Collect Peels. I used Aldi’s “Mandies”. Mandarin oranges are full of Vitamin C and easy to peel. You can also use any orange or lemon peel. Save them in a gallon zip bag. You can keep them in the freezer till you have enough to play with. Three bags of “Mandie” peels made a nice dye.
Put the peels in a saucepan, add water and simmer a couple of hours. I used an old enamelware pan which is NOT food-safe, and that’s why I use it for dyeing. In general, you should never dye anything in pans you cook food in. (Also, it is white, so I can judge the color of the dye more easily. This little pan is great for sampling dyes.) This dye is non-toxic, though, so you can use any pan. You can even use a big pot and lots of water. It will make your house smell great! Don’t let it boil dry.
Now, put the wool you want to dye (I used a “Bundle of Fluff”: Romney sheep’s wool roving from Three Sheep Gallery and Workshop) in a quart of water with a cup of white vinegar in it. Let it soak for an hour or so, then gently drain it. (You can put baking soda down the drain and follow with the vinegar water. Keep your drain clean!)
Carefully strain the peels out of your dye. Remember, don’t pour the dyebath down the drain! I took the peels right out of the dye, squeezed them to get every last drop—this will not stain your skin, but Black Walnut will—and put the saucepan back on the stove. Put your soaked, drained wool into the saucepan, and bring it to a simmer.
Don’t stir. Stirring wet, hot wool is a wonderful way to make felt. Felting is lots of fun, but do it on purpose, not while you are dyeing. After a couple of hours of simmering, turn off the heat and let the pot cool. Let all the dye attach to the wool. (The vinegar in the soak helps the dye do that.
When the dyebath was cool, I took the roving out, rinsed it in cool water and let it dry. I combed some on my wool combs, and spun it into yarn on my drop spindle. You can see all of them in one photo—original roving, dyed roving, combed wool spun into a single yarn on the spindle. I love the color—I would call it “saffron”.
I made two balls of the yarn, and spun them together to make a double-ply yarn. Cool yarn from what would otherwise be thrown away!
If you don’t spin, you can still dye—find an old, light-colored wool sweater or some wool yarn and have fun!