Green Variations

One of the great things about natural dyeing is that you can keep overdyeing until you get the color you want.


I recently dug out some green skeins of Norne that were not exactly what I had imagined, and had been sitting in the storage basket for a while. I decided to overdye them to get as many greens as possible. So I wound skeins for dyeing and kept the last part of the skein the way it was.

One skein (skein 1 in photo below) was a medium blue from indigo overdyed with a couple of afterbaths from pomegranate and weld. They gave a rather weak yellow, too weak to match the blue tone, resulting in a quite anemic green.

Another skein (skein 12) had the same problem. Again, a medium indigo blue, this time over dried mugwort dye. I didn’t know at the time I dyed this (as I do now) that dried mugwort only gives a rater weak beige.

Then there was a skein with the opposite problem (skein 5). It’s dyed with a strong (1:1) weld and overdyed with weak indigo, giving a green/Chartreuse that’s just too intense.

Finally, there’s a skein that was actually a good color (skein 9) but I just didn’t have any plans for it. I dyed it long ago with tansy and a madder afterbath to achieve a warm yellow. I wound all the skeins into smaller ones and overdyed them with indigo, weld, and walnut hulls.

Overdyeing and then some more overdyeing, to get as many greens as possible.

Skeins 6, 7, and 8 come from skein 5 and are just overdyed with stronger and stronger indigo, and there’s no surprises there. The strong yellow base ends up as a clear forest green when the indigo component becomes large enough.

Skeins 10 and 11 are yarn from skein 9 overdyed with a bit of indigo and a bit more. Here, skein 10 was a nice surprise, a wilted green, one of my favorite shades of green. I suppose I am really revealing myself as totally ignorant of color theory, but I did not know that this type of green contains such a large proportion of red.

I made a dye bath with 12 g of weld and dyed 25 g of yarn from skein 1 in it. That turned into skein 2 – not a surprise that the forest green emerges when you lift the level of yellow to match the blue in intensity.

Then I made a dye bath with 25 g of walnut hulls. 25 g of yarn from skein 12 turned into skein 13. Again, the ignorant dyer was surprised – turns out army green is based on brown. The afterbath turned yarn from skein 1 into skein 3, another army green.

Skein 4 is yarn from skein 1, overdyed with a rather intense indigo. Here, the weak yellow base gives a really nice teal. Skein 14 is yarn from skein 12 just overdyed with a bit more indigo than it already was.

Finally, there’s skein 15. The yarn comes from skein 12, and was first dyed in the weld afterbath. It didn’t change much, so I dyed it in the walnut hull bath, which had already been used twice. Again, not much change, so I dipped it in indigo. That still didn’t change much so I left it because I ran out of ideas.

Skein 16 and 17 are both dyed with stinging nettle, said to contain a green dye. In the middle of May, I picked a big dyepot full (and they have no problem stinging through thick garden gloves) and dyed two 25-gram skeins. First skein 16, then skein 17 in the afterbath, followed by modification with a bit of iron. None of the skeins 16 and 17 are green but they work really well along all the other greens. Here they all are, along with an indigo-dyed skein, wound in cakes and ready to knit:

All the green yarn cakes, ready to knit.

I am experimenting with knitting very short scraps of all these colors together, more about that another time. So far, it looks like this:

Norne cut in short scraps and knit – color changes by doubling both the new and the old yarn.

But the search for greens doesn’t stop here. In addition to stinging nettles, May is also full of landscapes covered by wild chervil and broom.

I tried dyeing with common broom last year, but picked the plant too late in the season and got very little color out of it. In their “Dye Plants and Dyeing”, Cannon & Cannon write that flowering stems of broom should be harvested in April or early May. I managed to pick them late in May, which is probably fine since the book is English and most of England is south of Denmark.

On alum mordanted Fenris (pure wool), common broom gives me the greenish-beige that Cannon & Cannon promise. They show an almost black with copper, so I tried modifying with copper water for a few minutes. I have a jar that contains the innards from an old wire in household ammonia, and I just added a bit of it. This gave a very pretty green, which is leaning towards brown.

Wild chervil (also picked in late May) gave the expected fragile yellow with a touch of green. To some eyes nothing special, and for sure, there are many ways to get such tones. But I do find it lovely, it just captures the freshness of spring and early summer. Modified with iron, the color darkens and completely looses the freshness.

Yellow and greens dyed with common broom and wild chervil. The large skein on top is dyed with wild chervil, the one below the same but modified with iron. The third skein is dyed with common broom, the fourth common broom and copper.

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.