Dyeing with Rosemary and Natural Color Book Review

I have two overgrown rosemary bushes just outside my kitchen door. They smell great but are poking through the railing and covering half the walkway. They needed to be trimmed but I always feel bad just composting a bunch of perfectly good rosemary. Luckily I had just gotten my hands on Natural Color by Sasha Duerr and in it was a recipe for natural dyeing with rosemary. 

What a beautiful book! And with so many great dyeing projects to try. I zeroed in on the rosemary because I didn't have to go far to get the materials I needed. I have some other dyeing books which are great but I would have to go out into the woods to find a specific plants or purchase material on-line. Natural Color focuses on materials that are closer to home and more readily available. 

 Page from Natural Color by Sasha Duerr.

Page from Natural Color by Sasha Duerr.

This hibiscus dyed hat is one easy option. I have hibiscus tea in my cupboard and I know all too well how quickly that potent color can dye say...a white t shirt while you are just trying to have a relaxing glass of iced tea. But when used for good you end up with a gorgeous hat. But rosemary was my focus at the moment. 

 White wool yarn from Imperial Yarn of Oregon.

White wool yarn from Imperial Yarn of Oregon.

I started with a skein of wool yarn from Imperial Yarn in Oregon. I may live in Seattle but I am still an Oregonian at heart so I couldn't resist picking up this beautiful skein. 

 Loosely tie the yarn to keep it from knotting.

Loosely tie the yarn to keep it from knotting.

Once I unknotted the skein I loosely tied it with string in four spots. In the photo you can see that I did a sort of figure 8 around the yarn to keep it in place while in the dye bath. This step helps keep the yarn from tangling too much but you still want to be gentle when moving the yarn around in the dye bath. 

 Rosemary stems with water to cover.

Rosemary stems with water to cover.

Finally it was time to trim the rosemary. A general rule of thumb for natural dyeing is that you need double or even triple the weight of your material to be dyed in dye stuffs. That is to say, I put in twice the weight of rosemary as my skein of yarn weighed. This is just a general guide and obviously doesn't work for concentrates or things such as indigo which go through a fermentation process. But if you are just out picking flowers or shrubs then you can be less precise in your measurements. 

After all, natural dyeing is really more of a fun experiment than an exact recipe. I do feel that natural dyeing should be done with an open heart and accepting mind so that no matter what color you get in the end you can be happy you got any color at all. And if you really hate the color you can always dye it again!

 Rosemary dye water.

Rosemary dye water.

After about an hour of simmering the rosemary in just enough water to cover it I end up with this greenish yellow liquid. It looked a little uninspiring to me so I decided to throw in some old rusty nails. 

 The rust on these old nails act as a mordant and also darken the dye bath.

The rust on these old nails act as a mordant and also darken the dye bath.

My yard has a lot of junk in it- including old rusty stray nails- which I have been saving to use in my dyeing. The rust in the nails can change the colors of a dye bath and also act as a mordant to adhere the color to the fiber. So I plopped my handful of old nails in with the rosemary and let it all simmer a bit longer. 

 Wool yarn dyed with rosemary and rusty nails.

Wool yarn dyed with rosemary and rusty nails.

I forgot to take a picture of what the dye bath looked like after I put the nails in but you can see that the end color of the yarn was certainly not that weird yellow color.

The yarn was in the dye pot for a little over an hour. For about half that time the heat was on and simmering and the rest of the time I just let it sit. If you want darker results then try more time in the pot. Up to 24 hours could dramatically change the color. Although I will say that it is really hard to judge the end color of the yarn when it is still wet. If you save the dye bath you can always plunk the yarn back in there if it is not dark enough for your liking.

 Close-up of naturally dyed yarn.

Close-up of naturally dyed yarn.

There are also color variations to the yarn. I didn't stir it much so the yarn at the bottom got more color than the yarn at the top. And there are even some dark spots where bits of nails contacted the yarn and imparted even more color. 

I did take the rosemary out of the pot before putting in the yarn but I didn't bother to scoop out all the nails. I personally really like the variations in color and added dark spots. I think it gives it character and depth. 

Although this color is not the most beautiful green I have ever seen my husband quite liked it and requested I make him a hat out of this yarn. 

As for the rest of the Natural Color book there are many more dye stuffs to try. 

 Page from Natural Color by Sasha Duerr.

Page from Natural Color by Sasha Duerr.

And there are more natural dyeing ideas in this book than just yarn and fabric. Above is an example of using natural dyes as a type of wall wash to add texture and interest to a room. Once you start thinking outside the box, or skein, there are so many more applications for natural dyeing.

In the end I found the book Natural Color to be beautiful, inspirational and instructional. If you want to expand your natural dyeing beyond skeins of wool and yards of cotton then this is a great book that will help you in your journey to create beautiful and unique items. 

And don't forget to check a handful of old nails in the dye pot on occasion- just to see what happens.