first seed sowing

Hello! Pictures of bare seed trays isn't that exciting, so instead you get to see a blurry picture of my woad, about to do something exciting. (Plan here is to let the plants flower and collect seed, and sow more for this year.)

Despite some very strange and sudden March snow, things outdoors have thawed. Garden planning and seed sowing got off to a slow start but gradually things are catching up. Today's little bit of time in the greenhouse resulted in:


Courgette, Shooting Star F1 - I've never had much luck with courgettes in this garden but somehow I end up attempting it each year. This one is an intriguing climbing golden variety.

Tomato, marmande - another thing I've never managed to grow properly, each year my poor tomatoes get blight, don't grow any tomatoes capable of ripening, or just die. Trying again with an outdoor variety despite all my instincts.

Sweetcorn, F1 Sundance - I did manage to grow this once before during a nice hot summer, so fingers crossed we get another one. Growing these would make my daughter's year.

Cucamelon - I was curious.

Peas, ambassador - Fingers crossed my daughter will share them this year.

Mangetout, Shiraz - purple pods, picked by the toddler so these will go in the little garden we're making for her.

Pumpkins - again, picked by my daughter mainly because there's a cartoon on the packet. Sigh.


Chives  - five pots, to plant up in the borders running up my front path.

Dye plants

Coreopsis tinctoria - for dye, but mainly because it's beautiful. Apparently the bees and butterflies will agree with me.

Marigolds, (French) Bonita Mixed - I got such a wonderful colour from these last year. Love them.

Dyers Knotweed, Japanese/Chinese Indigo, Persicaria tinctoria - this is probably the only thing I'll (fingers crossed) be growing in the greenhouse this year. Hoping hard for this one.

Yarrow, achillea millifolium - Such a lovely thing

I have some fairly long-term garden changes planned, but mainly for this year have decided to kind of, um, abandon the edible garden in its current form. Weeds are out of control, the soil needs work and growth on the surrounding trees means it's just not getting enough light. For this year I'm going to try mixing the edible plants in with everything else, and my father-in-law has built four little raised beds that we'll use for salad and other leafy things.


Hello! It's been a while. I'm still here, plotting and planning for the big empty space in my garden where the dye plants will call home in the spring. In the meantime though, I've listed much of my naturally dyed stash for sale - I just can't knit it all! I'd love to clear some space, and for a one-off sale of skeins all of which are slightly different, Etsy seemed like the best option. You can find everything here.

All yarn is fingering weight, 100% wool. Almost every skein was spun at New Lanark Mill, 30 minutes from my house. Details of dye and method are in each listing.

As a little thank you I'll be sending some little seed packets along with yarn that finds new homes. I managed to get organised enough to collect seed heads for the first time, but as usual, have far more than I could ever grow...


Dyeing had to take a little backseat, while we worked on some house renovations, and um, potty training. But I got back from a little trip up north to find that my marigolds were blooming, so I tried not to feel bad as I picked them all for a dyebath.

Such an amazing colour, and it just got better...

The details:

25g wool yarn, premordanted with alum and cream of tartar

50g of marigold flowers, simmered in water for 45 minutes then left to cool
yarn was added to the dyebath and left to soak overnight before cooking for one hour, then left for a few hours to cool.

fo: wildflower cap

I wasn't really sure about this hat until I added the pom pom. Then - love.

This is the Wildflower Cap by Mary Jane Muckestone from Making, Issue 1. Knit in my bracken dyed yarn, and rhubarb root overdyed with madder yarn. (I really need to think of better ways of describing them!) The base yarn is a worsted weight wool from North Ronaldsay.

It might not be the weather for wearing this yet but at least it kept the midges off my head during the photo-taking...

copper beech

Outside my office window is a beautiful tree with red and burgundy leaves. Thanks to the growth in that part of my garden its a bit hard to get to, but I made the effort the other day and noticed that the backs of the leaves, although green, had a pinkish pigment.

