flowering rosemary and a bee

Dyeing Yarn With Rosemary

Dyeing yarn with rosemary is a great way to get started with natural dyeing. Rosemary is readily available in many regions, even if you don’t happen to have a rosemary plant growing in your own garden. Like my company’s name suggests, I highly value rosemary as a dye plant. Not only does it smell absolutely wonderful, it can also be used year-round. In a previous blog post about six garden plant you can use for natural dyeing, I already talked about natural dyeing with rosemary.

Rosemary, also known as Salvia rosmarinus is a fragrant, evergreen shrub. The leaves are needle-like and the flowers have a white, pink, blue or purple color. It is a native plant to the Mediterranean region. However, it is often also winter hardy in cooler climates. The name rosmarinus comes from the two Latin words ros and marinus which means dew of the sea. This is due to the fact that rosemary thrives by the sea.

rosemary salvia rosmarinus plant

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Rosemary comes in different forms, from upright to trailing. In our garden, we have both an upright and a trailing variety. And although the colors of the dye baths look different, I don’t see any significant difference in the final colorways of the yarns.

Uses of Rosemary

Since Rosemary is an evergreen plant, it can be used for natural dyeing year-round. But, as it is often the case with plant materials, the color intensity varies depending on the season. Branches collected in spring and early summer are usually best for creating vibrant dye baths.

a greyish green colored skein of yarn naturally dyed with rosemary

Rosemary is not only suitable for natural dyeing, though. It is also an ornamental plant in gardens and a popular herb for flavoring foods. In addition, the leaves can be used to make an herbal tea. And rosemary essential oil is used as a fragrance oil.

Tips for Dyeing Yarn with Rosemary

#1 Gentle Dyeing Process

As is the case with natural dyeing in general, slow is usually best. Slowly heating the branches until simmering, letting the dye solution sit overnight before filtering off the dye material or even heating a second time is beneficial to the color depth of the dye solution. Cooking the leaves can dull the color.

#2 Freshness of the Plant Materials

In general, if you use fresh branches you will get more intense colors compared to dye stuff that has been stored for some time.

#3 How many Branches of Rosemary should I Use?

Obviously, the number of branches you use compared to the weight of the yarn will result in more or less intense colors. When dyeing with rosemary I usually aim for at least equal weights of dyestuff and yarn.

Dyeing Yarn with Rosemary: Natural Dyeing Process

List of Materials

Undyed skein of yarn 100 g
You can simply use an undyed, natural skein of yarn. Maybe you even have some suitable yarn already in your stash. If you want to use a yarn that is in the form of a ball or cake, you have to create a skein first. This can be done by using a swift (this is the one I use and can recommend).
Alum14 g
Alum or potassium alum (KAl(SO4)2·12H2O) is a mordant which means that it is used to set dyes on fibers by forming a coordination complex with the dye. It increases the fastness of the dye.
PotYou can use an old pot or acquire one just for natural dyeing purposes. This is the size I use if I dye only one skein at a time, it has a holding capacity of 6 qt (5.7 L).
Bucket or Washing PanTo scour and wash the yarn.
Kitchen ScaleTo measure the alum and dyestuff. This is the one I use.
TieTo secure the yarn and avoid tangling. You have to use something that is stable in boiling water and doesn’t give off any color. I usually use some kind of package cord.
SpoonWooden or stainless steel
Dish ShoapWhatever you have on hand.
This is used to scour and wash the yarn.
Wool Laundry DetergentThis is the one I use and can recommend. It is gentle and doesn’t have any smell.

Precautions: Don’t use the same pots and utensils for natural dyeing that you use for food preparation. Always wear gloves. Creating the dye solution and the dyeing process itself should be done in a well ventilated area. I often use a cooking plate that I put on my patio.


250 g of rosemary (I used the leaves and branches together) were slowly brought to a simmering and heated for about 60 minutes. Then the pot cooled down and sat overnight.

On the following day, I filtered off the dyestuff. Then I added two skeins of yarn (120 g each) which were mordanted with alum beforehand. You can read all about how I mordant my yarns in this blog post.

The pot was heated for 60 minutes and then let to cool down and sit overnight afterwards.

Modifying with Iron

If you want to broaden the color spectrum that rosemary can produce, you can do so by modifying your yarn with iron sulfate after the dyeing process is complete.

In order not to damage the fibers and make them brittle, I only immerse my yarn in an iron bath for a short amount of time and without applying any heat. You can read all about my general method for modifying yarn with iron in this blog post.

Dyeing Yarn with Rosemary: Color Results

Now, let’s have a look at the color results. Rosemary yields a yellow with a green undertone which turns into a beautiful mossy green when modified with iron. I always feel like you can almost smell the fragrance of rosemary when looking at those skeins.

two skeins of yarn naturally dyed with rosemary

The picture below shows an interesting comparison of greens and yellows. The skein second to left and the one in the middle were dyed with rosemary. And the skein second left was modified with iron after the dyeing process.
The skein on the far left was dyed with nettles and modified with iron afterwards. And the skein second to right was dyed with nettles as well, omitting the modification with iron. As you can clearly see, the colorways are similar, but not the same.

five mini skeins of yarn in greens and yellows, naturally dyed with nettles, rosemary and elder

I hope I was able to show you that dyeing with rosemary is not complicated and produces beautiful color results. Let me know in the comments below if you have tried dyeing with rosemary before and how your color results looked.

And if you want some more inspiration on plants and other natural materials you can use for natural dyeing, I recommend that you have a look at these blog posts:

Natural Dyeing with Amaranth

How to Dye Yarn with Coffee

Dyeing Yarn with Onion Skins

Natural Dyeing with Avocado: Pits vs. Skins

Natural Dyeing with Cochineal

And in case you don’t want to execute the natural dyeing process yourself but still want to enjoy a skein of yarn naturally dyed with rosemary, you can have a look at my Etsy shop. I usually have some yarn available (either as a single skein or as part of a mini skein set) which has been dyed with rosemary.

Pin It For Later: Dyeing Yarn with Rosemary

a rosemary shrub and two mini skeins of yarn, naturally dyed with rosemary

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  1. Betty Moloney says:

    Love the colours. Will try it when I have spun enough yarn.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! Let me know how your colors turn out with your handspun, I would love to know!

    2. Betty Moloney says:

      Tried this method with not a good result. My yarn was first done with vinegar the second was with alum and the colour was a yellow with a green tinge. Disappointed.

      1. Hi Betty, Did you modify the yarn with iron sulfate after dyeing with rosemary? This will shift the color from a yellow to a green tone. However, and this is the case with natural dyes in general, the final colorway is never completely predictable. It depends on so many factors like the freshness of the plant material, the specific plant variety, the properties of your tap water, the season, the color of your undyed yarn and many more.

  2. Ruth Jones says:

    How long can you keep the dye bath before using. I have rosemary growing in the garden which I want to cut back and don’t want it to go to waste. However, I’m a newby spinner and nit ready to dye my wool yet. Thanks

    1. Hi Ruth, you basically have two options. You can either cut the rosemary now, hang it to dry and use it for dyeing when your yarn is ready. However, you will get the most vibrant color results if you use fresh plant material. Your second option is to make the dye bath now and store it somewhere cool for later use. I haven’t tried this myself yet because I was a bit scared that it would get mouldy. The longest I have kept my dye baths before using was 2-3 days at room temp. You definitely have to make sure that all of the plant material is thoroughly filtered off. If you have enough space, storing the dye bath in the refrigerator might work.
      Let me know if you have tried it, I would love to know about your results.

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