Urine, Fleece, and Natural Dyes

The use of urine in washing wool & dyeing fleece or yarns

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dyeing yarn
Weavers, spinners and dyers might be considered a bit odd in this day and age of computers and ready-made, mass-produced articles. We like to start with the base of materials, raw wool fresh from the sheep, cotton or flax growing in the fields. We wash, card, comb and spin to produce our unique, handspun yarns. We wind many miles of yarn for our warps. We thread thousands of heddles to create intricate patterns. We throw the shuttles, and beat the weft, pick by pick to create our cloth. We mix natural dyes and mordants like potions, using flowers, roots and shrubs. Some of us may even save urine for that special dye project.

“At Convergence 2000 in Cincinatti (The giant Handweavers Guild of America conference) I took a seminar from a lady whose name I’m embarrassed to say I don’t remember. However, her talk was on Pee, Piddle and Whiz. It was about using urine in your spinning and dyeing processes.

She told us to “get over the yuck factor.” Urine is not some acid that will eat through your hand. It is pH neutral and sterile, which is more than you can say for your water supply.

Urine was used in ancient times to wash wool. Yes, wash wool. She did an experiment. She put some grease wool in a ziploc baggy and poured urine over it. She sealed the bag and waited a few days for the wool to completely absorb the urine. She opened the bag and let it air out and dry out a bit. Then she touched the wool. Soft and very easy to spin. Maybe the ancient folk were on to something. Of course, she washed her finished yarn, so no urine actually was in the finished product.

Dye recipes also used urine. However, old recipes don’t mention it. It was like water. They took it for granted that you were using it. Also, stale urine has different properties than fresh urine. “Stale” being urine that’s been sitting around in a vat waiting to be used.
I read somewhere that men on their way home from a pub on the Shetland Isles would stop by the dyers house to donate to the vat. Don’t know if that one’s true or not. I do know that old indigo recipes used urine. It’s got to be safer than alot of chemicals you can buy.

Happy spinning, Berna”

This information was originally posted by Berna, to our Discussion Forum.

“I learned to spin, dye and weave traditional Chilkat style. Urine is one of the main ingredients for some dyes. However, only fresh infants urine is used (still nursing). Diapers were made from dried moss. The urine would be squeezed out and saved until you had enough for a dye batch. ”
Posted to our Forum by HSMCNEIL

“Steep a pound of indigo twenty-four hours in four quarts of clear urine, and when the urine becomes very blue, run through a fine sieve into a pail; add four quarts of fresh urine… the urine will cast up a thick scum, which can be taken up with a broom and cast out of the copper vat…” Elijah Bemiss. Barbara Lefcowitz muses on what to do with a bedsheet revived from a remote corner of the closet.

Urine also has a cleaning effect. During the Roman empire the washing of clothing in urine, became a profitable business. Wool spinners in the 1700’s also found that sheep and pig droppings could be used for cleaning.

Auto Urine Therapy – Some alternative medicine practitioners advocate the drinking of urine
as a therapy for good health. (Well, maybe I’ll use it for a dye project some day, but for
drinking, I think I’ll stick to orange juice.)

More About Natural Plant Dyes
Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Fermentation Vats
Threads of Peru: Natural Dyes

How to Make an Alum Mordant
Tin Mordant
Natural Dyes
Natural Dye Books
Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes
Botanical Colour at your Fingertips
The Modern Natural Dyer: A Comprehensive Guide to Dyeing Silk, Wool, Linen and Cotton at Home
A Weaver’s Garden: Growing Plants for Natural Dyes and Fibers

The Rainbow Beneath My Feet: A Mushroom Dyer’s Field Guide
Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes
A Heritage of Colour: Natural Dyes Past and Present by Jenny Dean (2014-06-10)
Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes
The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use

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Author: Paivi Suomi

I've had an interest in weaving, looms, yarns and textiles since I was a small child. I learned to knit, crochet, sew, do needlepoint at my mother's knee. My grandmother was a Saami from northern Norway. I am very interested in studying more about tradtional Saami and Finnish style weaving and handicrafts. Paivi Suomi

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