two skeins of dusty green yarn and a small bouquet of wildflowers next to them

How To Dye With Nettles

If you would like to learn how to dye with nettles, this blogpost 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.

two cakes of yarn in light beige and dusty green on a wooden table

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.

weeds you can use for natural dyeing nettle plants

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.

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

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

two cakes of yarn in light beige and dusty green on a wooden table

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.

one light yellow/cream and one dusty green skein of yarn next to some branches

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.

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

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

Natural Dyeing with Onion Skins

How to Dye Yarn with Dandelions

Natural Dyeing with Cochineal

How to Dye with Dyer’s Chamomile (Solar Dyeing)

Natural Dyeing with Avocado: Pits vs. Skins

How to Dye with Indigo

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