Natural Dye — Alkaline Extractions

Natural dye experiments have been on the back burner lately, but I am making a little progress with alkaline extractions. My current extractions are white pine bark, sumac leaves and Siberian iris leaves and of course willow bark.

Natural dye alkaline extractions.


I’ve been using a willow bark alkaline extraction since I read about the technique in Jenny Dean’s book A Heritage of Colour. I like to baste the edges of some of my ecoprint silk scarves with the extract when they come out of the dyepot.

Jenny Dean's book A Heritage Of Colour.

To make an extract, I put chopped material in a quart jar, add water and soda ash, and shake it daily (or when I remember). After using the liquid, I top it off with water and a bit more soda ash (not scientific, but honest). The high pH drops over time.

Alkaline extraction natural dye experiments.

These were all in the “mildly alkaline” range when I drained the liquid into tubs and plopped in wetted wool yarn. I left the yarn in about 24 hours, turning it over several times. No heat was applied. The next day, I squeezed out the extract and let the yarns dry.

Alkaline extraction natural dye experiments by Donna Kallner.
White pine bark, Siberian iris leaf, willow bark and sumac leaf alkaline extractions on wool (dry but not washed).

This is what they looked dry but not rinsed or washed. There was a lot of wash-out in earlier experiments where I rinsed the yarns right away. I’m going to be patient and let three of these yarns cure for a week or so before rinsing and washing. The one in the lower right corner, though, is soaking out now.

The drained extract was weakly alkaline, so I used it in another experiment. I had two small skeins of meh merino, and wanted to see if I applied low heat slowly over time I could use the exhaust without damaging the wool. Those are soaking out now, too.

Fingers crossed.

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Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin

2 thoughts on “Natural Dye — Alkaline Extractions”

  1. My whole family is laughing hysterically, Lene, because none of them think of me as all that patient! Actually, one of the things I like about the alkaline extractions is that they take very little active time — mostly just a minute here and there and otherwise you walk away and do other stuff. If I were more patient I would keep better records on my experiments.

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