Early Experiments with Madder

 Left: Sustainable Merino, Right: Superwash Polwarth

Left: Sustainable Merino, Right: Superwash Polwarth

 Swatching for Carl's Cardigan on Eco Merino dyed with Madder 

Swatching for Carl's Cardigan on Eco Merino dyed with Madder 

 Playing with techniques. Left: Twist Dyeing Madder + Black Tea, Right: Dip Dyeing Madder

Playing with techniques. Left: Twist Dyeing Madder + Black Tea, Right: Dip Dyeing Madder

 Carl's Cardigan made from Eco Merino Dyed with Madder

Carl's Cardigan made from Eco Merino Dyed with Madder

I began experimenting with madder last year during the tail end of August, and as it turned out, it was the perfect color to work with as the weather began transitioning from summer to fall. I was very eager to dye with madder at the time because I’d seen such beautiful results from other natural dyers, so I bought a pound of dried madder root from Mountain Rose Herbs, which is a local Oregon company that sells loads of organic herbs, essential oils, teas, and other useful things.

Once the madder arrived in the mail, I went ahead and made up a dye bath in my usual way. I filled an aluminum pot half full of water, chucked in a handful of the plant material without weighing, and turned the heat on the lowest setting. I kept the stove on for several hours each day for the next day or two, turning it off whenever we slept or left the house. Once the bath seemed ready, I went ahead and added my wool and a little powdered alum to the pot because a quick scan of the internet told me that madder is an adjective dye that requires a mordant. I also read that the resulting colors would turn out richer if the plant material was left in the bath rather than strained out.

The colors that came out of that dye pot were incredible. I used a variety of different fibers, from organic merino to superwash polwarth, and I was also able to experiment with different techniques. My one regret is that I only used the same bath twice more rather than continuing to dye from it until the color was completely exhausted. As I’ve continued dyeing and learning about this process, I find myself more and more hesitant to waste color, even if there's just a little left.

 Carl's Cardigan | Eco Merino Wool | Dyed with Madder Root 

Carl's Cardigan | Eco Merino Wool | Dyed with Madder Root 

Happily, I had the foresight to dye a sweater’s quantity of organic merino rather than my usual two skeins, so I was prepared with the perfect yarn when I found the fall cardigan pattern I wanted to knit for my daughter. I can’t tell you how much of a pleasure the whole project was to make, from start to finish. I would 100% dye and knit with this yarn again, and there will be many, many more experiments with madder in my future.