How to Make Mordants for Natural Dyes

Use these recipes to make mordants for natural dyes.

| June 26, 2013

  • Harvesting Color, Natural Dyes
    Make beautiful natural dyes from plants with the help of “Harvesting Color.”
    Cover Courtesy Artisan Books
  • Mordanted
    Mordanted fibers can be left to sit for an indefinite period of time before they enter the dye vat.
    Photo By Paige Green
  • Natural Mordant
    Most dyes will not hold color over time with a natural mordant with vinegar; the exception to that rule is pokeberry, which requires a vinegar mordant.
    Photo By Paige Green
  • Natural Shades, Natural Dyeing
    I find the best color results occur from letting the fibers sit for a week after coming out of the mordant bath before being dyed.
    Photo By Paige Green
  • Tannins
    If you live among oak trees, it’s easy to make your own tannin solution — the base ingredient is acorns.
    Photo By Paige Green

  • Harvesting Color, Natural Dyes
  • Mordanted
  • Natural Mordant
  • Natural Shades, Natural Dyeing
  • Tannins

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 to make mordants for natural dyes.

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

Preparing Mordants For Natural Dyes

Mordanting your fibers before they enter the dye vat is also known as premordanting — this process can be done immediately before dyeing the yarns, or mordanted fibers can be left to sit for an indefinite period of time before they enter the dye vat. I find the best color results occur from letting the fibers sit for a week after coming out of the mordant bath before being dyed.

Mordant Recipe for Protein Fibers

This mordant recipe is useful for incorporating both powdered alum and iron. Most recipes in this book call for alum. However, several recipes, including fennel, sheep sorrel, and French broom, recommend using iron to prepare your fibers before dyeing, because it has a tendency to create deep green colors from dye baths that might otherwise yield yellow. Powdered iron or ferrous sulfate can be purchased from dye supply stores. Another option for iron is to make a solution from rusty objects (see Rusty Object Solution).



1. Weigh the material to be dyed. Measure out your mordant by calculating 10 percent of the material weight (for instance, to dye 10 ounces of raw wool, you’ll need 1 ounce of mordant).

2. Fill a stainless steel or enamel vessel with water and place over high heat. Bring to a boil. Add powdered mordant and dissolve thoroughly.

Lori Kempen
12/5/2013 12:52:32 AM

Hi, I have a rather urgent question--I'm dyeing some wool for our homeschool co-op tomorrow, and tonight as I was going through your blog, I couldn't figure out if I'm supposed to boil the wool in the acorn tannin water, or if I just soak it? And for how long? If you get this, it would be great to know by early tomorrow. Thank you.


Lori Kempen
12/5/2013 12:52:29 AM

Hi, I have a rather urgent question--I'm dyeing some wool for our homeschool co-op tomorrow, and tonight as I was going through your blog, I couldn't figure out if I'm supposed to boil the wool in the acorn tannin water, or if I just soak it? And for how long? If you get this, it would be great to know by early tomorrow. Thank you.







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