Aquarelle Liquid Natural Dye Instructions

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Botanical Colors

Aquarelle Liquid Natural Dyes

Aquarelle liquid dyes are convenient, easy to use and produce beautiful, harmonious colors. Each dye comes from a leaf, root, bark or other natural source and has been used for generations by cultures all over the world to create humble to heirloom textiles.

  • Saxon Blue liquid indigo: a striking easy to use blue from the indigo plant, this recipe dates to 1740. Note: Saxon Blue works best with wool, silk and animal fibers. It does not dye cotton, linen, Tencel, Modal or other plant fibers.
  • Liquid Madder: one of the most ancient dyes, this is the red of Persian rugs
  • Liquid Lac: a potent purple and red color from the tiny lac insect
  • Liquid Himalayan Rhubarb: a rich gold from the roots, this plant is also used in traditional herbal medicine
  • Liquid Pomegranate: a green-gold that makes beautiful aqua colors with Saxon Blue
  • Liquid Cutch: A soft, sweet-smelling brown

Fiber Preparation and Mordanting

Mordanting is the step that prepares the fibers to bond with natural dyes. We recommend using alum as a mordant. Instructions are for 500 grams (approximately 1 lb) of dry weight fiber. We suggest starting with wool fiber as it is the easiest to dye, but this procedure works equally well for silk, alpaca and other animal fibers. Instructions for cellulose (plant fibers) are also provided.

Make sure your fiber is clean and not oily or greasy feeling. You can wash your fibers with a mild soap and rinse thoroughly prior to mordanting. You can find an in-depth How to Mordant guide here.

For wool, silk or animal fibers: Mix 4.5 Tablespoons (75 grams) of alum (aluminum sulfate) with about a quart or liter of boiling water to dissolve. Optionally, add 2 Tablespoons (20 grams) Cream of Tartar, which brightens colors and helps keep wool soft. Add to a dye pot large enough to hold your fibers. Fill the dye pot with room temperature water and stir well. Add fibers to the dye pot and stir gently while bringing the heat up to 90°C/200°F. Hold at this temperature for 45 minutes rotating the fibers occasionally and allow to cool so you can handle the fibers. Wearing gloves remove the fibers from the dye pot, drain and rinse briefly. You are now ready to start dyeing. You may mordant on one day and dye the next or mordant and dye in the same day. If you are mordanting in advance, store the mordanted fiber in a plastic bag in a cool place for up to one week.

For Cellulose (Cotton, Tencel, Linen and other plant fibers) mordanting, use the following procedure for room temperature mordanting.  We have adapted these instructions from Jim Liles and from Joy Boutrop and Catherine Ellis.

Dissolve 4.5 Tablespoons aluminum sulfate and 1 heaping teaspoon of Soda Ash separately using boiling water. Fill a bucket or other container with room temperature water. Carefully add the Soda Ash, then the aluminum sulfate. The mixture will bubble and foam, so be aware and stir gently until the bubbling subsides. Add fiber to this bucket and stir well, making sure that the fibers are submerged. Leave at room temperature for 2 hours or overnight and as long as 3 days. When you are ready to dye, remove the fibers and extract the excess mordant. Proceed to dyeing.

Amount of Dye to Use

Note: a teaspoon is approximately 5 ml. A Tablespoon is approximately 15 ml.

Dye Light Shades Medium Shades Dark Shades
Saxon Blue Indigo 1 teaspoon 2.5 teaspoons 1.5 Tablespoons
Lac Liquid 1 teaspoon 1 Tablespoon 4 Tablespoons
Himalayan Rhubarb Liquid 1 teaspoon 2 Tablespoons 4 Tablespoons
Cutch Liquid 1.5 Tablespoons 2.5 Tablespoons 5 Tablespoons
Madder Liquid 1 teaspoon 1 Tablespoon 3 Tablespoons


Dye Procedure

  • Measure out the desired amount of dye(s). Add to the dye pot filled with enough water so the fibers move easily without excessive crowding. Stir the pot so the dye is evenly dispersed.
  • Add the yarn or fibers to the pot.
  • Begin heating the pot until it reaches 30°C/90°F. Rotate the fibers gently to avoid felting or tangles. Hold at this temperature for 30 minutes.
  • Bring the heat up to 90°C/200°F and hold for 30-45 minutes. The dyebath should look very light or nearly clear (exhausted). You may let the fibers cool in the dyebath until they are safe to handle, except for Saxon Blue. Remove Saxon Blue after dyeing. Rinse the dyed fibers in warm water.
  • If the dyebath still contains a lot of dye, add ¼(50 ml) cup white (distilled) vinegar and continue a low simmer for another 30 minutes, then let cool overnight in the dyebath. Rinse in cool water.

Color Combinations

  • Saxon Blue and Himalayan Rhubarb will make Olive, Sage and Bright Greens
  • Saxon Blue and Pomegranate will make an Aqua and a light Teal
  • Saxon Blue and Lac liquid will make Periwinkle and Medium Blue
  • Saxon Blue and Cutch will make a Steely Gray Blue
  • Saxon Blue and Madder will make a Yellow-Brown
  • Madder with a pinch of Soda Ash will make a bright Purple
  • Madder with a pinch of Cream of Tartar will make a Cherry Red
  • Cutch with a pinch of Soda Ash will make a reddish Russet


  • Always closely supervise children and keep pets away when working around hot liquids and dyes.
  • We recommend using gloves when working with the dyes.   Although they are non-toxic, they can stain.       If you are chemically sensitive, you may wish to use a dust mask when measuring alum powder. Keep dyes and powders away from young children and pets.
  • Always clean up spills immediately
  • Don’t mix your kitchen utensils with your dyeing utensils
  • Dispose of exhausted dye baths by pouring down the drain.

Notes and Troubleshooting

  • If the fibers seem to be bleeding excessive amounts of dye while you are rinsing, stop and let the freshly dyed fibers air dry completely. Once the fibers are dry, then rinse and air dry.

For more information

Please email Botanical Colors if you have any questions. Our email is and we enjoy hearing from you. Have fun on the color journey!


Naturally dyed wool skeins