I did a quick search and found out that it's a copper beech tree. There's not much online about using it for natural dying but my dye pot was empty so I gathered some leaves and crossed my fingers.

dyebath colour

dyebath colour

And from the pink dyebath, came green! And a really lovely one...

from left to right: copper beech leaves, with a quick and weak iron dip, and from the exhaust dyebath (that was still pink)

from left to right: copper beech leaves, with a quick and weak iron dip, and from the exhaust dyebath (that was still pink)

Fascinating and wonderful! 

The details:

63g of copper beech leaves, roughly chopped, covered with water and boiled for an hour
25g plus a tiny sample skein, pre mordanted with alum and cream of tartar

held below a simmer for one hour and left to cool
removed both dyed skeins, and then added a fresh sample skein and held below a simmer for another hour, removed it
to the dyebath added a pinch of iron and then added back the first dyed sample

the colours of june

Not entirely from my own plants this month, but some fun experiments.

Dyeing feels a little in limbo just now, as I've tried a lot of my own existing plants already, and my newly grown dye plants are quite ready yet. Hopefully July will see some new experiments with flowers.

a third, or fourth(?) marigold sowing

a third, or fourth(?) marigold sowing

Things to try in July:

plants permitting: marigolds, cornflowers, purple loosestrife, purple basil
dock leaves again
dyeing cotton
dyeing larger quantities - i have a blanket plan...

fo: ornäs

I finished this wool hat a while ago, you know, during a heatwave. The temperature has dropped a lot though, so photos were finally taken...

The first project in my own yarn. Very low contrast and subtle, and I love it.

not a great hat photo, but as a sidenote - yay, playhouse!

not a great hat photo, but as a sidenote - yay, playhouse!

The details:

Pattern: Ornas hat by Ysolda Teague (exclusive to her club members (and um, employees) until next year). I changed mine a little by working a 1x1 rib for the brim with a tubular cast on.

Yarn: fingering weight wool dyed with rhubarb root (the yellow), and birch bark (the background colour)

my first vat

Words are escaping me today. Making an indigo vat for the first time and seeing, almost feeling, that it was ready to dye was so exciting...just, sigh.

It was such a speedy process. I had a sort-of plan beforehand - shades I wanted to try and get, a couple of over dyes and resist experiments. It just all happened so quickly and before I knew it there was a rack full of yarn. I moved it inside when the rain came, and had to keep going to back to the laundry room to peek at it.

I used a little kit alongside Kristine Vejar's creativebug class which I can highly recommend. I imagined it to be a complicated process but it really wasn't, and was a good way to learn this stage of the process while I wait for my own fresh dyestuff to grow. (Woad is growing well, indigo is a dream for next year...) 

This post consists mainly of photos, and awe...

indigo vat-1.jpg
a basic resist - dipped in the vat, then i tied a couple of knots in the skein, then dipped it back in.

a basic resist - dipped in the vat, then i tied a couple of knots in the skein, then dipped it back in.

a lesson in scouring

I mentioned last time that the hawthorn taught me a valuable lesson in scouring. My current batch of sample skeins were thoroughly scoured by holding them at 88 degrees for an hour in water and a little balanced detergent. Twice. But at the very last minute I remembered about some very tiny skeins I'd made from leftovers so I threw them in too. They were in the scouring pot for around ten minutes.

After dyeing with hawthorn there was a difference, the tiny skeins were definitely paler. But when I overdyed with indigo last week that it became extremely obvious...

These two skeins were dyed and treated in exactly the same way, except the tiny skein wasn't scoured. It didn't soak up nearly as much of the yellow hawthorn dye, and so is much less green after the indigo vat.

My three new favourites - hawthorn overdyed with indigo, and the original hawthorn skein to the right. So happy! 

More on the indigo vat next was amazing...


I've been meaning to try this one for a while...another thing I have so much of in my garden. It's everywhere on walks too, and so pretty.

This was a slow process, which seems to be suited both to natural dyeing and to me, when I put things a pot to soak and then don't get a chance to get back to it for a couple of days. It really was intentional this time though.

