Tag Archives: alum

How to Scour and Mordant Cotton and Linen

The secret to successful natural dyeing of cellulose fibres, yarns and fabrics such as cotton and linen is thorough scouring. The scouring process removes natural oils, waxes and pectins from the fibre so that the dyes can penetrate the fibre more readily. Scouring and mordanting cellulose fibres is a more time consuming process than when mordanting wool and protein fibres. But it is well worth taking the extra time to prepare your fabric before you put it into the dyepot.

Here is a sample of natural brown linen fabric that has been dyed with Madder Root. One has been scoured prior to Aluminium Acetate mordant and Madder dye, and one hasn’t.

Scoured and Unscoured Dyed Linen Sample
Scoured and Unscoured Dyed Linen Sample

How to Scour Linen and Cotton
Weigh out the fabric or yarn you wish to scour.
For 100 grams of fabric I use:
10 grams Soda Ash
3 grams Carbolic Soap
Add this to water and mix.
Add the yarn or fabric.
Bring to a boil and let it simmer +2 to 3 hours.

The water will become brown as the waxes and oils are released from the fabric.
Even a bleached white linen will give you water that looks murky.
Let the fabric cool and then remove it from the scouring soak.
Rinse the fabric thoroughly.

Scour Linen and Cotton
Scour Linen and Cotton

As the Soda Ash has a high pH, the fabric needs to be soaked in an acidic vinegar solution to return the pH back to neutral. Plant dyes are sensitive to different pH levels and this can affect the final colour, so changes in pH during the mordanting process must be neutralized before dyeing the fabric.

Mordant for Cotton and Linen
To mordant cellulose fibres I use Aluminium Acetate
To mordant 100 grams of fabric,
Mix 5 grams aluminium acetate into a bowl or plastic bucket of hot tap water.
Stir until dissolved.
Add the scoured and rinsed fabric or yarn.
Let this soak for + 1 hour.

The yarn or fabric can then be removed from the mordant solution and allowed to dry, or it is ready to use as is.

Where to purchase Aluminium Acetate (in UK)
Wild Colours
George Weil

More about Plant Dyed Yarns
Madder Root Dye Recipe
Brazilwood Dye Recipe
Eucalyptus Leaf Dye
Himalayan Rhubarb Dye

Paivatar – Plant Dyed Wool Yarns

Look for some of my plant dyed yarns at my PaivatarYarn Shop on Etsy.

Plant Dyed Wool Yarn
Plant Dyed Wool Yarn

Natural Dye Books

Indigo from Seed to Dye

Indigo: Dye It, Make It: Techniques from plain and dip-dyeing to tie-dyeing and batik, in natural indigo blue

Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes

Natural Dyes

The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use

Dyes and Mordants on Ebay

Alum - Potassium Aluminum Sulfate - Mordant - Potash Alum - 4 oz

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Fungi Dye: Phaeolus schweinitzii

Phaeolus schweinitzii – Mushroom Dyes
Karhunkaapa (FI)

Phaeolus schweinitzii – Yellow, gold

Phaeolus schweinitzii  Fungi dyed Yarn
Phaeolus schweinitzii Fungi dyed Yarn

Alum Mordant

3 litres water
25 grams alum
10 grams cream of Tartar
Bring to boil and then let cool
100 gram wool yarn tied in skeins
Rinse the clean washed yarn in cool water
Add the yarn into the cool mordant bath and bring it to 80-90 C degrees
Simmer for 1 hour
Remove and let cool

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Fungi Dye Bath

If using dried mushrooms soak them in water for a few hours until soft.
300 grams dried mushrooms
5 litres water
Bring to boil and simmer for 2-3 hours

Let dyebath cool
Strain the liquid and store the cooked mushrooms. They can be used again in an afterbath
Add mordanted yarn to strained dyebath liquid

Add mordanted yarn to dyebath
Return to heat and simmer for 1 hour at 80-90 degrees Celsius or longer for stronger colour.
Remove from heat source and let cool
Rinse in water that is of similar temperature as dyebath to avoid shocking the yarn and causing felting to occur.

