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Natural Dyeing: Nettles

May 3, 2009


The revival of interest in natural dyeing means that many weird and wonderful dyestuffs are now readily available here in the UK – Brazilwood, Lac or Safflower to name but a few. Although the vibrant colours you can achieve with these plants are very appealing, I decided to start off my dyeing experiments using things a bit closer to home.

Sustainability and self-sufficiency are very important to me and, ideally, I’d like to only use plants that I can either source locally or, even better, grow myself. There are obvious environmental and financial benefits to this but I also love the idea of being involved in every stage of the process of making my yarns. Using things that are otherwise regarded as waste or as weeds is particularly appealing. So, following on from my onion skin dyeing, this weekend I decided to experiment with nettles.

I mordanted some Wensleydale wool tops with alum and cream of tartar in the usual manner then left to cool. Meanwhile I boiled up a little over 200g of nettles (200% the weight of the wool) in some water then simmered for 30 minutes. I left the nettles in the dyebath to cool then strained and added the wetted-out wool to the nettle water. I bought this up to a simmer very slowly (anxious to avoid any felting this time) and simmered for about 45 minutes. I let the wool cool in the dyebath overnight then rinsed it and left it to dry.

My first impressions of the colour weren’t exactly favourable – in fact I was decidedly unimpressed. My husband’s question “is that the wool you dyed?” was telling. It was only when placed next to some undyed wool that it becomes obvious that the wool has been dyed.


The shade was so subtle that I really doubted it was worth all the hassle of mordanting and dyeing and started to contemplate over-dyeing the wool with something else. However, as with the onion dyeing, spinning the wool changed my opinion.


Yes, the colour is subtle, but that’s part of it’s appeal. It looks beautifully natural and puts me in mind of wild grasses, linen or parchment. Also in it’s favour is the fact that, despite the colour being pale, it is supposed to be fairly light- and colourfast – although I guess only time will tell if that’s the case! One final plus is that my husband used the opportunity presented by the nettle gathering to pick extra and start off some nettle beer.  It’s now happily frothing away in the fermentation vat and I’m looking forward to sampling some very soon!

Back to the subject of natural dyeing – I’ve put links to some wonderful natural dyers blogs over on the right. If it’s something that interests you, do take a look as they’re a fantastic source of information and inspiration.

Right, I must get back to my wheel – it’s been a whole half hour since I was spinning….. 🙂

8 Comments leave one →
  1. May 3, 2009 8:47 pm

    interesting, I’ve never really got into natural dying except the obligatory samples for C&G (eg onion skins) but I do like the subtle, muted colours that are produced…maybe one day….:-)

    • May 4, 2009 6:38 am

      I’m finding it pretty addictive – I need to get hold of some more wool as I’ve dyed almost everything I’ve got!

  2. May 4, 2009 9:01 am

    For a plant that has a nasty sting the colour of your yarn is so soft.

    I have to say I like it, pale and subtle – just lovely!

    take care,

    Nina x

    • May 4, 2009 9:32 am

      Thanks Nina – I wisely let my husband do the nettle collecting part… 🙂

  3. May 5, 2009 3:01 pm

    Yes that does look lovely, spun up. Do you have apple trees nearby? This time of year when pruning, gather the branches for your dye pot. They make peach colored wool if gathered in the spring. I think you might like it. It would go well with your nettle yarn. It’s so nice to visit and hear about your natural wool processing.

  4. May 5, 2009 3:22 pm

    Hi Shayla – thanks for your comment. Peach sounds lovely – I must give that a try – I was reading the book the other day which suggested crab apples and we have a few crab trees growing wild by us – I don’t think anyone would mind it I gave them some gentle pruning…

  5. May 5, 2009 9:05 pm

    I have never dyed with nettle- so it was lovely to see your sample. Thanks for sharing and for mentioning my blog ! 🙂
    Keep on going .bw Helen

  6. Nathan permalink
    August 25, 2009 5:28 pm

    The wool has come up very well. It is nice to see that others are interested in natural dyeing. We tried nettle, blackberry and red cabbage recently. We were dyeing silk shawls, but that should produce similar effects to that of wool. I find wool and silk are the best for natural dyeing. Any suggestions for a new experimental dyestuff? We had our first shawl come up a stronger greenish yellow from the nettle, but have been unable to create that first colour through several other attempts. Try blackberry, it is such a strong colour (and smells lovely while boiling up for the dyebath).
    You can check out our blog from our online store

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