Dyeing Hemp and Linen Naturally


Its uncommonly hard to dye cellulose fibres. Linen and hemp fibres are very resistent to taking on colour. It must come from being part of the outer layer of the plant.

My best friend in Vancouver has an idea for twine hemp yarn. And bless his heart, of course he thinks I can dye up what he needs. All natural dyeing for hemp. I can’t use a mordant to set the dyes, because they are metals, and don’t fit with our sticking with non toxic, and preferably edible dyes. Uh sure! Well, it turns out, its not a huge list of things to try out.

With the chemical reactive dyes, I can get every colour under the sun to come out. The process alters the fibres chemically in adding colour. Wonderfully direct method. No matter how tempting, do not do this dyeing indoors. Its pretty nasty! I’ve already asked for a full face breathing mask for Xmas. I’m so tired of my goggles fogging up from the mask I use when I’m dyeing outdoors.

The hemp yarn just shrugs when I try out natural dyes as an alternative. Black tea, nothing. Red berries, nothing. But then I also didn’t expect too much when I didn’t find red berries suggested in the books. I did find some things that managed to stain the yarn. If I could use more ingredients (salt and sodium carbonate) I could probably set the colours into the hemp yarn. But that will have to wait for a different commission, or experiment.

For now this is the first dyed yarn I have produced from completely natural ingredients.

The yellow comes from turmeric, the brown from black berries, and the grey/purple, from red cabbage. There are two more skeins of twine I’m working on. One hot dyed with the cabbage juice, and one cold dyed. They will both get further dyeing with turmeric to see what colour combinations come out. No more blackberries until Thursday. I still have rhubarb root, onion skins, avocado and goldenrod left to try.

And then my friend will take his samples of naturally dyed yarn, enrobe it in beeswax and burn it. Yep, burn it!

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3 Responses to Dyeing Hemp and Linen Naturally

  1. Ashley says:

    so will these be lightfast/colorfast? i have the same concerns as you when dyeing yarns, and therefore don’t use natural dyes! did you heat seat them? what did you use as mordant?

    • The cabbage colour definitely fades quickly! I have been drying everything in the sun on my laundry lines. Tomoroow I’ll be able to show the colour fade. The tumeric fades the least. The black berries rinsed out more than fading, though I suspect they lighten. I don’t have to worry about the colours fading too much, there will be no repeated washing.
      I heat set everything just by boiling it for a few hours. The yarn can take it, and it seems the easiest way to go, when I’m trying to avoid the metals. I’m not sure the mordant helps set as much as helps uptake…. I live where we have to soften our hard water, so there is an amount salt already in my water. I have not done a final boil with soda and salt that I would certainly recommend for (trying) setting the colours. Also this is a twine, which is not the same as a plyed yarn. I think the yarn would be more absorbent than ths twine.
      I wasn’t planning on trying to do this so soon, but there does seem to be a demand for naturally dyed/stained yarns. I do love the consistency and range of the chemical colours…. Just not actually working with them!

      Its quite nice working without a mask.

  2. Pingback: Red Yellow And Purple Hemp

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