How to Make an Alum Mordant
How to Scour and Mordant Cotton and Linen

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Mushroom Dyeing
A New England and Eastern Canada Edible and Medicinal Mushroom Resource
Mosswalks Blogspot
Basket dyed with Phaeolus schweinitzii “dyers polypore”
California Fungi: Phaeolus schweinitzii
Root Diseases: Chweinitzii Butt Rot
This fungus is considered to be a tree disease in British Columbia
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Natural dyes: blnatdye

Aluminum Potasium Sulfate
used as a mordant in natural dyeing

Alum Mordant

A natural dye substance that gives reds, purples, and pinks and corals.. Brazilwood can be obtained from several trees: Haematoxylum brasiletta, Caesalpinia sappan, C. echinata

Brazilwood Dye

Haematoxylum campechianum
Logwood comes from a tree native to the West Indies and the Yucatan Peninsula. The heartwood yields a dye that gives pinks, blues, purples and greens depending on the mordants.

Logwood Dye

Osage Orange
Maclura pomifera
Osage Orange comes from a tree native to Arkansas and Texas. Its wood makes a clear lemon yellow dye.

Osage Orange Dye

Red Sandalwood
Pterocarpus antalinus
Red Sandalwood comes for a tree native to India and Indonesia. The dyesubstance is from the heartwood and yields oranges, browns and auburn shades of colour.

Red Sandalwood Dye
Tara Powder
Caesaipina Spinosa
– used as a mordant in natural dyeing of cottons and linens

Cotton Linen Mordant

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How to Make an Alum Mordant: how_alum_mordant

Natural dyeing is usually a 2 step process. The yarn or fibre must be soaked in a mordant,
that prepares the fibre to absorb the natural dye substance.

Alum Mordant
Alum Mordant

Difficulty Level:


Time Required:

90 minutes

Here’s How:

  1. Use clean, scoured wool or yarn.
  2. Fill a large pot with clean water and heat.
  3. Weigh the yarn or clean, dry fleece.
  4. Using 10% Alum (potassium aluminum sulfate) to weight of fibre, mix the Alum into the hot
  5. Using 5% Tartaric Acid to weight of fibre, add the Tartaric acid to the hot water
  6. Rinse the wool so that it is damp.
  7. Add the wool or skeins of yarn into the hot Alum mixture.
  8. Make sure that the wool is all covered by the water, if not, add more water to the
  9. Simmer the mordant mixture for x-about an hour at 90 degrees Celsius.
  10. Remove the yarns from the Alum mixture.
  11. Don’t discard the leftover Alum mordant. The Alum mixture can be reused by adding more water and 1/2 the amount of Alum and Tartaric


  1. If dyeing skeins of yarn, make sure that the skeins are tied securely, but loosely in at
    least 3 places, to avoid tangling.
  2. The mordanted yarns can be dyed immediately, or dried and stored for later natural
  3. The alum/tartaric acid mixture is suitable for wools, silks and other protein

How To Mordant Cotton and Linen
How To Make a Tin Mordant
How To Wash Fleece
Natural Dyes and Mordant Recipes
MSDS – Aluminum Potassium Sulfate

Where to Buy Alum Mordant

Dyeing Crafts
Wild Colours
Maiwa Handprints

Natural Dye Books

Natural Color: Vibrant Plant Dye Projects for Your Home and Wardrobe
Wild Color, Revised and Updated Edition: The Complete Guide to Making and Using Natural Dyes
Eco Colour: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles
The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing: Traditional Recipes for Modern Use

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Beginner Natural Dyeing: aa010498

Whenever you use dyes, there is always a health risk involved. Some dyes and mordants are poisonous, so use them with caution.

