Dyeing with dock leaves and nettles

L-R; nettle + copper, nettle + alum, nettle + iron 2nd, 3rd and 1st bath, dock + alum (merino, bfl)

The one thing I really love about living in London is that the dyeing season never really stops. There are plenty of plants for forage even in winter such as alder cones, oak galls, ivy leaves, scotch broom etc.

When the weather starts getting warmer, the ground starts turning to green quite rapidly. Some of the first dye plants to come through are my favourite ones; nettles and dock leaves. The latter I have been dyeing with throughout the year and enjoyed seeing the change in its dye colour as the weather changes. Nettles loose their a lot of their colour after blooming so are best in the spring.

Nettles growing in March 2019

Nettles are a bit of a powerplant. They are nutritious as food (dont worry they stop stinging after simmering in hot water), can be used as tea, dyed with and even spun in to fibre. Living in London, I rarely use them for food as I tend to collect my nettles from fairly pollution rich areas, but a good nettle sauce with new potatoes is one of the best summer dishes.

Nettles simmering in the dyebath

Earlier in the summer nettles yield stunning greens when post treated with iron. If only alum is used, they give a light yellow colour.

L-R; nettle post treated with iron 1st, 2nd and 3rd bath

Dock usually grows where nettles are. It’s leaves are an effective relief for nettle stings. The leaves are high in tannins so no mordant is needed. I always use yarn premordanted with alum as I havent done any light fastness tests on non pre treated yarn. You can also dye with the roots of dock plants as well as the dried seed tops in the summer. Dock is an invasive weed, especially for farmers and grows back quickly which makes it a even more perfect dye plant

Dock growing on the riverside in January 2019
Merino and BFL dyed with dock leaves

Green dye recipe for nettles:

  • Simmer nettles for an hour and strain the dye liquid.
  • Add yarn premordanted with alum and simmer for an hour.
  • Remove yarn from the bath and add iron
  • Leave in for about 10-30 minutes depending on how dark you want the colour
  • Rinse immediately! Iron can damage the fibre if left in too long!
  • Wash skeins with some ph neutral detergent and add a little vinegar to the last rinse

Dye recipe for dock leaves:

  • Simmer leaves for an hour and strain dye liquid
  • Add yarn premordanted with alum and simmer for an hour
  • Let yarn cool in dye liquid
  • Wash skeins with some ph neutral detergent and add a little vinegar to the last rinse

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