Enhance Dye Colors With Afterbaths

You can make dye colors better by using an afterbath soon after dyeing.

| June 26, 2013

Harvesting Color

Make beautiful natural dyes from plants with the help of “Harvesting Color.”

Cover Courtesy Artisan Books

Harvesting Color (Artisan Books, 2011) is the essential guide to natural dyeing and creating gorgeous color from plants. Author and master dyer Rebecca Burgess presents over thirty plants which yield stunning natural shades and illustrates just how easy the dyes are to make. In this excerpt taken from part one, “Getting Started,” see how using an afterbath can give you a larger variety of dye colors.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Harvesting Color.


Afterbaths are useful for expanding the range of dye colors from one dye vat. Yarns can be immersed in afterbaths directly, or soon after they are removed from the dye pot. Preparing the baths is simple, and the results are immediate.


Iron afterbaths are known to deepen or “dull” dye colors. In the case of staghorn sumac, the color shifts altogether, from chestnut brown to a deep charcoal.

Choose a bowl or pot large enough for your fibers to move freely around the vat. Fill your vessel with the iron solution (add extra water if needed so the fibers can move about freely). Heat the iron solution until it’s just beginning to steam a little (140–160°F). Add the dyed fibers and let sit in the afterbath for approximately 10 minutes. Remove and gently rinse your fibers in warm water after letting them cool for several minutes. Hang fibers to dry after rinsing.

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