed them to the dye pot – you have to use them fresh – and this is what I got on 20 g of supersoft in the first bath, 10 g in the second: first a lovely green, then a cold yellow:



Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 5:1 in first bath, 10:1 in second

Conclusion I love this green color, it’s beautiful and has a good light-fastness

Possible improvements The only one I can really think of is, that reeds should spontaneously grow in places that are easier to reach for the natural dyer

Last summer, I collected reed flowers while on holiday, and brought them home with me. I didn’t know that you have to put them fresh into the dye pot. The results were pleasing enough, although more towards yellow than green.

I have knit with the reed flower dyed wool from last year, and used the remaining scraps for light testing. These were on the windowsill for about a month from mid July to mid August. With this daylight calculator and a simple spreadsheet, I find that the samples for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd bath of 2014 reed flowers got 572, 497, and 481 hours of daylight, respectively (since they spent the intervals 9/7-15/8, 10/7-11/8, and 11/7-11/8 on the windowsill). This is what they look like afterwards: the left side of each card has been covered, and the right side exposed:


A very good result indeed. You can tell that the paper has yellowed slightly from the exposure, but the yarn has only changed very slightly. The change is towards the yellow, so the green component seems to fade, but the color intensity is quite unchanged.

Waiting for Fall

This summer, I’ve been on a few nice forest walks, although I know it’s too early for mushrooms. Or it’s too early for mushrooms except the ones that grow on trees – I found several of those!


Mushrooms that grow on trees are quite useful when the tree is dead, because they help decompose the dead tree and recycle it. They are less useful, though, when they sneak their way into a living tree (through a cut in the bark for example) because they do the same thing to a living tree, causing rot, and sometimes killing the tree.

In one of the forests I walked in, I came across a large stretch of mature, open beech forest, with dead trees full of tinder fungus (Fomes fomentarius) – top of this post. I managed to get one detached from the tree (it was hard) to see how much color I could get out of it. This is what it looks like up close:


On another walk during the summer, I found this red-belt conk (Fomitopsis pinicola) growing on several dead conifers:


Both fungi ended up in my dye pot after I chopped them in pieces. It was possible (but not very easy) to chop the tinder fungus with a big knife, but I had to use a saw on the red-belt conk. It was still hard, so the pieces were not that small. Quite a lot of sawdust came out of it, and I added that to the dye pot as well.

But I’m afraid the results were less than spectacular – an ordinary beige from tinder fungus (left) and a yellowish ditto from red-belt conk (right).


Dyeing with Sorrel Root

Sometimes when I read something and there is one key word that doesn’t compute, it’s like my brain just jumps over the entire topic. Some time ago, searching for information on Xanthoria parietina and its pigment parietin, I came across information on the Rumex family. This is what I wrote back then

Parietin, Wikipedia informs us, is also found in the roots of curled dock (Rumex crispus). Jenny Dean lists the roots of curled dock, dock, and sorrel as sources of reddish browns, but I’m not sure if that has anything to do with its parietin content

but I didn’t connect it to anything, because I didn’t immediately see a plant in my mind’s eye. This summer, I actually went through the trouble of looking it up (sic), and found that it is a very common plant around here.

I gathered these plants in late June:


and I’m quite sure it’s Rumex acetosa (common or garden sorrel) which, according to this, you can also eat the young leaves from. It often grows in damp or even wet places. It is actually a bit hard to pull the root up, it’s easier the wetter the soil.

I tried dyeing with the roots according to the method in Jenny Dean’s “Wild Color”: I took 150 g of fresh roots, washed and chopped them, and at that point you can tell that they have some color in them:


I then soaked them overnight, although I’m not sure that step is necessary when using fresh roots. No color worth mentioning came out of it at that point…

But it did give very nice reddish brown (just as Dean promised) when heated. I just kept repeating with 10-g test skeins, it took 4 skeins to exhaust the bath. That’s a very good dye bath in my book! All the plant tops from those roots gave a brownish red-tinged yellow which is actually pretty nice, but I just tried that one one skein. Together they look like this – front to back its first to fourth root bath, then the plant tops all the way in the back:


The result is quite pleasing, I think, and I began seeing similar plants just about everywhere. Another one that’s common around here is this one


which is another member of the Rumex family, probably Rumex longifolius (dooryard dock) or Rumex crispus (curled dock). I’ve dug up some of these and dried the roots, to be saved for the meager dyeing days of winter.

FACTS – Rumex acetosa roots

Mordant 10% alum

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:15 fresh roots was enough for 4 dye baths

Conclusion Lovely red-brown color

Possible improvements Not sure! This works!



Wild Chervil and Intentionally Wild

The other day, we went for a walk along the road, and found wild chervil growing bountifully, so it’s certainly lucky that I have such a good little helper for these tasks:


I picked 180 g of stalks with flowers, which I boiled immediately for an hour or so. Next day, when the extract had cooled off, I strained out all the plant material and added a 10 g test skein of alun mordanted wool. The resulting color is very pretty, more yellow than green (yarn in photo, at least on my screen, looks more yellow than it really is).



Mordant 10% alun

Water Tap

Yarn Supersoft 575 m/100 g

Yarn:Dyestuff ratio 1:18

Conclusion Nice yellow with green tinge

Possible improvements Looks good to me! But it would be nice to see if a smaller amount of dyestuff will still give good color

So then what remains is to test the light-fastness. If that looks good, I’ll be tempted to dye larger amounts another time. Probably next summer, because by the time I can test it, the plant is gone for the season.

