Saddening with Iron

It seems appropriate on a driech day like today to post about ‘saddening’—using iron to darken and mute the colours of naturally-dyed wool. ‘To sadden’ really is the best verb for it.

Because iron can damage fibres, it’s best to only use a very small amount in proportion to the fibres, such as 2% weight of goods. I don’t have a particularly accurate scales, so in order to weigh out the right amount iron I need to have a substantial amount of wool to experiment on—and it might as well be as many colours as possible!


The difficult bit is making sure all the skeins of yarn and hanks of fleece are properly labelled so I can identify what was what afterwards—which I did with the numbers of knots tied into scrap yarn attached to the skeins.


The saddening itself is a pretty simple process—iron powder dissolved in hot water, added to lukewarm water then heated to about 70 deg C. The pre-soaked dyed wool is added then left for about half an hour. This time round I wasn’t satisfied that the colours had changed enough, so I added a bit more iron, seeing as the wool was for experimental purposes I didn’t mind if the fibres were weakened. Then the dyebath smelled of a familiar yet discomforting smell—blood! This added to the witchy sense of the magical transformation of the colours.

From left to right: indigo 1st, indigo 2nd, indigo+safflower, safflower, oak, safflower 2nd, lichen (no mordant), pale madder+weld, madder exhaust, brazilwood exhaust, madder roots exhaust, madder exhaust, madder, cochineal+madder, cochineal, cochineal exhaust.




As you can see there’s quite a considerable difference in most of the colours, though not the indigo. As I’m more drawn towards bright colours, I expect that the only ones I’ll deliberately try to achieve in future is the purples gained from the reds and pinks of the cochineal.


However, looking at the saddened versions paired with the originals, I’ve come to appreciate the more subtle ochres, taupes and olive shades, and I they may come in useful for getting the right colours for needle-felted birds and beasts.


Cochineal exhaustDSC_0461



Safflower 2ndDSC_0483

Lichen (no mordant)DSC_0481

Madder roots exhaustDSC_0477

Brazilwood exhaustDSC_0478

Dried madder exhaustDSC_0479

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