The yarn became a lovely, buttery yellow. One thing that really struck me was the difference between the full skeins, and a tiny little sample one that I added to play with later. All dyed together, at the same time but much, much paler. The difference here was scouring - the full skeins were properly scoured and rinsed beforehand, while the sample well, wasn't. It made such a huge difference to how the yarn took the dye. Of course, I neglected to take photos and have since overdyed it - but the results are still striking and I'll show that next time!

The details:

250g hawthorn twigs, leaves and flowers (after the petals had dropped but before berries had formed), chopped up and soaked for two days
boiled for one hour

2 x 25g skeins of wool yarn, plus a little sample skein for playing with later, pre-mordanted with alum and cream of tartar

cooked in the dyebath for one hour and left overnight before rinsing

madder four ways

Madder made for a fun afternoon last week. A rainy one, where my daughter just wanted to sit and read and colour, while I got to play around in the little dye corner of the laundry room.

From left to right: madder with a weak iron dip, madder overdyed with nettle, madder on its own, and bluebell overdyed with madder.

Some fun results! I don't have much to say except for the details so I can keep track...

Things are getting much more technical over here, with thermometers, masks, tools for working with iron and (eek) materials for mordanting cotton... And so,

The details:

dyebath of 2 tsps madder extract and 1.9l water
4 x 25g of pre-mordanted wool yarn

skein 1: madder dyebath only, held below a simmer for one hour
skein 2: as above, but with an 1/4 tsp iron dip, heated for five minutes then left to cool
skein 3: a skein of the washout bluebell dyed yarn, in the madder dyebath
skein 4: the madder dyebath as above, but then soaked in a nettle bath for three hours, heated for one hour then left to cool overnight

disappearing blue

I'm still so taken with the bluebell and bluebell-dandelion yarns that sit on my desk, it was never going to be long before I tried it again.

This time I was curious to see what colours I could get if I overdyed it, but it didn't quite work out. It started off so well, the dyebath was a lovely blue liquor, but as soon as I added in the yarn it soaked up the blue and disappeared. Compared to other skeins though, it was turned a slight grey colour, so I suspect the dyebath just wasn't strong enough.

Yep, that's it. The rocket is far more interesting...

Yep, that's it. The rocket is far more interesting...

Over-dyeing went ahead as planned, with some nettle stew I had lying around after making plant food for my tomatoes. And this is what I got, a nice earthly pale green.

The details:

dyebath made by boiling 158g of frozen bluebell flowers for one hour then straining
3 x 25g wool yarn, pre-mordanted with alum and cream of tartar

yarn was held below a simmer for one hour

1 x 25g was then added to a nettle dyebath, and held below a simmer for one hour

wild birch bark

Wild isn't really the right word, but it seems like the best one for bark I came across while out walking the dog, rather than from branches in my own garden. The first walk I took after getting starting to dye was exciting in a 'ooo, a birch stump' kind of way. Now I've realised that they're actually everywhere, and there are quite a few fallen ones left when our council cut down some of the woodland to make space for a new cycle path. One tree in particular gave me huge chunks of bark, so I thought I'd try some more experiments.

Now apparently its possible to get shades of pink from birch bark. So I did things slowly, and soaked the bark in an airtight jar for five days, then made the dyebath. Wow - the smell was strong. If I want to try this again I'll need to set things up outside. At 10pm it suddenly smelled like there were a herd of cows in the kitchen.

The colour results though were no different to last time, soaking made zero difference. Perhaps it needs soaked for weeks, or its just not the right type of birch, or time of year, who knows.

I dyed two skeins, and for the second I tried a weak iron dip. Dipping turned the pale caramel colour to pale olive green. Similar to the nettle dyeing of last month, and a lot more hassle!

birch bark on the left, and with a iron dip on the right

birch bark on the left, and with a iron dip on the right

The details:

115g of birch bark, soaked for 5 days then boiled for one hour
2 x 25g skeins of wool yarn, pre-mordanted with alum and cream of tartar

skein one: held below a simmer for one hour, left to cool and rinse
skein two: held below a simmer for one hour, then 1/4 tsp of iron added to the dyepot for five minutes, left to cool and rinse

Hello there, orange...

