Dyeing wool - creative upcycling.

Creative upcycling - how to transform your not-so-perfect vintage finds.

Natural, undyed wool cardigan. Vintage Revivals, 9€

Winter was coming and I found myself without appropriate attire. “How come?!” you ask, “You're Polish!” you say. True, memories of cold winters in Poland were still in my head but I was spoilt with high temperatures in the UK for the past 6 years. I decided that I needed wool in my life, but I knew it wasn't going to be a new piece of clothing, as it's more sustainable to buy vintage. Having lived in Berlin for 6 months, I had enough time to had a good look around for second hand stores. I even ended up living 10 minutes walk from my favourite one, a contemporary vintage store – Vintage Revivals. The atmosphere is fantastic - great music, vintage lovers of all ages and rails of second hand clothing. It's an experience.

The first time I ever went I was greeted by a sign “30% off knitwear” so the timing couldn't be better. A few minutes later I found a cardigan, made of 100% wool in natural creamy shade. It had 2 loose ties at the neck line, which I wasn't a huge fan of. And I didn't really like the natural creamy colour, not the best companion for my fair skin. But I knew I could easily dye it so that was it, 12.99€ minus 30%, 9.10€ and I'm off home happy and excited to transform it into my dream winter cardigan.

Firstly, I tried it on a few times, to make sure that I definitely wanted to dye it. When it comes to natural dyes, yes they can fade away, but they might never fade away completely - especially when you use iron to alter the colour. So once I dye it, that's it. I decided on light grey.

To dye wool grey you can use tea and iron solution. What you'll need:

  • Black tea (loose or 3-4 bags)

  • Iron solution (you can make your own by soaking rusty nails in vinegar and water solution)

  • Soy milk for mordanting

  • A large bucket.

  • Gloves.

  • Spoon and tongs.

Step 1. Soak wool in water, for several hours or longer to make sure that all fibres are wet.

Step 2. Soak wool in 1l of soy milk and fill the rest of the bucket with water. Leave it in a cool place for at least 48 hours. If you're dyeing in summer, make sure the milk doesn't go bad when it's too hot.

Step 3. Rinse wool in cool water and leave to soak while you're preparing your dye bath.

Step 4. Prepare your dye bath by brewing 2-3 bags of tea for a few hours. Leave it to cool and transfer to a bucket, add water if needed.

Step 5. Add a tiny bit of iron solution to the bucket. Keep checking how the colour changes, it happens so fast! You really have to keep an eye on it to make sure you don't go too dark. When you achieved the desired shade, you are ready to dye!

Step 6. Submerge your wool in the dye bath. Make sure you use gloves as the iron can stain your fingers. Stir the wool in the dye bath, move it around to make sure it's all covered and dyeing evenly.

Step 7. Move the wool around every few hours, keep in the dye bath as long as you need to achieve the right shade. Remember that the wet result is always a few shaded darker than once it's dry!

Step 8. Rinse until the water is clean. Dry away from direct sunlight. You can also use an eco softener to make sure it's nice and soft.

That's it! It's so easy, isn't it? Look at the difference, it looks like brand new, and definitely worth more than 9€. One more thing I did – I attached loose ties to the sides of the cardigan. I have sewn those by hand, using a hidden stitch. Would you even be able to tell that it wasn't like this from the beginning?

I used organic thread in light grey and the "hidden stitch" technique to attach the ties to sides of the cardigan.

I hope this shows you how easily you can transform a second hand item. As long as it is made of a natural fibre (cotton, linen, wool, silk) and is a natural shade or a light colour, you can dye it using eco methods.

If you decide to dye something yourself, get in touch and I can give you more tips or explain how to achieve different colours!

Just so you know...

I don't support mohair wool or silk industry, as they are very cruel to the animals. This cardigan is made of mohair wool, but have been produced years and years ago (the tag was very yellow and I couldn't find any information about the brand). I would never buy a brand new mohair cardigan or silk clothing, but I have purchased second hand items made of those materials. I do not want to be responsible for creating a demand for cruel fashion industries, that's why I allow myself to shop vintage if I need something "new".



Do you have any questions regarding naturally dyeing your own clothes? Get in touch!