Working With Natural Dyes - Essential Tools

Hi Everyone! Welcome to Part 3 of Working With Natural Dyes! I have a special treat today! I'm excited to introduce you all to Gina Levesque, owner of Across Generations. I met her in 2019 while at the Pacific International quilt show, she was set up in a neighboring booth. I was intrigued by her display of beautifully dyed fabrics and yarns. I chatted with her a bit and of course, picked up a few natural dyes to bring back and show you all!

Of course, I figured it would be amazing if she presented on this topic to you directly and she jumped at the opportunity! She will be with us today and then again in Part 4 with a practical hands-on tutorial. I'm excited for us all to soak up all the wisdom and information she has to share with us!


More about Gina... Artist Gina Levesque has been working in traditional fiber arts since a young girl. Gina works with natural dye stuffs, weaving, rug hooking, spinning, and traditional penny rug construction. Due to her love of the outdoors and training as a biologist, she finds the natural world to be the greatest influence on her work. She remains true to the roots of these traditional fiber arts by incorporating some recycled materials into her finished pieces. Many times she works with wool to create her one-of-a-kind pieces.

As an instructor, she has conducted classes, workshops, demonstrations, and given lectures on natural dyes at various locations throughout the country. She has taught classes in natural dyeing and shibori at numerous venues in places like Oklahoma, Indiana, Tennessee, and Kansas. 

Her fiber art business, Across Generations, provides supplies and beginning projects to those interested in rug hooking, penny rugs, and natural dyeing. Gina holds memberships in The Tulsa Rug Hooking Guild, The Tulsa Handweavers Guild, Murrell Home Fiber Arts Guild, and Natural Dyes International.


Special Offer, just for Sewing WIth Cinnamon members!

Gina has a wonderful supply of natural dyes and mordant in her Etsy shop, Across Generations. I encourage you to check it out and at a minimum, pick up the mordant needed to prepare the fabric and set the dye. 

Get 10% Off all the natural dyes at Across Generations using discount code: PIXIE


Working WIth Natural Dyes - Essential Tools 

Follow along in this video as Gina gives us an overview of all the essential tools for working with natural dyes. 


Natural dyes are attractive for many reasons (the shades available, the “natural” aesthetic, the “green” aesthetic, and so much more). Certain measures need to be taken into account for a successful dye experience.



The first rule of natural dyeing is to use equipment reserved for dyeing. Never dye with the same pans, spoons, and measuring cups that are used to prepare food. This rule is important for two reasons. Number one, mordants and dyes may contain chemicals that might leave a residue that could be ingested during subsequent meal preparation. And two, foods can leave residues of oils on pans that can be transferred to the material being dyed and result in an uneven dye process.


Dye pans will be your largest investment. Enamelware and stainless-steel pans are best. Neither of these surfaces react with dye components. 

Enamelware offers the advantage of a white interior that allowing the dyer to see the depth of dye. While difficult to find new pans of this construction, they often can be purchased at flea markets. When buying vintage pans, examine the interior to check that it is free of nicks. (The enamel covers a pan made from iron that can influence the dye bath. Nicks expose the dye bath to this iron base.) Small nicks or “chiggers” can be covered with a few applications of appliance paint to create a barrier between the iron and bath.

Stainless-steel pans should be of high quality, such as those found in restaurant supply stores are best due to their heavy gauge quality. These pans do not react with the dye bath nor do they chip like enamelware.


Water is the next most important component of any dye bath. Tap water may contain minerals or chemicals (such as calcium, iron, copper, and chlorine) that influence the color. Depending upon which dye you are working with, these additives may darken, brighten, or bleach your colors. Origins for these include rock, pipes, and types of water treatment. To avoid the undue influence of additives in my bath, unless I intentionally add them, I always use distilled water. Distilled water is produced in such a manner that all of these influencers are removed. 

Water from a rain barrel is also a good source. Even though it often percolates through leaves in the guttering, this too can be a bonus in the natural dye pot. Tree leaves contain tannins which are a natural mordant and can only help in your dye bath. (Mordants help dyes combine with the surface of the fiber increasing color and lightfastness.

Miscellaneous Equipment

Other pieces of equipment that may be useful include: glass measuring cups, wooden spoons, strainers, and candy thermometers. Again, it is important that these be used only with dyeing and not food preparation. It is also important that the materials each are made from are non-reactive in the dye bath. Non-reactive materials include wood, glass, and plastic. Most of these items can be purchased inexpensively at discount stores.

Candy thermometers are important to monitor dye bath temperature. Some dyes require specific temperatures. Madder is one of these, where 160°F is ideal. Cochineal likes temperatures closer to 200°F. The ideal temperature to dye wool is 170°F and cotton 200°F. And so on and so forth.

Stainless steel or plastic measuring spoons are useful when measuring dry dyes. Whisks are also useful to mix these dyes prior to adding them to the dye bath.

Wooden spoons allow you to move the material being dyed around in the dye pot to create a more uniform color across its surface.

Glass measuring cups are a must. They can be found in one and two cup sizes. Shot glass measurer's come in 2 and 10 Tablespoon variations.

Tongs are useful to remove hot items from the dye bath.  

When using raw dyes, such as flowers and wood chips, cheesecloth and twine are essential to prepare your dye bath. Wrapping the materials in the cloth and tying is closed allows dyers to extract dye without exposing the material being dyed to the raw components. Cheesecloth can also be used to strain dye material from the bath after extraction, but before adding the extract to the bath.

When finished dyeing your pieces, strainers and bowls are a perfect way to drain excess dye from your work. Again, be certain that these items are made from non-reactive materials such as plastic.

 Week Two Task:

  • Watch the video and assess your supplies on hand, you might get lucky and have everything you need. Or you might need to make a trip to a local second-hand store to pick up a few more tools.
  • Go browse the Across Generations Etsy shop. I encourage you to check it out and at a minimum, pick up the mordant needed to prepare the fabric and set the dye. 

BONUS: Get 10% Off all the natural dyes at Across Generations using discount code: PIXIE

    • Hop on over to her Facebook page and say thank you for joining us this month! If you happen to live near her, you might be able to join one of her local classes in person too!
    • Jump over the SWC Facebook Group for conversation and project sharing.


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