So as I mentioned in the previous post, I have a natural-dye project in mind just now - I really want to knit myself a Wildflowers Cap by Mary Jane Mucklestone. I'm still not sure if the bracken yarn is going to work for it after all, but I knew I wanted to try for a really rich, rusty orange. I almost I got it.

This started with my favourite, rhubarb root. Just as lovely as before...

Next up - madder. Now, I fully intend to dye with own madder plants one day. Rushing out to my little seedling nursery to check to see whether the seeds have germinated yet is pretty much the first thing I do in the morning. But even when that happens, I'm about two years away from harvesting my own madder roots. And so in the meantime, I used a little extract to get the colour I really wanted. Somehow this feels like cheating, which is really, really silly.

I started out with 1 tsp of madder extract but instinct was telling it wasn't nearly enough, so I added another 1 tsp, and yay! The yarn soaked up pretty much all the colour. I could probably have gone with 3 tsp in total to get a deeper colour, but I'm delighted with the finished skein. Though it was a reminder to make sure my skeins aren't tied too tightly, I have a few yellow spots.

The details:

100g of frozen rhubarb root, simmered for one hour then left overnight to cool
115g of wool yarn, pre-mordanted with alum and cream of tartar
held below a simmer in the dyebath for an hour, then left overnight to cool

yarn back in the pot with 2 tsps of madder extract and water to cover, held below a simmer for one hour then left overnight to cool


I have no idea why, but bracken has always given me, um, the creeps. Perhaps as a child it made me think of unfurling fingers which appeared in the nightmares I was prone to as a little. (It's not the only plant to do that, cotoneaster is the other...ugh.) Anyway, if it works for me as a dye plant then I might be able to make friends with it.

This was another lazy dye experiment. I cut them down as the dye garden was being cleared, and forgot to weigh them before putting them in water to soak. After two days I put the pot onto boil then left overnight to cool.

The dyebath was a lovely caramel colour, and that's pretty much what happened to the yarn too.

I was on a hunt to try and get brown (I have a particular project in mind), so I put on my brave face and made an iron dip. Especially brave since this was my first time trying it, and I was working with a full 115g skein of North Ronaldsay worsted weight wool. Ha.

The dip started off as 60ml of hot water with 1/4 tsp of iron, but it quickly became obvious that it was going to make no difference at all. I upped it to 1 tsp, and then 2 tsp, at which point it started to change quickly and I whipped it out when I liked the colour. Not quite what I hoped for, but nice all the same.

starting to change...

starting to change...

um...definitely changed...

um...definitely changed...

The iron dipped yarn on the left, next to the pre-dipped braken dyed yarn.

The iron dipped yarn on the left, next to the pre-dipped braken dyed yarn.

I'm making a wee note to make sure I split my sample skeins, so I can take one out of the dyebath and have another to experiment with...

The details:

bucket of fresh braken, steeped in water for two days, then simmered for an hour and left overnight to cool
115g of wool yarn, pre-mordanted with alum and cream of tartar
simmered for an hour in braken dyebath
iron dip added of 100ml water and gradually up to 2 tsp of iron, held below a simmer for 5 minutes

i found blue!

I'm still not sure I can believe it, I keep going back to look at the yarn to check. I even asked my little daughter what it was and she said 'blue! mummy knitting,' so it does seem like I'm not imagining things.

Every year the edges of my garden are covered in bluebells, and I mean, really covered. There are so many and in so many places I feel like it's a weed, albeit a pretty one. The flowers were fading so I figured I'd throw some in my dyepot to see what happened and the result was...grey sludge. I almost poured it away on the spot but got distracted, and when I returned to it a day later and peeped, I felt like I could maybe see a hint of blue in the sludge. A little sample skein went it and the blue clung to it straight away.

This is after the yarn had sat in the dyebath overnight, and before simmering. It was as if the blue leapt onto the fibre, and left behind a pink-ish colour. Fascinating...

Who knows how colourfast this will turn out being, but it was exciting anyway. I rushed outside to gather the rest (658g) for the freezer.

