You are here

Traditional Method of Dyeing Wool

Traditional Method of Dyeing Wool

Traditions of dyeing wool using natural materials, from Gleanings (KHS).

The dyeing of the sheep's fleece was generally done by women and children Crotal (lichen) had to be scraped off the rocks on the hillside. The crotal had to to collected on a calm, moist day as a dry day made harvesting more difficult. A canvas sack, a small pail, a length of rope and an old spoon were the tools of the trade. The same spoons were kept from year to year for this purpose as no one liked to use one that had not been worn down to a shape that easily scraped the crotal off the rocks. The bigger the spoon, the more one could collect.

Crotal was a dyeing agent that did not need chemicals as a 'tying in' of colour as it never washed out of the wool. Heather gave a dark green but had to be used before flowering or from a dark shady place as the sun tended to dry the sap. Dock roots were used for black, wild iris for grey and a soft grey lichen (different from crotal) produced a yellow colour. Magenta could be had from dandelions, a moorish brown from soot; in fact anything the women thought could produce a colour was tried in the pot. Most of these, unlike the crotal, had to be made fast. Salt was always used along with copper, alum, chrome and potash, bought in quantities from a travelling salesman or from a druggist, as the chemist was known. Blue colours were difficult to produce intil indigo dye in powder form was introduced.

A suitable site at a nearby beach would be chosen where a big pot or boiler was situated with a fire underneath to keep the water boiling. The first wash in tepid water to which washing soda and soft soap were added was more of a scouring to rid the fleeces of keel, dirt, grit, etc. After 5-10 minutes the lot was emptied on to the grass, left to drain while the process was repeated until al the wool had been given the first wash. All the wool was then washed thoroughly in the clean water of the loch until the water flowed clear from the fleeces, when they were left to drain on the rocks until the next day.

Some was stored as natural white to be blended later with the dyed wool or used for blankets but about two-thirds of it was generally dyed. A fleece of washed wool was laid in the hot water, then a layer of 'crotal' and so on until the pot was full. This was kept boiling for a few hours until the wool turned a lovely colour of reddish-brown. As one lot was dyed and left to drain, the boiler was replenished. The dyed wool was then washed in the loch to take away the residue of the lichen.

When the wool was dyed and washed, it was ready for the process of carding and spinning, which was done in the home. As progress and modern ways of doing the dyeing and every other process in the mills took over, the women, the boilers, the crotal, the lot were made redundant. The wool was clipped, bagged and sent to the mills, coming back as yarn ready to weave.

Kinloch Historical Society


Title: Traditional Method of Dyeing Wool
Record Type: All Records
Type: Tradition
Record Maintained By: CECL
Subject Id: 39554