  • Never use the same pots and utensils for dyeing that you use for cooking.
  • Wear rubber gloves and use a face mask when measuring mordants and dyes.
  • Work in a well ventilated area, preferably not your kitchen.
  • Dispose of used mordants and dyebaths safely.

In the summer months, I do my dyeing outside. During the winter, I have a table set up in the laundry room. The occasional sock gets dyed an unusual colour sometimes, but that is better, I think, than making my family ill. Using natural dyes is not difficult, but takes some preparation. Any fiber that you dye must be clean, or you will be dyeing the wool grease and not the fiber. So scour it well, in hot, soapy water. And rinse out the yarn. With most natural dyes, it requires a 2 step process. The mordanting of the yarn and then the application of the dye. Many of the natural dyes also need some time to soak (overnight). I usually do this over a 2 day period. I mordant the yarns on the first day, prepare the dye solutions and then dye on the second day.

Natural dyes usually require the fiber to be soaked in a pre-mordant bath. The mordant prepares the fiber to receive the dyestuff, deepening, or changing the colour and making it more colourfast. I used about 1 lb. of yarn, winding off sample skeins, each approx. 10 yards in length. The day before I planned to dye, I pre-mordanted the yarn samples.

For this project, I am using 2 different mordants, to see what range of colours I will get.

Alum/Tartaric Acid Mordant

  • Use 10% Alum to weight of fiber
  • Use 5% Tartaric Acid to weight of fiber

Weigh fiber and weigh out required mordants. Add mordants to a dyepot filled with hot water. Dissolve and add clean, wet yarn samples. Simmer for about an hour at 90 degrees Celsius. Remove the yarn and rinse well.
Tin Mordant

  • Use .5% to weight of fiber

Weigh your fiber and the required amount of mordant. Dissolve the tin mordant in the hot dyebath of water. Add clean, wet yarn samples. Simmer for 1 hour. Remove the yarn and rinse well.
To save time, you can make larger baths of mordants and pre-mordant larger amounts of yarn, labelling them appropriately, so that they are ready when you want to do some dyeing.

Dyeing with Brazilwood and Osage Orange

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Natural Dyes: dyesnatural

Natural Plant dyes and recipes.

Alum Mordant
How to make an alum mordant for dyeing wool yarns.

A recipe for dyeing with Cochineal.

Dye Plants
Birch, Delphiniums, avocado, cabbage and other dye plants.

Easter Egg Dye Project
Dye some eggs and wool this Easter with natural dyes you can find in your kitchen.

Indigo – Saxon Blue
Directions for dyeing with Saxon Blue, a pre-mixed Indigo solution.

Mordant for Linen
How to make a mordant for linen and cotton yarns.

felt050.jpg, 11601 bytes

Blue Skirts Golden Belts
Viking Age textiles in Finland may have used mushroom dyes for vivid colour.

Mushroom Dyes
Recipes and instructions for dyeing yarn with mushrooms

Natural Dyes and Mordants
Using Alum and Tin mordants for dyeing wool yarn.

Natural Dye Plants
Recipes and information about using commonly found vegetable dye plants.

Print Making and Stenciling
A printmaking workshop using natural dyes in Finland.

Tin Mordant
How to make a mordant for linen and cotton yarns.

Using Natural Dyes
Dyeing wool with Brazilwood, Indigo and Osage Orange.

Lichens and Dyes
Lichens have been used as a food source, medicine and a dyestuff for centuries.

Mineral Dyes

Rhubarb Root Dye
A recipe for dyeing with rhubarb roots to make yellow, orange or red shades.

Brazilwood Dye
How to Dye shades of pinks with Brazilwood.

Cochineal Dye
Dye pinks and reds with Cochineal

Plant Dyes
An assortment of plants that produce colour.

Natural Dyes and Mordants
A table of some natural dyes, mordants and recipes.

Urine, Fleece and Natural Dyes
Did you know that urine has been used as a mordant for natural dyes?

Dye History from 2600 BC to the 20th Century
An impressive historical list of dyeing through the ages.

