Roving Reporter: Natural Dye for Handspun Speckles

For this natural dye project, Kate reveals how she added subtle speckles to her knitted socks by using a resist-dyeing technique on her handspun skein.

Kate Larson Apr 10, 2023 - 4 min read

Roving Reporter: Natural Dye for Handspun Speckles Primary Image

Tie it tight for flammegarn speckles. Photos by Kate Larson

Speckles, shibori, flammegarn—there are many ways to refer to a resist-dyeing technique that leaves undyed spots on a skein as it emerges from the dyepot. After making samples in Saxon blue, I decided to try it on handspun sock yarn. I grabbed a smallish skein of 3-ply Horned Dorset that languished in my studio awaiting a dyepot. Off we go!

3-ply Horned Dorset mordanted with alum at 10% WOG and cream of tartar at 5% WOG (Weight of goods=the dry weight of the skein)

I vacillated between dreams of bright blue socks with white spots, like those used in the Norwegian Troms Bunad, and blue socks with dyed speckles. For this natural dye project, what might be shorter socks (due to my slightly too small skein of lonely handspun), I decided dyed spots would be the cat’s pajamas. Here is how it went:

Logwood extract resulted in this light purple base color. I then tied the skein every 5 inches or so.

Left: After mordanting the skein with alum and cream of tartar, I gave it a dunk into a pot of logwood extract I was trying to exhaust. This created a light purple base color that I rinsed before going on to the next step.

Right: While the skein was still damp, I used 8/2 cotton to tightly tie the skein about every five inches. I wanted small spots of purple, so I tied narrow sections.

Next, I added the purple skein to a pot of Saxon blue; upon removing the ties, purple spots were revealed.

Left: The tied skein then went into the next pot: Saxon blue. The purple base color made the blue a more typical indigo shade than the teal that Saxon blue produces on its own.

Right: After I untied the cotton resists, my purple spots appeared!

Socks in progress. Subtle, purple speckles floating upon a sea of indigo—just what I wanted!

My fresh washed and dried skein was destined for Anne Merrow’s Up+Down Socks. I love this pattern! Top-down and toe-up versions of the very same sock are included. With seven different size options, I can pick just the right cast-on for a snug sock in my handspun yarn. I chose the toe-up version this time so that I could make the best use of my small skein.

For more sources on working with natural dyes, check out the following:

Kate Larson is the editor of Spin Off and spends as many hours as life allows in the barn with her beloved flock of Border Leicesters.

Originally published July 6, 2018; updated April 10, 2023.