Hand dyed Knitting yarn

Happy day, Dye with nettles! How I did it.

I have had a happy day, I made dye with nettles from the garden and dyed some Polwarth yarn (on the left) and merino yarn. Its fascinating to see how the yarns, both 100% wool have taken the colour differently despite being treated in exactly the same way and dyed at the same time. The nettles were in the garden so I looked up how to use them in “Wild Color, The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes” by Jenny Dean. (Pub Watson Guptil. ISBN 978-0-8230-5879-2 )

Here’s how I did it:

Fresh nettles for Dyeing
Fresh nettles for Dyeing



I spotted a likely patch of nettles in the garden, flourishing after the recent rain, and put on my gloves and set to work. I cut them down by the stem with secateurs, then cut them into small pieces with scissors into a stainless steel pot.





Picking the nettles
Picking the nettles



The nettles had started to flower so I was a bit late picking them and knew that the colour would be more grey green than yellowy. Did you know that in WW1, Khaki uniform fabric was dyed using old nettles, and this is how the khaki colour came about?





Boiling water into the pot
Boiling water into the pot



Next I poured enough boiling water to cover the nettles, and simply gave them a stir and left them outside, covered with the lid overnight. (Low tech so far…!)






The yarns were soaked in mordant overnight too using Alum and Cream of Tartar in a covered bucket. The mordant acts like a “bridge” to carry the dye to the yarn and make it stay there. It helps make the dye more colour-fast on the yarn. The yarn was then rinsed and was ready to be dyed.

The nettles had released their colour into the water overnight.  I strained the nettles from the dye colour and I have to be honest, it didn’t look promising. It was a horrible greeny brown. The dye was then put back into the pot and the yarn added. It was gently heated (below a simmer) for 30 minutes and tah!dah!

Yarns in the Nettle dye
Yarns in the Nettle dye



I know, it looks horrible doesn’t it? Too late to stop now….






I gently lifted the yarns from the warm dye and let them cool a bit before rinsing really well in cool water. That’s when it got really interesting. The shades for nettle green were very different on each yarn, the merino was hardly coloured and the Polwarth was a lovely soft green shade. They were dried on the line in the breeze and are now skeins ready to be used.

Dye with nettles on the line
Dye with nettles on the line

Do you know what? I love the colour! Dye with nettles is a success. The photo doesn’t do justice to the soft grey-green shade of the Polwarth, and talking of sage……I wonder if you can dye with that! I have been bitten by the natural dye bug, that’s for sure, and I plan to dye more over the coming months. I have spied lots of Cow Parsley (I call them Alexanders) which gives a beautiful yellow!

I hope to have a special edition kit with natural, hand dyed yarns available at Forde Abbey Harvest Fest in September, with some available after that via the website. Please let me know if you would be interested in one.

That’s all from me for this week, next week Gorgeous Yarns is 3, so there will be a special offer in the blog, don’t miss it!

Bye for now,


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Your Comments

  1. Hi Caroline – how bizarre, Merino usually takes dye so well. I haven’t tried nettle yet. Everyone does things differently don’t they … I always leave the dyestuff in the pot with the yarn so that it “keeps on giving” and I have heard, though not tried it yet, that you should either leave the yarn in the dyepot for 24 hours before washing or take it out and let it fully dry before washing. My Horsetail solar dyepots don’t seem to be doing much (except producing a lot of gas!) so I am going to empty one of those today or tomorrow and put that on the hob – had a lovely green from one a couple of weeks ago with the addition of a little bit of tin and then an extra 30 minute simmer with copper sulphate. You just never know do you!

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