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farm life

Knitting Natural Living

Exploring: Natural dyeing weekend at the goat farm

November 6, 2014

Well, it only took me two months to get these photos edited and post written. Between business plan writing, grant proposal research, knitting, parenting, working and traveling, editing photos somehow finds its way to the bottom of the list. It’s always fun though to go back through and remember how amazing of a time you had somewhere, doing something, with people you love.

Labor day weekend we set out to my friend Annie’s up in Humboldt county. If you remember, we visited her and her husband at their farm for the 4th of July holiday.  It’s a little bit of a trek, but somehow we’ve adopted the road warrior status this past year with all our traveling to Washington and Idaho, so we were set. I’m not going to complain about 6hrs straight of knitting time. 🙂

Annie and I had planned for this to be a dye weekend. This was my first time venturing into the world of natural dyeing and I was ecstatic to have an experienced and equally enthusiastic friend to lead the way. David even surprised me with a natural dye book in preparation for the pending extravaganza. The evening after we arrived Annie and I sat down with a stack of books (see bottom of the post for a link to each book in our dye library) and planned what to forage for the dye pots. The next morning we prepped the yarn, tying together skeins for each color we planned and using alum we began to mordant the lot of fiber. I hadn’t realized prior to this experience how involved dyeing actually is. There are a lot of steps and patience and timeliness is important, but it is incredible the satisfaction you get from each step along the way. We then took off to forage for our dye pots. Toyon, Blackberry, Scotch broom, Indigo, Cutch and my favorite, Marigold. Well they’re all my favorites really.

We only had a few pots and burners to make the rounds so we started with the Toyon and Marigold, then moved onto the Blackberry, Indigo, Scotch broom and then Cutch. I’m sure every dyers process is slightly different, a practice that evolves over time. Mine was closely guided by Annie, who’s been dyeing for several years and still giggles and squeals each time she sees the outcome, like it’s her first. It’s completely adorable.

After the dye pots had sufficient time to cook, we began dyeing the yarn. I should note here that I am leaving out a lot of the step by step process, primarily because any knowledge you could and should gain about natural dyeing should come from an expert in person or from books like these. Temperature is a very important thing when natural dyeing, making sure the dye pots don’t go above a certain degree.

Once each dye pot had been exhausted, we rinsed the yarn and laid them to dry, with the exception of the Toyon, which we did a post dip in iron (a bucket of rusty nails and odds and ends) as an experiment. I honestly couldn’t believe the colors that had seemingly come from just some random plants around us, and a few of them even considered weeds! Of course there was forethought put into which plants were chosen, directed by both Annie’s experience and the books we consulted…but still, how incredible is nature?! I cannot wait to plant our future dye garden at our ranch.

The remainder of our time with our friends was spent visiting an Apple orchard, bbq-ing and corn on the cob, knitting and planning for Little Woolens, and taking care of more kids than you can count. Baby goats that is. 🙂 I helped Annie on a couple shifts, feeding the many, many, MANY newborn goats, it was a humorous sight I’m sure.

I feel so blessed to have such an inspiring and incredible friend like Annie. Our times on their farm are a pleasant reprieve from the city life and their company is second to none. That might have something to do with her butterball of a daughter Louella too. 🙂

Recommended Natural Dye Books

Nature’s Colors by Ida Grae

Natural Dyes, Plants and Processes by Jack Kramer

Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess

The Complete Guide to Natural Dyeing by Eva Lambert

What others do you guys recommend?

cow fields

goat farm

foraging natural dye

toyon natural dye

foraging marigolds

coltrane playing

louella on the farm


mordant yarn

dye pot

fresh yarn

mordant yarn



dye pot

dye pot

dye pot



marigold natural dye

tired mama

annie and fam

apple orchard



baby goats










marigold natural dye

toyon natural dye

natural dyeing


natural dye