Dyeing Wool Yarn With Madder Root




Introduction: Dyeing Wool Yarn With Madder Root

Step-by-step directions on how to dye wool yarn using madder root powder.

I am an 18th-century reenactor. I dye wool yarn using ingredients and methods from the 18th century. This Instructable gives you directions on how to dye wool yarn using madder root giving a wonderful orangey-red color.

I recently purchased five pounds of madder root powder from the Monterey Bay Spice Company for the best price I have found yet. There are many company's that sell the powder and roots. If you buy the roots, you must grind them before using them.

The mordant chemicals can be purchased at your local grocery store. Sodium carbonate is the ingredient in Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda Detergent Booster. You can find alum and cream of tartar in the spice section. The alum that I buy in bulk I believe is more potent than the stuff sold as spice. But, I have used it in a pinch.

Step 1: Preparing the Wool Yarn.

The most important step is to have the wool yarn properly prepared for dyeing. I add extra ties to my skeins so that they hold together better. You can see my extra ties in red yarn. Each skein now has four places where the skein is tied.

Do not tie too tightly or you will be tye-dying the yarn by accident.

Soak the yarn for at least 5 hours in a slightly soapy water. Since I like to use my hands to move the yarn around in the soak while soaking, I make sure that I remove all rings so the yarn doesn't get caught on them.

I use a ceramic baking sheet to hold the yarn in the water while it soaks.

Don't make the mistake of putting dry wool yarn into the dye bath. The color is absorbed in different strengths and you will end up with a color that is not uniform.

Step 2: Make the Dye Bath

Do not dye in cooking pots even though these are natural ingredients. Once used for dyeing, the pots should never be used for cooking again.

I suggest putting on gloves and glasses before handling the chemicals. Sodium carbonate is caustic. Completely wipe down the area when through.

Only use a stainless steel or other coated pot. Using an iron or aluminum pot will change the color of the dye.

The recipe I use to dye one pound of wool yarn is:

2 oz (60 grams) Sodium Carbonate (also known as soda ash or washing soda)
1 oz (30 grams) Cream of Tartar
2 oz (60 grams) Alum

4 - 6 oz (100 to 170 grams) madder root powder
1 oz (30 grams) brazilwood powder

The mordant is what helps to keep the color in the wool. Depending on what is used and how much, can determine the color of the dye bath.

I know people who soak their wool yarn in the mordant and then place in the dye pot. But I have found that I can do this as just one step for this recipe. I haven't been able to do it for other dyes.

First measure the ingredients. I use a food scale.

Next put the mordant items into a medium pot with warm water. Heat just until dissolved.

In a large pot (I use a canning pot) half fill with cool water. Add in the mordant when it is dissolved.

Put the dye ingredients into dye bags. The one I use are linen about 10 inches by 4 inches (25 cm X 10 cm). I tie them with a leather tie. You could use anything that will withstand hot water.

I am using two bags because I have doubled the recipe to dye two pounds rather than one. Make sure the powder is not crammed into the dye bag so that the water can penetrate all the powder. Don't make the mistake that I have done by just pouring the powder into the dye bath without putting the powder into a dye bag. If you do so, your yarn will be filled with madder root and as you try to do anything with it, it will make a huge mess.

Place the dye bags into the dye pot.

Heat the dye bath to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit (80 degrees Celcius). DO NOT BOIL. Boiling will drastically change the madder to a much more brown color.

Stir occasionally. I also squeeze the dye bags occasionally to get the air out.

Once the dye bath is finished, about two to three hours, let it cool. Take the dye bags out squeezing them to get as much color as possible from them.

Step 3: Dyeing the Wool Yarn

Place the wet wool into the cooled dye pot.

Heat the water again to about 180 degrees Fahrenheit(80 degrees Celcius). It will take approximately one hour at this temperature to dye the wool. Wool does not dye without heat.

Gently stir occasionally. Do not use a wooden spoon as the wool fibers will catch on the wood and make a mess of your wool.

Turn off heat and let it cool.

I usually leave it to cool overnight.

Simply heating the wool yarn will not make it shrink (or felt). Felting is caused by the wool fibers becoming agitated and rubbed on each other. Heating and stirring gently will not cause your wool to felt. Do not boil the wool as this will cause the movement that could felt your wool. Boiling will also change the color of this dye bath.

Step 4: Finish the Wool

I use the washing machine to spin out my wool. Use only the spin cycle. Do not wash the yarn using the washing machine cycle.

I then wash the yarn and rinse by hand, wash and rinse by hand again, and then spin again in the washing machine.

Lay it out to dry.

Then spin up into a ball ready for knitting.

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    9 years ago on Introduction

    l really wonder something; is madder root the same thing that we buy generally from the spice stores to use while cooking? ( curry etc.) or can we use them to dye?
    btw very nice and useful tutorial, totally loved it. thanks.


    10 years ago on Step 2

    Since they didn't have stainless steel pots in the 18th century, I'm curious what they might have used instead. Have you tried cast iron or ceramic pots?


    13 years ago on Introduction

    can u do the same thing with koolaid??????


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    They didn't have kool aid in the 18th century.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks so much for this post! I have just begun experimenting with yarn- dyeing, and this instructable was invaluable! The first time I tried dyeing with madder, it came out his weird orange-yellow(not enough mordant). Also, for first-time yarn dyers, there's a really easy and satisfying recipe at the lion brand yarn site for dyeing with turmeric (in the spice section of every grocery store). That's how I got the yarn-dyein" fever!


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Yum! Just kidding, awesome idea! I like it, it's really cool, nice job.