From nature to natural dyes

The vegetation used for natural dyes is gathered while hiking in the mountains and Forrest enclosing the city of Bergen, which is located on the West coast of Norway. Additionally, I attempt to cultivate several plants of natural dyes, such as woad,  in the kitchen garden. The association is cautious of Nature, as we exclusively use natural resources that are sustainable and abundant, as well as being eco-friendly in choices of material and production.

The Process; Step-by-step

The process of natural dyeing acquires several days of labor. By means, it is not full days of labor as the dye pots do not demand continuous surveillance, hence each step in the dyeing procedure attends delicate work. Ahead gathering the vegetation used for natural dyes, one has to get an overview of the plants in question by locating the vegetation. Then one has to make the dye bath and strain off the liquid, and mordant the yarn bases one desires to dye. Afterward, one may simmer the yarn in the dye bath, which requires a few days by reason of bringing the yarn to a simmer must be done slowly in order to prevent the yarn from felting. Likewise, the yarn must be left to simmer down in the dye bath, for a minimum of twelve hours before rinsing the yarn. The final step is numerous rinse baths before the yarn if left.

Settled yarn direct from the dye pot. Photographer: Marie Aadland.
Settled yarn direct from the dye pot. Photographer: Marie Aadland.

Drying the yarn may take days to complete, depending on the weather. The whole process of natural dyes is the most demanding method to dye yarn in terms of time and labor. Therefore, the method of natural dyes is not a priority among peers in the yarn industry compared to the method of acidic dyes.

The yarn bases used for natural dyes are locally produced at Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk in Bergen, as the wool consists of 100% Norwegian, untreated wool from local sheep farmers, as well as the sheep is mulesing-free. The wool is barely spun at the factory, as it does not undergo any further treatment or bleaching before it is shipped to my wool workshop, and Hillesvåg Ullvarefabrikk is eco-friendly in terms of production and sustainability. To use Norwegian wool for natural dyes is a legitimate choice since Norwegian wool is eco-labeled, as well as being a high-quality yarn.   

The vegetation changes alongside the season's of the year, which is reflected by the colors available in the webshop. I do use a few imported natural remedies, such as cochineal and lac dye, to make color schemes which are not possible to obtain by the local Norwegian flora.

A cultural heritage

I chose the concept of natural dyes by reason to desire to renew and convey our cultural heritage of historic craftmanship in Norway, which has historic roots as far back as one-thousand years ago. Another important factor of why I chose to do natural dyes, is that natural dyeing leaves a smaller imprint in terms of nature and environment than acidic dyes. 

Yarn dyed by Birch tree leaves. Photographer: Marie Aadland,
Yarn dyed by Birch tree leaves. Photographer: Marie Aadland,

Archaeological finds from the Bronze Age and Iron Age, suggests natural dyeing of yarn and textiles to be a skill acquired in Central- and northern Europe already in ancient times. The dyeing plant of woad was cultivated and used to add blue color schemes in yarn, clothes, and rugs. The cultivation of woad started in ancient Greece and the Roman Empire, as the cultivation spread westwards and northwards.

The greatest cultures of natural dyes were situated at Thüringen in Germany and Languedoc in France. Meanwhile, after the sea route to India was established, the woad plant was deposed in these cultures in favor of the Indigo plant. However, at the famous find of the Osebergship in Norway in 1921, burned seeds of woad were found in a box with fragments of blue textile which was later carbon dated to 830 AD, which suggests that the cultivation of woad was present in Norway amid the age of the Vikings.

Reinlav lagt i salmiakk på norgesglass for å trekke ut farge. Foto: Marie Aadland.
Reinlav lagt i salmiakk på norgesglass for å trekke ut farge. Foto: Marie Aadland.