August 20, 2013

Gathering wool

well, no, even if it seems to suit my frame of mind. Dyeing wool is more to the point.
My last trip to Finland was a good one, even if it had a hard start (I’ve posted about this nightmare trip here). I set this date so soon after the FQR in London because I was invited by my friend Åsa to participate in her yearly wool dyeing party. I've wanted to join for years, but this time I finally had the opportunity.

At home I packed my wool and some red onion peels I'd gathered these last years.
The plan was to dye the wool with natural colors, made from plants, mushrooms or algae.
The girls have been doing this for eight years now and know a lot about the right time to gather what they need, the amounts and generally everything there is to know about dyeing. I, of course, don’t know the first thing about anything.

I brought 900 gr wool, for the most part natural white one, but I had some grey and tan colored as well in my bag. The first thing I had to do was to make a skein out of my wool, 50 gr in each skein with a little help of this handy niddy noddy (dt. Kreuzhaspel, sv. knäpphärrel, fi. viipsinpuu).

Then I put in some threads to keep the wool from getting entangled during the dyeing procedure. I put in three short ones for this purpose. Then each mesh gets a long thread with a nametag and all data, like name, wool, color and dye.

Åsa is checking out my wool
We headed out on a Friday evening to Åsa’s summerhouse some 300 km north from Helsinki. But before we were ready to go we had to pack a lot of stuff with us. Not only food and clothes, no, we took wood for the fires, some bricks, kettles and lots of material for the dyeing and the wool of course. 

The girls had collected all sorts of stuff during the year and sometimes made a brew out of it. For dyeing you have to observe, not only that you gather the right things, no you have to observe the right times as well. 

These brews were frozen and ready to use after defrosting. You can see them in the bottles in the car. An impressive amount of stuff. Then of course we had to collect the other ladies as well. We were 9 altogether, in different stages of life. 

We arrived around eleven o'clock pm at the house and it was still light enough to carry a lot of the stuff from the car down to the sauna by the lake.

The next morning we got most things gathered around the sauna and Karola started building the fireplaces. She used bricks for this and the wood we’d brought with us. She got four kettles boiling and added the brews. 

To make a brew you need a lot of the plant you’re using and you need to cook it for one hour. The idea is to first make the brew and then to let it cool down to 30-40° C. At this point you wet your wool and put it into the kettle together with 10 gr alum for each 100 gr of wool. We let the wool hang from a cane. 

Wetting the wool in clear, cold water

Then you slowly increase the heat to 80° C. After this point you take time and let the brew at 80° C for one hour. After that you take the kettle from the fire and let the wool cool down in the brew.
When it’s cooled you rinse it 5 times in clear water. We didn’t do it quite like this, because we rinsed in the sea. Before the rinse the wool had a quick dip in water with some vinegar.
Rinsing the wool after the dyeing

We hung the wool on a laundry line to dry.

All in all it is time-consuming, but fun work. We were at it for three days. We got a lot of different dyes and every time you had to go through the more or less same procedure. Deciding what to use, getting the fires going, gathering wood and water, preparing the wool, keeping the fires going, rinsing the wool and hanging it up to drydrip.

Of course we didn’t only keep the fires burning, watching out the brews didn’t get too hot. We had time to talk, to laugh, to take a swim in the lake, chill and play games. Pretty relaxing and for me it was a holiday.

Exhausting work
Elsa collecting blueberries
Karola and Åsa taking their booty down from the laundry line.

And my wool? I had 900 gr to begin with, but got another 100 gr from Karola (Thank you ever so much Karola!), so I had 1000 gr with me back home.

For my wool we used the following dyes: meadowsweet, alder, oregano, horsetail, rowan, St John’s wood, bladder wrack, creeping wood sorrel, goutweed, lady’s mantle, velvet roll-rim, reed, cinnamon webcap, lily of the valley (with some yellow onion), alder buckthorn and chokeberry.

What am I going to do with it? No idea what so ever... 

Tack så mycket kära vänner för tre helt underbara dagar; vi ses igen nästa år!


  1. This is an amazing post! You make me want to join in! And the colours are fantastic! Yummy!

  2. Incredible process, May! Looks like a lot of work, but fun too.

  3. These colours are just so beautiful! And how satisfying to know you've done it all, and used natural 'ingredients.' I love it; I'm sure you'll come up with something wonderful to do with it. :^)

  4. interesting process, thanks for sharing.

  5. What a wonderful time you had May, and some gorgeous wool at the end of it, sounds like the perfect break.

  6. Voi miten ihania värejä. Mitähän tuosta kaikesta langan määrästä syntyykään!

  7. oh gosh, what a fantastic experience!!!!!

  8. sounds like a great few days away, some of the colours you produced are beautiful.

  9. Wow in so many ways! Being together with other women, working with natural products, producing something so beautiful in such a place. This must have been a wonderful experience :)