Natural dyeing and yarn shopping in Oswestry

About a month ago I went to stay with family in Oswestry, and whilst I was there I partook in several yarn themed activities.

Day One:

Firstly, I went to Ewe and Ply, a small and lovely yarn shop. The staff were so friendly, and they even gave me a goodie bag on my way out!

I was very excited when I saw they sold their own brand of yarn (‘Shropshire Ply’), made using local sheep breeds and spun locally as well. This is what I always hope to find when going to an indie yarn shop- there’s something so special about buying a skein you couldn’t get anywhere else as a souvenir. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll make with it, but as it’s quite a rustic yarn I’m thinking a cabled hat of some kind.

I also bought a skein of sock yarn from Riverknits. I was immediately drawn to this rich greeny brown colourway (called Towpath), as I’d never seen a shade like it. It’s a BFL sock base, which I’ve never used before. I’m interested to see how it compares to pure merino yarns and also merino-nylon blends, which is my current preference for socks.

I’ll definitely come again next time I’m in Oswestry, and I’d highly recommend it to any knitters who happen to be in the area. Be aware though, it’s difficult to spot from the outside as there’s a large sign for a tea room on the front of it!

Day Two:

Day two, and the reason for this whole visit: a lovely family friend had offered to do a natural dyeing workshop with me and my cousin. I bought with me 4 x 50g skeins of Cascade 220 Fingering in the natural colourway.

When I got there, the first thing I did was wind the yarn into smaller skeins so I could try out as many dye colours as possible. I put the original skeins on a yarn ‘umbrella’ and then wound the smaller skeins over books.

I also learned how to twist a skein, which wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be! I’d say the key is to twist it quite tightly so it doesn’t unravel.

We weighed how much yarn we wanted to use with each dye and then our teacher calculated the amounts of each ingredient we needed based on that. I would explain how she did it, but it’s still a mystery to me!

Before we could do any actual dyeing we had to scour the yarn. We soaked it in warm soapy water for about 10 mins, and then rinsed it three times, making the water gradually cooler with each rinse so as not to shock the yarn.

Next we used two different mordants, Alum and Chrome, each of which affected how the dye coloured the yarn differently (I’ll show photos at the end). The main difference in the preparation of the two is that Chrome is light sensitive, so you have to be careful when getting the yarn in and out! For a couple of the dyes (avocado and walnut) you don’t need to use mordant, so we kept some skeins unmordanted for those.

Our teacher showed us a book full of beautiful dyed fabric samples she’d made over the years, and from that we chose which dyes we wanted to use. We decided on:

  • Madder
  • Cochineal
  • Elderberry and damsons
  • Weld
  • Avocado
  • Onion skins
  • Pickled walnuts
  • Sanderswood

I won’t go through how we prepared each of the dyes as they were all different. Plus, we were only in charge of a couple each, so many of them I didn’t make myself. Basically, some of them had to be pre-soaked, and pretty much all of them had to be cooked for a bit before use so the colour would start to be released.

Here are some of the dyes cooking:


Pickled walnut:

Madder on the left, and elderberries and damsons on the right:

Once the skeins had been in the dye for long enough, I gradually washed off any excess dye (and in the case of the elderberries, any stalks that got stuck to the yarn!), once again using slightly cooler water with each wash so as not to shock the yarn.

Then came the best bit: the drying. I learned how to ‘spin’ dry the freshly washed skeins, which basically entails holding one end of the skein and spinning it round and round until your arm gets tired! It’s an excellent way of releasing some of your inner rage, just make sure you stand well away from other people when you do it!

Post spin drying:

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the finished skeins!

Aren’t they beautiful? I love how they form a rainbow of autumnal colours.

Walnut and avocado:


Onion skins:


Weld is my favourite one because of the subtle colour variations in it. I deliberately tied the string tighter around the skein in order to produce this.

Elderberries and damsons:

Madder with chrome mordant (left) and madder with alum mordant (right):

And finally, Cochineal, by far the most dramatic of all the colours!

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to try out natural dyeing; it was such a lovely experience! If you’re able to try it I’d definitely give it a go, although it does help having someone who can teach you.

I haven’t decided what to make with my yarn; originally I planned to make socks, but it’s quite fragile and loosely plied so I don’t think it would hold up to that kind of wear. I don’t want to make a garment that would have to be washed regularly because I don’t want the colours to fade, so I’ll probably make an accessory of some kind. Watch this space!

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