Beet Dyeing Results

So, I've been a busy lately and should have lots of things to blog about--but haven't been taking the time to share. But one I promised folks I would share was the results of my experiments with beet dyeing.

When I first started working with natural dyes, especially ones from common kitchen items, lots of people said "what about beets?" After all, they stain our hands and often our clothes when we're cooking, right? So I did a lot of reading, and everything said that beets only "stain" wool, they don't make a lightfast/washfast dye. And that the only colour you'd be likely to get from them was a dull gray. So I opted not to try beets.

Then, several months ago, someone on Ravelry reported that she had dyed with beets and had success! And a few others started to chime in. Initially, they were all from people who had used superwash yarn, so we speculated that that was the reason. But then others reported that they'd had luck with untreated wool. The one thing they all had in common? They had used acid (mostly vinegar) to set the colour. Most natural dyers use alum to set the colour, or other metallic mordants. It seemed that many of the "experts" hadn't thought to try vinegar, probably in the belief that it wouldn't make the colour "fast."

Well, by late September and early October we were starting to get beets regularly from our CSA, and we had more than I was likely to eat, so I decided to put some to use in an experiment.

I washed and chopped my beets. Some of the reports had used peeled beets and others hadn't, so I decided to just make my life simple and not bother peeling. I then put them in a large pot with enough water to cover and boiled for quite a while, trying to get as much of the colour out as possible. I added a few glugs of vinegar.

Meanwhile, I soaked some yarns in the usual citric acid solution that I use when working with acid dyes. When the beet bath seemed to not be getting any darker, I let it cool down and then strained out the beets. I then added some of the soaked yarns to the pot (I think I might have started with one, just in case it was a disaster), brought it back up to heat (a bit below a boil) and cooked for maybe 20 minutes?

While in the liquid, it looked like a pretty brilliant red-pink, which was pretty exciting. (I could swear I took a picture at this stage, but I can't find it. It may have been mostly steam, so perhaps I deleted it?) I did notice that when I pulled the yarn out of the pot the colour was a bit more subdued, so I knew better than to hope this brilliant colour would translate to the finished product.

Finally, the yarn cooled off enough that I could rinse it. And sure enough, the colour wasn't that intense red-pink, but it wasn't gray, either:

You'll notice there are 3 different shades there, on 3 different yarn bases. Each one took the colour a bit differently, as they do with everything. The most intense colour was on the Huron superwash merino:

Followed by the Algonquin Superwash Merino/Silk:

And finally, more subdued, the Rockland untreated merino laceweight:

I washed each yarn a few times to make sure I wasn't losing colour. There was some rinse off in the initial wash, which is to be expected, but after that the colour held up to washing. So then I covered half of each skein up and place them in direct sunlight for 2 days. When I uncovered them, there was no fading from the uncovered part to the covered part. So I think it might be safe to pronounce these wash and light fast--and therefore, the beets acted as a dye, not just a stain!

Like what you see here? Well, I'll be listing them in the ArtFire shop soon, so be sure to check it out. :-)


Unknown said…
Very interesting post, thank-you for sharing. I really like the colours you got, they have that natural quality that is almost impossible to duplicate with acid dyes. (In my opinion only of course.)