I’m always surprised with the treasures that the roadside has to offer. In terms of plants and the dyes in them, I mean (there’s also a lot of empty beer bottles and candy wrappers to be sure). And now we are getting to the big point that I want to hammer home in this post: roadside biodiversity, and the lack of it!

The top photo of my daughter picking wild chervil looks like it’s been taken in well, nature. In actual fact, it’s in front of a truck terminal, by the side of a busy country road where lots of big tucks pass. Not far away, you find an off ramp from major highway in this area. And just look at the place in the picture. Tall grass. I spotted more that 15 species growing, without even looking.

I am always pleasantly surprised by bits of untamed land like this. The good people in the truck terminal may think that they are just saving a bit of money, but what they are really doing is allowing biodiversity.

The other day, I heard something on the radio about a new project here in Denmark. It’s called “vild med vilje” which translates into “intentionally wild”. It’s a project that promotes urban biodiversity by – here’s the big thing – providing you with a sign that you can place on your wild land. The text reads “vild med vilje”. So now, busy neighbors and other local busybodies can see that this was on purpose, and not somebody who didn’t keep their land “nice”. They may even go check the project website. They may start thinking about biodiversity themselves. They may use less Roundup. The project is still very small, but I do hope it grows! I would love to see more wilderness. It’s good for many species, including the natural dyer.




Gradient Hat

I’m in hat knitting mode right now! As soon as this hat was finished, I had the next one on the needles. The pattern, a Danish one called “hue 1” (that just means hat 1, the book has more than one hat) really makes my brain go berserk with color scheme after color scheme.


I’ve cheated a bit since I didn’t only use naturally dyed yarns for this project: the black background consists of different commercial yarns from my stash.

Pattern hat 1 by Lone Gissel and Tine Rousing, Nordiske masker
Yarn Supersoft 100% wool 575 m/100 g (plus some commercial stuff)
Needle 4.5 mm
Colors Privet berries (from our garden, winter) Indigo + tansy (bought + collected from the roadside, summer) Reed flowers on grey yarn (collected from the seaside, summer) Yarrow (collected from the roadside, summer) Mixed lichens (collected in the forest – this was bits and pieces I couldn’t type and in the end just swept into the dye pot) Parmelia sulcata (a lichen, collected in the forest) Dyer’s polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii) (a mushroom, collected in the forest, fall).
Conclusion Love it! The colors, the fit, the fox fur
It’s often been said that any naturally dyed colors fit together, and I do think that is the case. I did take some care lining up colors that blended well one into the other, but they were not very hard to find in my big basket.
Another observation: I think natural dyeing is the best kind of yarn tourism. When I look at the hat and its colors, I’m immediately taken back to the places where I collected the dye stuffs.Well, not so much the privet berries from our garden, but other wonderful places we walked during the nicest months of 2014.Just one example. The reed flowers are from our august summer vacation in the southern part of Denmark, right on the border with Germany. I picked my flowers by the ocean, and I just had some fun trying to find the exact spot on the map. And I did it! The exact coordinates are 54.894576, 9.626491, and you can even see the mass of reed growing there when you use the max zoom of the map… Right next to a tiny harbor where you can stand on the planks and watch crabs hurrying around on the bottom. And when you look over the water, you can see Germany. Imagine, all that worn on a hat in the form of a stripe of yellow-green yarn!
Mønsteret til hatten er er fra Nordiske Masker af Lone Gissel og Tine Rousing, og det mønster bliver ved med at køre rundt i mit hovede i forskellige farvekombinationer! Her har jeg strikket den på en sort baggrund som er fabriksgarn, jeg havde liggende. Regnbuen fra grøn til varm gul er mine egne naturfarvede nøgler.










I have long been fascinated with the colors that one can achieve using the dyes that nature provides. There is an endless experimentation that can be tried, and to chronicle my many experiments, I’ve decided to start writing about it here. That will also allow myself to keep track!
Over the summer and fall of 2014, I went on MANY walks, collected MANY plants, mushrooms, and lichens, and dyed MANY 10 g test skeins. A peak inside my secret basket:
I wanted to try knitting with my test skeins, to test how the yarn behaves – to check that my mordanting didn’t make it brittle or that I had fulled it by overheating! So I made this Fair Isle hat, and my yarn was very enjoyable to knit with:
Pattern King Harald Hats by Ann Feitelson, The Art of Fair Isle Knitting
Yarn Supersoft 100% wool 575 m/100 g
Needle 2.5 mm
Colors Madder (bought) Cochineal (bought) Mugwort (collected from the roadside, summer) Boletes (collected from the forest, fall) Dahlias (grown in our garden, collected in fall)

Conclusion The hat is a bit big but the colors really match each other well

Left to right: beige (boletes) light yellow-green (mugwort) red (madder) brown (dahlias) pink (cochineal) red (madder) yellow-green (mugwort).
Velkommen til Midgaard bloggen – stedet hvor jeg vil skrive om mine mange eksperimenter indenfor naturfarvning. Hatten her har jeg strikket af en god håndfuld af mine mange test-nøgler for at tjekke deres kvalitet efter farvning og for at se hvordan de er at strikke med.