If you have ever asked yourself how to dye yarn with coffee and which colorways you can create with it, this post is for you. Coffee is another great dyestuff for beginners. It is readily available and a form of kitchen waste, if you collect and use spent coffee grounds.
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I have already talked about several beginner friendly natural dye materials. You can find instructions on how to dye with avocado and onion skins on my website. And if you are looking for a step by step tutorial on natural dyeing you can find a detailed post here.
The Origin of Coffee Beans
The roasted coffee beans we buy for making coffee to drink are actually seeds of berries from certain coffea species. The seeds are separated from the fruit to produce the raw, green coffee. The coffee is then turned into a consumable product through the process of roasting. The two most commonly grown coffee bean types are C. arabica and C. robusta .
Properties of Coffee
Coffee – and black tea – are both rich in tannins . Tannins or tannoids are a type of mordant that naturally occur in plants. When dyeing protein (e.g. wool) or cellulose (e.g. cotton) fibers with natural dyes, you need a mordant or fixative to help set the dye on the fiber. If you use tannin rich dyestuff, tannins can act as natural mordants which makes it possible to skip the mordanting part of the natural dyeing process. If you are not familiar with the concept of mordanting altogether, I recommend that you have a look at this blog post.
Natural Dyeing with Coffee
You can use both spent coffee grounds and ground coffee for natural dyeing. For my experiment, I used ground coffee that I had on hand which was way past its expiration date. But I am very interested in seeing the different color results of spent coffee grounds vs. ground coffee and will definitely compare these two in a future experiment.
How to Collect and Store Spent Coffee Grounds
If you choose to use spent coffee grounds you have to put in a little bit of effort. Since spent grounds contain a lot of moisture you have to make sure to dry them properly before storing them away. Otherwise you will have issues with mold. Don’t ask me how I know about this… Anyway, I recommend drying the spent coffee grounds on a flat surface like a baking sheet. You could put them in a warm place and spread them out very thinly or dry them on low heat in the oven for about half an hour. Once the grounds are dry, you can store them in a jar for future use.
Range of Colors you can get from Coffee
When used on its own, you will receive warm shades of light brown to brown from coffee. If used in combination with another dye stuff, the coffee will tone down the overall color and create warm, more muted shades.
How to Dye Yarn with Coffee Tutorial
List of Materials
|Undyed skein of yarn||100 g|
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.
|Pot||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.|
|Kitchen Scale||To measure the alum and dyestuff. This is the one I use.|
|Tie||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.|
|Spoon||Wooden or stainless steel|
|Dish Shoap||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.
I generally mordant all of my yarns with alum before they go into the dye bath. If you want to know more about mordanting, you can have a look at this blog post.
Natural Dyeing Process
Pot #1 contained 100 g of coffee grounds.
Pot #2 contained 120 g of coffee grounds.
Both pots were slowly brought to a simmering and heated for about 30 minutes. Then the pots cooled down and sat overnight. On the next day, I filtered off the dyestuff.
I added a 100 g and a 120 g skein of yarn to pot #1. To pot #2 I added a 100 g skein of yarn.
Both pots were heated for 60 minutes, left to cool down and sat overnight.
Pot #1 yielded shades of light brown to warm yellow colorways. Pot #2 created a medium warm brown colorway.
Modifying Colorways by Adding Coffee
After dyeing the two skeins a light brown, there was still a lot of color left in the dye bath of pot #1. Therefore I added 1.2 g of cochineal and two 120 g skeins of yarn. I twisted one of the hanks firmly into a skein. Then I heated the solution for 60 minutes, let it cool down and sit overnight. On the next day, I then took out the two skeins and added some citric acid to acidify the dye solution down to pH 1. In addition, I added a 120 g skein of yarn, heated it for 60 minutes, let it cool down and sit overnight.
Color Results: As you can see, the colorways created from cochineal + coffee are quite different compared to dyeing with cochineal on its own. They are a lot more muted and are reminiscent of the shades you usually get from avocados. The skein in the back is the one that was dyed in the acidic dye solution of the third exhaust of the dye bath. If you would like to know how to dye yarn with cochineal on its own, you can have a look at this blog post.
To create these dark, muted purple skeins, I used 50 g of coffee grounds and 5,5 g logwood. After heating the dyestuff for 60 minutes I let the dye solution sit overnight. On the next day, I filtered off the dyestuff and put it in a second pot. Then I added one 120 g skein and one 100 g skein – the latter in a natural grey tone – to pot #1 which contained the dye solution. To pot #2 which contained the filtration residue I added 120 g of yarn which was firmly twisted into a skein.
Both pots were heated for 60 minutes and then sat overnight.
Color Results: The final colorways don’t differ as significantly from dyeing with logwood on its own compared to the cochineal results. But overall, the purple hues are darker and more muted. The skein on the far right was dyed in pot #2. The skein on the far left is the skein with the natural grey color.
Dyeing yarn with coffee is another great example of how versatile natural dyeing really is. I thoroughly enjoyed pulling these different shades out of the dye baths and seeing the final color results.
Pin It For Later: How to Dye Yarn with Coffee
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!
 Savolainen H. Tannin content of tea and coffee. J Appl Toxicol. 1992 Jun;12(3):191-2. doi: 10.1002/jat.2550120307. PMID: 1629514.