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Wool to dye for… (natural wool dyeing)

Being a bit of a Hippie tree-hugger, and trying to save the planet in my own little way,  I was wondering what I could do which would combine recycling and my wool fetish.

I decided to try could dyeing wool with food scraps. The stuff that we all throw away, whether in the garbage bin or in the compost. Then I could make pretty things relatively guilt free.

I did a bit of research and found out that avocado skins and seeds were a good place to start, especially since Mum and I eat a couple each week. So, I asked her to save her seeds and skins and I saved mine (in the freezer so they didn’t go icky) and waited until I had 10 sets of seeds and skins.


I’ll deal with the seeds in another post, today here’s the low-down on dyeing with the skins only.


Firstly give them a good scrub to get the avocado completely off the skins.

natural wool dyeing

natural wool dyeing
                  Avocado skins being washed

Next, rip them into small pieces, put them into a pot that will ONLY be used for dyeing.

*** WARNING***

Just because you can eat the avocado fruit it does NOT mean the skins and seeds are safe to eat. Please don’t use any pots or utensils that will then be used to cook with. I bought this pot for $9 at K-Mart and will only ever be used for dyeing.


natural wool dyeing
                       Avocado skins in the sun


Cover them with water ( I used a litre) and cover the pot. Leave it in a sunny place for a week (or so – I sort of forgot all about it!)

natural wool dyeing
              mixture steeping in the sun

Strain off the skins, and Voila! You have a browny, orangey, dye.

natural wool dyeing
                   here’s the dye

Now for the wool. For this to work you need natural fibres: wool, cotton, hemp, bamboo etc. I understand you can dye acrylic yarns but it’s a different technique. I’m eager to give it a go too, but that’s for another day.

The wool I used was 100% wool, 8 ply 100g in the ball. I couldn’t find raw undyed wool this time around so I just bought white and it worked fine. I unravelled the ball and made it into a skein by winding it around two chairs, tied it together and then used some scrap yarn and segmented the skein so it wouldn’t tangle up in the pot. Tie it loosely so the dye can get into all the wool (unless you want a tie-dyed effect and are happy with white bits)

natural wool dyeing
                    100% wool ready to be dyed

Wet the wool so it takes up the dye evenly. If you want strong colours you can put the wool in dry but it may be blotchy.

natural wool dyeing
                            dampening the wool

Before adding the wool to the dye pot you need to add a mordant. It’s a chemical used to set the dye so that it just doesn’t run out when you wash it. The most natural one to use is white vinegar but there are others which I’m keen to research and use.

I added a splash of white vinegar to the pot. By splash I mean a dollop, a glug. I didn’t measure, I just dollopped!

I put the wool into the mixture, and pushed it right down so the liquid went through it (by this stage I had put my rubber gloves on so I didn’t end up with avocado stained hands), and made sure everything was covered with the liquid.

natural wool dyeing
                         the wool in the pot

Put the pot on the stove top and turn the heat onto medium or so.

You’ll need to heat the mixture but NOT BOIL it. A few small bubbles are ok, but if the wool gets agitated too much it could felt so you need to be as gentle as possible and not play with it or stir it. Keep an eye on the heat and turn it down if it starts to bubble. Put the lid on it and leave for about 40 minutes.

It’s hard to know exactly how long to do this for. The wool should take up all the dye in the pot so the water is relatively clear. After 40 minutes it was still very brown so I decided to have a bit of fun and try to make ombre wool.

I drained the liquid from most of the wool and took half of it out of the pot, leaving the other half still covered.

natural wool dyeing
                          trying to make ombre

Make sure to put something on the bench top so the dye doesn’t get everywhere.

I gave it another 30 mins or so, then dragged a bit more out and left the last bits of wool in there for another 20 mins until the dye bath was almost clear.

Then I left it to cool down naturally for an hour or two.

natural wool dyeing
                      trying to make ombre wool


Once the wool was cold I rinsed it thoroughly with a little washing detergent until the water ran clear then I carefully wrung it out and put it on the line to dry completely.

natural wool dyeing
                              rinsing the wool


I was really happy with the result. The colour is good and there are some subtle variations in colour (not ombre or dip dyed, as I would have liked, but it looks good).

The wool did turn out a bit fuzzier than when I started so I suspect I had the water temperature a bit higher than it should have been, but thankfully it didn’t felt.

natural wool dyeing
                                   Here’s the result


And here’s what I made. An easy-peasy crossover hoodie / scarf

It’s cute, warm and the perfect project for one ball of wool.

and, you can buy it here…

               natural wool dyeingnatural wool dyeingnatural wool dyeing

natural wool dyeing
side view

natural wool dyeing

Keep your eyes peeled for my next post, on the results of the avocado seed dye.

I think I’m hooked on the whole natural dyeing process, so there’ll be more blogs to follow as I do them.


Jacqstar xx