Feeling emboldened by the blue success and thanks to coming across 17g of dried dandelion flowers when cleaning out my dye space, I felt like trying an overdye. Half of the bluebell yarn (16g) went in the pot. Love it - a beautiful, fresh green.

Bluebell-dyed yarn with its dandelion flower dyebath

Bluebell-dyed yarn with its dandelion flower dyebath

The details

100g fresh bluebell flowers, simmered for one hour then left to steep overnight before draining
32g of wool yarn, pre-mordanted with alum and cream of tartar
simmered for one hour then left in the dyebath to cool overnight

17g dried dandelion flowers, simmered for 30 minutes
16g of bluebell dyed yarn
simmered for one hour then left to cool

works in progress

It all happened so quickly that I didn't capture a before photo, but last week I came back from a few hours in the city to find that I had a clear site for my dye garden.

This is all thanks for my wonderful, sweet father-in-law John, who does whatever I tell him in the way I want it done, and all for a few cups of tea and the constant adoration and beady eyes of a two-year-old who likes to shout 'Grandad! Doing?!'

This is where I'm planning for the bigger permanent dye beds - madder, woad, weld and a few other things once I figure it all out.

Now I can actually see the size and shape of the space its time to do some layout sketches. I have a kind of u-shape of beds in my mind, with some recycled brick paving in the centre and somewhere to sit. Need to think about it!

It was also time to cast on with my yarn. Admiring the growing pile of natural colours on my desk was fun, but it was getting in the way. And so, a hat! This is the rhubarb root with the birch bark yarn, in this pattern. (It isn't available to all yet but will be in about a year.) Given the inspiration behind the design - the textures of silver birch - using my own birch-dyed yarn seemed, well, kind of perfect. The tones of the two colours are similar so its a fairly subtle effect, but I love it - and that's all that matters...

birch leaves, and an overdye

It didn't seem like it would be too much work to strip the leaves off the couple of fallen branches I found last week. I'd already stripped them for bark anyway...

This dyebath came about slowly - I steeped them in water for a couple of days before simmering them, and then left the mixture overnight to cool before straining. I have no comparison really, but my gut tells me it was worth it. The dyebath I ended up with seemed like a bit of a liquor, rather than coloured water, and it was deep and rich.

A couple of skeins went in the dyebath. An undyed skein, and one of the dandelion dyed skeins from a while ago, just because I wanted to see what would happen. Given the paleness of the dandelion skein, I'm actually surprised there was much of a difference between the two.

birch leaves only skein

birch leaves only skein

dandelion flower skein, overdyed with birch leaves

dandelion flower skein, overdyed with birch leaves

The details

100g birch leaves, soaked for two days in cold water, simmered for one hour then left to cool overnight.
25g undyed wool yarn pre-mordanted with alum and cream of tartar, and 25g of wool yarn previously dyed with sunflowers

all simmered together for one hour then left to cool in the dyebath overnight before rinsing

the colours of May

From left to right - birch bark, dandelion flowers, apple leaves, birch leaves (more on that tomorrow), nettle leaves, dock leaves, dandelion overdyed with nettle, rhubarb root and leaves, dandelion overdyed with birch leaves, rhubarb root and blackberries.

My favourites change all the time. Today I'm feeling a particular love for the corals of apple leaves and birch bark, the nettle and the dock leaf.

This all started off as a bit of fun in the extra garden time I've had recently, but now I find myself ordering supplies for iron dips and plotting next year's seed sowing schedule, ha.

Things to try in June:

pear bark and leaves
more birch bark experiments
a quest to find browns
experimenting with dips


Blackberry time! Not in the garden, but my freezer is still brimming with the pickings from last year and I need to make space...

The photo above is the most accurate for the colour, and pictured next to the apple leaf and birch skeins.

The details

200g of frozen blackberries, covered with water and boiled for one hour, left to cool
25g of wool yarn, pre-mordanted with alum and cream of tartar

This seems like far too many blackberries to yarn - but they were kind of stuck together in the freezer and I figured, um, why not?!