If you would like to learn how to dye with nettles, this blog post is for you.
You can use nettles as a dyestuff for both wool and fabric. You just have to be aware that the mordanting part of the dyeing process differs whether you are using protein (wool) or cellulose fibers (e.g. cotton, linen). I used 100% wool yarn which I mordanted with alum (see this blogpost for instructions on mordanting). If you plan to use a plant-based yarn or fabric, you can have a look at this blogpost. There you can find instructions on how to prep cellulose fibers for natural dyeing.
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If you have never done any natural dyeing before, nettles are a wonderful dye plant to use for your first dyeing session. I recommend that you have a look at this blogpost first though, because it will walk you through the natural dyeing process step by step.
Nettles are readily available in many regions, they are often even considered a weed because they tend to spread so much. This is a pity because nettles have so many beneficial qualities.
Since you can find both stinging and non-stinging varieties of nettles, I would like to clarify first which kind of nettles I am actually referring to in this post. The plants I used are stinging nettles (Urtica dioica). They are also called common nettles.
Nettles are a perennial flowering plant and belong to the Urticaceae family. They can be found worldwide. Nettles have a long history for their uses in traditional medicine, tea, food and as a fiber for textiles.
If you want to learn how to dye yarn with natural dyes, you can check out this step by step tutorial on my Youtube channel:
Tips for Dyeing Yarn with Nettles
#1 Color Changes throughout the Seasons
You will achieve the most vibrant color results when you collect and use nettles in spring. Especially if you focus on using the fresh shoots and not the older parts of the plant. The further the summer progresses, the less lush the plants naturally are. This will be reflected on the colorways you receive.
#2 Gentle Dyeing Process
As is the case with natural dyeing in general, slow is usually best. Slowly heating the leaves 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.
#3 Freshness of the Plant Materials
In general, if you use fresh plants you will get more intense colors compared to dye stuff that has been stored for some time.
#4 How many Nettles Should I Use? And which Parts?
When dyeing with nettles, I always use both the stems and leaves. Obviously, the amount of nettles you use compared to the weight of the yarn will result in more or less intense colors. When dyeing with nettles I usually aim for equal weights of dyestuff and yarn.
How to Dye with Nettles: Natural Dyeing Process
List of Materials
|Undyed skein of yarn
There are a number of yarn companies that sell yarns in skeins rather than wound up in balls or cakes (e.g. Malabrigo or Blacker Yarns). You could simply use one of their undyed, natural colorways. 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).
I used my Luster Sock DK yarn (100% German Merino wool).
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.
|You 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 Pan
|To scour and wash the yarn.
|To measure the alum and dyestuff. This is the one I use.
|To 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.
|Wooden or stainless steel
|Whatever you have on hand.
This is used to scour and wash the yarn.
|Wool Laundry Detergent
|This 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.
Pour boiling water over 100 g of nettles (both leaves and stems) in a pot and let it sit overnight. On the next day, slowly bring the pot to a simmering and heat for about 60 minutes. Then let the pot cool down and sit overnight.
On the following day, filter off the dyestuff. Then you can add your skein of yarn (100 g). The yarn should already have been mordanted with alum and be evenly damp. You can read all about how I mordant my yarns in this blogpost.
Heat the dye pot for about 90 minutes, then let it cool down and sit overnight.
Modifying with Iron
If you want to broaden the color spectrum that nettles 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 blogpost.
How to Dye with Nettles: Color Results
Now, let’s have a look at the color results in more detail. Nettles yield a beige/light yellow, often with a green undertone, which turns into a beautiful dusty green when modified with iron.
The picture below shows an interesting comparison of greens and yellows. The skein second to right was dyed with nettles. The skein on the far left was dyed with nettles and modified with iron afterwards. The skeins which are second to left and the one in the middle were dyed with rosemary. The skein second left was modified with iron after the dyeing process.
As you can clearly see, the colorways are similar, but not the same. You can also see that the result you get from dyeing with nettles can vary significantly.
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:
Pin It For Later: How to Dye with Nettles
Want to learn how to dye yarn using natural dyes?
I have created a beginner’s guide to natural dyeing that contains everything you need to know to get started. And the best thing: it is available for free!