Making vibrant green with natural dyes

natural dyes in slate background: indigo, weld, yellow onion skins, and fustic wood

You would think that green, being such an abundant color in nature, would be an easy color to achieve through natural dyeing. In fact, it’s much trickier. You can obtain mossy greens by dyeing with yellow and using modifiers such as copper and iron. But to get vibrant, bright green, the best way is by using Indigo to make blue and then over-dyeing with yellow. 

There are several ways to dye with indigo. I use a natural fermentation vat. It’s similar to making beer or wine in that it needs to feed on sugars and be kept between 85-100º F. It’s different from all other dyes in that it does not require a mineral fixer. Instead of creating a hydrogen bond to the fiber, indigo embeds itself between the protein molecules of the wool.

Normally when dyeing green you would first dip the yarn in indigo and then over-dye with yellow but there is one exception – weld. Weld, a plant native to southern Europe, is the oldest yellow dye and revered for its bright clear yellow pigment. It is so color fast (meaning it sticks to the fiber incredibly well) that you can dye with weld first and then over-dye with indigo without contaminating your vat. What's special about this technique is that the yellow shows through the blue and gives the fiber a gorgeous, intense, yellow green. 

weld in large pot, yellow yarn dyed from weld in large pot

As the yarn sits in the dye and starts to cool I add a tiny bit of calcium carbonate (chalk). This neutralizes acidic water and brightens dye colors. This method is used for dyes like madder and weld and acts as a mild alkali. 
Once the yarn is washed and rinsed it goes into the indigo vat for 2, 5 minute dips.

green yarn dyed with weld and indigo

Now, a little bit about indigo. There are hundreds of plants in the world that contain the indigo dye molecule. But dyers use only a small handful of varieties whose leaves contain the highest concentration of color. The perennial shrub grows in hot, humid environments around the world. Among the most notable indigo regions are: Japan, India, South & Central America, Vietnam, and parts of China.

Up above I'm showing indigo in it's concentrated, powdered form.

green yarn in sport weight called clover

This particular dye method gave me the color way I call Clover. It as intense, rich green that I will make again and again. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published