Spinning Yarns

Nature provides lots of plants that can be used to create colorful dyes. © Can Stock Photo Inc. / sjhuls

Natural Dyeing

To create colors in the yarn, ancient people discovered ways to extract dye from plants, bugs, and shells. For centuries, these natural dyes were used to create reds, blues, yellows, and oranges.

Plants on your camp site will yield colors for natural dyeing projects. Such common items as marigolds and onion skins, as well as native plants, can be used. The Handbook of Natural Dyes and The Craft of Natural Dyeing can help identify the plants you can use, as well as provide instructions for the dyeing process.

When harvesting plants for dyeing, remind campers not to pull up the plants, and to leave behind six for every one they pick. You will need an enamel pot, access to water, and a stove, such as an electric hot plate or camp stove.

If campers have spun yarn from white wool, then use that for the dyeing process. However, if you decide to use natural dyeing, you can use purchased yarn. To make the process as close to natural as possible, choose a wool yarn rather than an acrylic or polyester one. It will take the dye better.

Follow instructions from a book or the Internet for the plant you are using. Dyeing processes are distinct for different types of plants. You will need to add a mordant, such as alum. This will help the dye bond with the fibers. Invite someone who is familiar with the plants in the area and has experience with natural dyeing.


Weaving is the process of interlocking fibers or yarns to make a garment, cloth, or basket. Campers can engage in a variety of projects large and small to develop skills in the craft. It is a natural for camps, since weaving uses grasses, the yarns you have spun, and other easy-to-obtain craft items.

All weaving is based on two types of threads or fibers–the warp and the weft. The warp is placed on the loom first, and then the weft is interwoven by going over and under the warp. This basic movement is the heart of all weaving. Looms can be simple or complex, and are used as a framework to weave the yarns or fibers.

There are numerous books on the various types of weaving, and ideas for crafts are plentiful. Here are a few simple activities:

Paper weaving–Cut construction paper into 1-inch strips. Use one color for the warp and another for the weft. Have campers lay down the warp strips (they can staple the strips inside a frame to hold them), and then weave the other strips over and under the warp.

Potholders–This project has been a standard for years. You will need a square loom and cloth loops–all available at craft stores. Help kids follow the directions to create a colorful potholder.

Friendship bracelet–This is another longtime favorite, although not often thought of as a weaving activity. Use embroidery floss, leather lacing, or yarn for the bracelets. If campers have spun and/or dyed yarn, have them use it for their friendship bracelets.

Mandela or dream catcher–This is a weaving coming from Native American traditions. The warp is stretched across hoops of metal, wood, or grape vine at multiple places around the circle. Then the weft is woven in and out. Objects from nature can be worked into the woven fibers. This is another way campers can use yarn they have spun and/or dyed.

A whole group can make a weaving by hanging two broom handles, branches, or ½-inch dowel. After the members have hung one of the supports from a tree or on a wall, they can hold the second branch or stick 3 feet below while other campers add the warp. When the loom is finished, campers can add the weft and other items from nature. This is a fun activity to do in the woods because kids have easy access to natural items.

If you have used synthetic yarns, be sure to take the weaving down at the end of camp because unlike wool and other natural fibers, synthetic yarns will not return to the earth or be useful to birds.

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