Bundle Dyeing Knitted Fabric

Having used the bundle dyeing technique to pattern woven silk, I was keen to see how this could be applied to knitted fabric. I knew that this was possible in theory - silk and wool are both animal fibres and so the same mordant can be used (alum), as well as vinegar to help set the colour.

Oh and someone also told me 'you can't do that with knitted fabric!'...so obviously I was keen to prove them wrong!

I had knitted three simple scarves from British Wool Ecru Nep from Uppingham Yarns with the intention of using them for dye trials. I scoured, then mordanted them with alum following Kritine Vejar's recipe of 1tbsp alum per 100g of dry fibre (2015).

I chose to use pieces of dried onion skin, as it was a material I had collected a lot of, and it is also cheap. I'd read in Wild Colour that onion can produce "rich, vibrant shades of orange, yellow rust and brown" (Dean, 1999) which is similar to a palette I am working on in my studio practice.

I placed the pieces onion skin on one half of the fabric, then folded it in half in an attempt to get a mirror image on both sides of the scarf. I used a combination of red and yellow onion skins to gauge the different in colour.

The process was the same as working with woven fabric - spray the wet fabric with vinegar, layer dye stuff, fold and roll tightly. Rolling the stretchy knitted fabric was harder than using woven as it stretched and moved about more. To counteract this, I used plenty of string to hold the individual bundles together.

These bundles were then steamed for an hour over a pan of simmering water, turning every 15 minutes. Then left to cool, they were cut open the next morning to unravel. The trial had worked (hooray!) and there were clear marks on both sides of the knitted fabric where the onion skins were placed.

One thing I will say comparing the knit to weave is the fabrics retain a lot more water! And so drying them out was trickier and I had to construct a tarp/towel combination to stop the airing cupboard getting flooded.

After curing for 3 weeks. and washing with PH neutral soap..here are the results...

The patterning came out a lot stronger than I was expecting - I was thinking it would be more muted and dispersed. The colour is quite a bright yellow/brown which I'm not 100% sure works with the colour of the yarn! I may overdye these with avocado pits as these create a dusky pink colour.



  • Burns, R. (2017) Bundle Dye 1-6. (Own Collection)
  • Dean, J. (1999) Wild Colour. New York: Watson Guptill, p72.
  • Vejar, K. (2015) The Modern Natural Dyer. New York: Abrams, p58.