Sunday, February 5, 2012

Corn Husk Yarn Dye

Last summer I grew some Indian corn that was the most gorgeous colors of red, purple and yellow. Do you remember the pretty Corn Dolly I made from it? I saved a bunch of the husks and cobs to experiment with hand dyeing some wool, after reading a blog by GingerbreadSnowflakes . I love making things with natural materials, but I hate brown; so it's always a challenge to see what I will get. There are a couple of things I might try differently next year, because I did end up with brown, albeit a reddish brown. First I simmered the wool in Dharma's Professional Textile Detergent which is a non-toxic, less expensive Synthrapol substitute, to clean it. I used dried, then simmered pomegranate peels for my mordant. They were actually TOO acidic, as I was shooting for a pH of 4, so I adjusted back and forth with washing soda, alkaline; and vinegar, acidic to get the pH where I wanted it. It was a good mordant, but the wool picked up some yellow-brown from the pomegranate that might not have gotten the final color where I wanted it. I used the pH strips for dying from Earth Hues , which is here in Seattle. Most places that carry pH strips don't measure the full spectrum of pH. I tried getting strips from a fish store and then Lowe's, but they were geared to specific uses, and didn't go down to pH 4. Earth Hues also ships their products.

The next issue I had was that I've been using a slow cooker to simmer my dyes, and previously I had it sitting outside where I think the cool air kept it from actually boiling, and I'm afraid the heat got too high and may have browned out the color. So, I will have to work on keeping the temperature a little lower and see what happens.

I simmered the corn husks to extract the color; strained, and simmered the wool yarn in it for about an hour and then let it sit cool overnight before rinsing.

This is the color of the yarn after dyeing, it's a little browner than it looks in this photo:

With this project, I didn't want to resort to over-dyeing with food coloring from the supermarket to  make the color nicer, so I looked around at what else I had in the kitchen. I was making a borscht, so I simmered about a cup of the beet peelings in filtered water, and strained. I use filtered water so that I'm not wondering whether the chemicals and contaminants in tap water might be affecting the color. Everything I read online said that beets wouldn't add much coloring as a dye, so I wasn't too optimistic, but tried it anyway, with about 1/4 cup of vinegar. Again, I boiled for about an hour, and then let it sit overnight before rinsing. I'm using super-wash wool, so I don't have a problem with it felting. It added quite a bit more red, as you can see in the photo below. Of course with natural dyes, it remains to be seen with washing, time and light whether the color will fade or brown out, but I was pleased with the finished yarn.

I would love to see the process and results of your experiments with natural dyes! Let me see what's worked for you.


  1. "First of all, thank you for linking to my little unplanned experiment!

    I am so disappointed that your yarn turned out to be brown as mine really is a lovely mauve - very close to the color yarn we see in those ubiquitous in the 50's needlepoint backgrounds!

    I did only use very dark deep purple husks. But that is pretty much the only thing i can tell where there was much difference.

    I am still hoping to get a darker richer purple and have plans to try a more concentrated bath.

    FYI - it has been a year and a half since I dyed my yarn and i have since knitted it into a cowl. So far - the color is holding up beautifully.

    Now! A link to that corn dollie post PLEASE!"

    Again, thank you for your sweet note letting me know about your post! AND for linking!:-)

    Pam Harris

  2. Here's the link to the Corn Dolly blog; she was made completely from the corn: