Dyeing With Dinner

Find yourself a good black bean recipe and prepare your freezer bags.

Did you know that dyes can be harnessed naturally? Most fiberistas know the wonders of indigo and cochineal but there is a vast rainbow of natural and non-traditional dyes all around. Summers in Maine present many opportunities to pick wild flowers for dye pots.

When I realized I could dye wool with black beans I was excited to experiment. Inexpensive and delicious, black beans can do no wrong in my book. Last winter I found I could achieve slate grey with a blue tone when I overdyed a heathered brown wool. I plan to try a lustrous white wool next. With the warm summer sun, the results should be an interesting dark grey.

A very important preliminary step in natural dyeing is the mordant. Without a mordant the dye does not adhere to the fiber. You may get a faint stain, but to truly harness the rainbow of dyes available from natural products, a mortant is key. I like to use Alum and Cream of Tartar. They are the safest chemicals used for mortanting, but not the only options. Tin, copper, and iron can be used as mortants to achieve different results from the same dye source. Some plants will give various shades with a little chemical help. Being that I am merely an adventurous potions novice, I like to er on the side of caution and only use mild chemicals.

First you need to know how much DRY fiber you are working with. This amount will come in to play in both the mortant and dye processes. For ease of understanding, I will use a standard 4oz skein as a base example.

First day:


Soak fiber in warm water.

Bring water to boil in dyepot.

Dissolve 10% Alum (0.4oz) + 5% Cream of Tartar (0.2oz) in a small cup of hot water. Stir this mixture into the dyepot.

Add warm wetted fiber to dyepot. I use a plate or weight to submerge all fiber below the water.

Bring to boil. Simmer at 190 F for 1 hour.

Turn off heat, leave to cool overnight



Fill a large tub with a bit more water than your dyepot holds.

Dump 4 times as much organic black beans (bulk black turtle beans at The Natural Living Center work great) as the fiber weight (16oz) into the tub. Stir.

Soak beans overnight.


Second day:


Skim liquid off the top with measuring cup and dump in the dye pot.

Drain fiber and put into dyepot.

Place in sunny spot for 3-7 days

Cook up your beans. They freeze well for future use.

After a few days remove the fiber and rinse. It won't smell great at this point, but a quick wash with Dr Bronner's does the trick.

I hope my adventure in natural dyeing has inspired you to experiment with natural dyes in your own way!


Assistant Potions Master and Eager Weaver,