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Mud Dyes

There is a whole long list of things found in the natural world that will give color to fiber.  I talked about indigo last time which comes from leaves and stems.  We also use bugs like cochineal, flowers like coreopsis and marigolds, leaves like lamb's ear, wood like osage orange and lots of other fun things like onion skins, oak galls and madder roots.  These can give a huge range of bold colors or be very subtle.  You just never know for sure until you pull that yarn out of the dyepot.


This week I'm trying something completely new to me.  I saw an ad in last month's Spin Off magazine for mud dyes and decided I needed to order some.  These come from Loop of the Loom in New York City.  "Small world" note - Peggy and I stopped at Loop of the Loom when we did our first New York City Yarn Crawl back in 2012.  It's reassuring that this wonderful center of calm energy is still there.  They sell Saori looms, give weaving and dyeing workshops and sell some beautiful hand made items along with pre-wound Saori warps and beautiful yarns.  You'll find them at

I ordered three colors of dye and a small container of pre-fixer.  Anyone who uses natural dyes is familiar with the need for a mordant to help the color molecules bond with the fiber.  The mud dyes are similar although this pre-fixer looks a whole lot less toxic than most of the mordants are.  The three colors I ordered are Ajisai, Tetsushu and Ookon.  I don't speak Japanese but by looking at the color charts I can tell you these are purple, orange and yellow.


Never having used these dyes before I didn't want to invest in expensive textiles for my initial experiments.  I found a set of 6 linen napkins hiding in a cabinet in the dye shed.  Perfect!  I'll use these.  They are a natural linen color - a soft beige.  And they were pretty dirty and full of bug debris so I washed them first and laid them out to dry.  Now we're ready for the dye process.

First, the pre-fixer.  It's a simple mix and knead.  Yes, you're supposed to knead the fabric in the water with the pre-fixer.  Odd but easy.  No boiling, no toxic fumes, just stick your hand in the pail and knead the fiber.  With or without gloves.  Give it a couple of minutes, rinse it twice and wring it out.  Now they are ready for the dye.

Next, the dye.  In a clean pail, add just enough water to cover the fabric and add 1 tablespoon of dye.  Then knead the items for 3-5 minutes.  Check for color and add more color if you need to. 

Really?  That is all there is?  This is so easy!  And it's the opposite of most chemical dyeing.  There the process requires a lot of heat and waiting.  Fill up the dye pots and wait while the water heats to 120 degrees.  Add the dye and vinegar and wait.  Add the fiber/yarn and wait for the dye bath to get to the correct temperature.  Then wait while it cooks for 30 minutes.  Then wait while it cools so you can handle it.


But here the process is so calm.  Wring out the fabric and hang it in the sun to dry.  Don't rinse until after it is completely dry. At that point it is color fast and wash fast.  The entire process to dye 1# of linen napkins took me less than an hour.  It did require me to be engaged the entire time but it only took 55 minutes.  And I dyed three different colors.  This is wonderful!


Now let's talk about the colors.  These are beautiful subtle colors.  I used a beige fabric, not white, so my colors are probably more muted than they would be if I used white fabric but I really like them.  This was successful enough that I will order some more colors - red and green for sure and we'll see what other colors grab my attention.  This dye, along with their other dyes - soot for black and indigo for various soft blues - can be used for stamping fabric so that is worth a try also.  I'll let you know what else I try and how it goes.