First and foremost I would like to disclose that I am, in no way, an expert on dyeing fibre. In fact I am a complete novice and have only really ever experimented. For this reason I thought it would be nice to tell you how easy it is to have some fun and try dyeing yourself.
When I first started to needle felt the only fibre I could get, in bucket loads, was “Old Mate Stanley’s” fine Merino fleeces. At the time I had no idea about fibre at all. I was trying to create sculptures with this abundant supply and realised fairly quickly that his fleece was in no way classed as a core wool!
I had also stretched my imagination way to thin on white sculptures and was desperate for some colour. So I decided to dye one entire fleece to see what I could come up with. All I had at my disposal at the time was an old unused stash of food colouring.
Because I wasn’t up for too much fussing I literally made up pots of different colours on my stove and chucked in lumps of unwashed fleece and let them do their thing. I experimented with adding some vinegar and this did make the colour deeper but I loved the variations of tones.
Then once I had dyed one or two batches I mixed the dye lots to get new colours and kept doing this until I had some muddy brownish and greyish tones that have become amazing for creating shadows. Because these muddy colours are created with the same colours they have the same tonal qualities.
I also tried some lichen dyeing as one of my trees fell down and I sat and collected it from the branches. This was a lot of work and we must remember not to harvest too much lichen from living trees as it is an integral and unique part of our environment.
This lichen dye was so labour intensive and special that I have not repeated it again in my years but the one thing I loved the most is the smell. Lichen has the sweetest and prettiest fragrance. This lichen dye was a beautiful earthy orange and is the fibre I used exclusively on my giraffe sculpture for the Jane Goodall Institute. She smelled beautiful and it was always lovely to open her box and have that smell waft luxuriously into ones nostrils.
Other Dye Ideas
There are a lot of things around the house that can become potential dyes. Especially if you are trying to achieve some natural creature colours. Things like tea, coffee, avocado skins and seeds, rusty nails, eucalyptus leaves and so much more. Chances are if it stains your clothes it will probably dye your wool. Even if you are dyeing over an existing colour just to get the best variation and shadow tones just give it a go and have some fun, it doesn’t have to be complicated.