Dyeing with Mushrooms
Hjordis Katarina Lundmark shows her wonderful work with mushroom dyeing. Much of the site is in Swedish, but do follow the links for some colourful examples of mushroom dyes.

Dyes and Dating Caucasian Weavings
An article by Steven Price, describing how dyes help determine when a rug was woven.

Earthguild carries a wide assortment of dyes: Natural, Lanaset, Procion, Deka, Cushing and more.

Rust with dried Henna leaves and tin mordant, from the Mannam Carpet site.

Hill Creek Fiber Studio
Carol Leigh carries a wide range of natural dye products.

How Dyes are Classified – Natural Dyes
Although this is a site for the medical technologist, there is an interesting article about classifying natural dye substances.

How to Dye Cloth
From the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, a lesson plan on dyeing, covering topics of history of dyes, natural and synthetic dyes, textile printing and tie-dyeing..

Carol Todd describes growing indigo and her dye procedure for dark shades of blue.

Japanese Indigo
Where to find Japanese Indigo seeds and how to grow them.

Kathryn of the Hills Dye Book
Some interesting natural dye recipes: pokeberry dye, bark, 19th Century cheap dyes, and instructions for using mordants.

La Lana Wools
La Lana Wools offers handspun yarns, natural dyes and a custom-dyeing service.

Carol Todd grows her own madder root for deep red colours.

Mannam Carpet Vegetable Dyes
Vegetable dyes: Alkanet, henna, indigo, madder, pomegranate, turmeric, walnut.

Marbeling – An Ancient Craft Reborn
Marbling dates back to 12th Century Japan. Rooftop Clothing gives a brief history on the technique, as well as examples of what can be done.

Medieval Gardens
In medieval times, plants were used for food, medicine and dyes. La Belle Compagnie lists many herbs and plants, along with a table of usage.

Natural Dye Research in the South Central Andes
Vickie Cassman did a fascinating research project on dyestuffs of the Andes.

Natural Dyes and Medicine
Rosemary Jacobs explains the connection between vegetable dyes and the pharmaceutical industry.

Natural Dyeing with Oxalis Flowers
Janis Saunders uses Oxalis flowers to dye cotton from a neighbours garden.

Pagan and Lyoness’ Dye Page
Indigo, prickly pear, blackberry, lichen and other dye baths and vats.

Queen Ann’s Lace
The Hollow Tree Spinners dye with Queen Ann’s Lace flowers.

Red with Madder
Mannam Carpet’s recipe for madder dye.

Rivendell’s Botany Page
This site describes the history of natural dyes and contains a chart of some natural dye substances and dye instructions.

Rosemary leaves and trimmings will dye to greens and yellows with Carol Todd’s recipe.

Rug Dyes
Jacobsen Oriental Rugs provides information on natural and synthetic dyes used in Turkish and Balouch rugs.

Sunflower Seeds
Dried Hopi Sunflower seeds and hulls dye to shades of mauves and browns. Recipe by Carol Todd.

Time Line of Major Dye Chemicals and Their Natural Sources
From this un-official SCA site, information on historical dyes.

Traditional Dyes in Guinea
The Quebec Centre for Textile Technology assisted Guinean scientists to develop a better way to extract natural indigo.

Unlocking Nature’s Color Magic
Phyllis Rossiter Modeland tells how the procurement of exotic dyestuffs led to the establishment of trade routes, influenced political policy and the course of history.

Vegetable Dyes – Multifold Advantages
Althought the terrain of Nepal yields over 180 dye-bearing plants, natural dyes are being replaced by chemical dyes, resulting in environmental, social and cultural impacts.

Black walnut leaves and husks give deep browns. Recipe by Carol Todd.

The Woad Page
From the Rowan’s Craftbook, growing, processing and dyeing with woad.

Yellow with Safflower
Mannam Carpets’ recipe for dyeing with safflower.

Yuzen Dye Process
Tsutomu Nishino describes the Yuzen dye process that goes into making a kimono.

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