Dyeing for Primitive Rugs with Jeanne Benjamin

Jeanne Benjamin started our 2013/14 year off with a lot of Bob Dylan references as she walked us through her dyeing of antique colors.


Some quick hints:

  • most important thing is to not make MUD (primitives do not need to be dirty and dull to start with)
  • Do want contrast
  • No white – use oatmeal, light mocha, or light dirt
  • to dull a color use it’s complement (opposite on color wheel)
  • the darker the base neutral the deeper and muddier final color will be, especially with grays
  • dyed wools are lighter when done/dry

Jeanne shared some of her finished pieces with us as the wools from our members played in the dye pan.

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When dyeing always recover your dyes immediately – no inhaling desired.

Jeanne on average dyes 50 yds a week on her commercial gas stove with pots that handle 3 yds at a time while listening to Bob Dylan. With all that dyeing it helps having a separate cooling section. She’s now including secret messages in her rugs – Bob Dylan quotes.

In a primitive rug not everything is the same value and need some textures.

Jeanne believes you learn more by doing and playing than just reading or watching. She loves to play around with no set recipe just seeing what she gets. Doesn’t like – just continues playing with it. When dyeing a color can come out too strong, so use black or compliment color to dull.

Drive-by dying – is not starting with a totally clean pot – just keep using that dye pan for some fun results.

Jeanne recommends clearing your dye spoon in citric acid between dyes. Once that solution gets “black” enough do not throw out save for adding when dyeing antique blacks. She feels citric acid helps pick up dye better replacing vinegar. It also easier to haul around.

Altering colored wools ~
RED: dull with green; deepen with black; adding blue gets you cranberry to purple

ORANGE: add red for oriental red/orange; purple gets copper tone; yellow gets warm red; rust or brown dyes for pumpkin colors; blue softens; spot dyeing for great fall leaves

YELLOW (versatile wool): spot dye for fall leaves; add red or orange for warmth; blue get greens; green gets green; dull with purple; brown gets warmer brown

  • golds brings a little glow or sparkle when over dyed

GREEN: red will gray and dull; yellows swing to yellowgreen; blue swings to bluegreen; purple is just interesting; bronze/olive/browns also interesting variety

BLUE: dye with yellow(gold) get greens; bronze and browns for leaves; reds go to purples

PURPLES: most colors are nice over lavender, except yellow; yellow grays; deepen a dark purple to eggplant

NEUTRALS: light or pale tans, beiges, grays, oatmeals look good with just about any color

  • gray fabrics are great with red dyes

BLACKS: dark plaids and odd leftovers in dark colors make best antique black

Black is nice when it’s finished color is black enough, but still light enough to show some of the original colors/texture.

  1. Take a mix of darks and into the dye pan. Add some black dye (cushing runs to purple – prochem black is truer). Add a couple of complementary dyes like blue and orange to soften.
  2. Dyeing one wool only. With a black watch plaid you would use prochem black and red, as the red complements the green and the black deeps it. Works for red plaid also only use black and dark green dye.
  3. Dyeing antique black with a green cast just use green wool and black dye. Or take dark neutrals and over dye with green and black.

3 Replies to “Dyeing for Primitive Rugs with Jeanne Benjamin”

  1. Most helpful. And, produces colors that are not the same old, same old. Love the rug’s background as well. Will try that look next time round. Many thanks for sharing that with us, and many many thanks to Jeanne Benjamin. Ellen S. in CT

  2. Your post was delightful to read and brought back memories of her and references to Dylan. It has been a few years ago since I took a class with Jeanne and would love to take another class with her again. Thanks for the post.


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