Medieval yarn dyeing

A crafty day out at Cranborne Ancient Technology Centre

Getting started

The venue is at the amazing roundhouse in the Ancient Technology Centre, an evocative location for this sort of workshop. Monica got the fire going that would heat our pots to hold our dyes and yarn…

Top of the roundhouse roof — smoky!

Learning about the techniques and looking at samples

Kat had helpfully laid out lots of samples she had pre-dyed with the “recipe” and process she used, so I spent a bit of time snapping those to try out later. It’s amazing that some of the depths of colours that have been achieved just from using natural dye-stuffs.

Samples using all natural dyes — various yarns, linens, silks and threads.
Kat’s on a mission to find plants! Out of our way sheep!
Clockwise from top left: Woad! Kat picks weld, a madder root, and collecting water with iron particles in from the blacksmiths hut.
Not sure whether to be alarmed or intigued by all these bones hanging around…

Extracting the dye

Next was time to feel like a mad scientist and extract the dye from the plants we collected. This is the fun part, as there is so much natural variation you can’t be certain what you’re going to get. We also set up the pots with our mordants in to show how using different ones and the same dye-stuff will change the colour significantly. We used the iron water in one pot and some special moss in the other. These would allow us to soak the undyed yarn in them, before rinsing and putting the mordanted yarn into the dyestuff to see the variation in colours.

Bottom: Woad leaves that have steeped and now being whisked, Top: the blue colour obtained from this method!
Some of the variation achieved with madder and different moss and iron mordants. Check out those blues from the woad though!
Weld in the pot, and being poured into a new pot whilst being strained with a crocheted sieve — very medieval and authentic!
A beautiful yarn rainbow! Pinks: Madder, yellows: weld, browns: walnut, olive greens: weld + woad, blue: woad (all using a variety of mordants to get the different shades).



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Laura Yarrow

UX and tech geek. Observer of humans. Crisp connoisseur. Yarn fondler. Undercover Northerner.