My current work in progress:

Seaforth designed by Alice Starmore, knit in British Breeds 5-ply Guernsey Wool on US 3 needles.


A Dye Experiment

This is not about dyeing yarn, so if you’ve come here for knitting content, you might wanna skip over this entry and come back tomorrow. πŸ™‚

A few days ago I stumbled upon this website: Henna for Hair. Be forewarned: if you have any interest in stuff like this, you’ll spend hours there.

I really like the idea of using something other than chemicals for dyeing my hair, so I did my research and ordered up some body art quality henna and some indigo. Henna will dye your hair red, but if you add indigo to the mix, you can achieve brown. Less indigo and you get reddish highlights, more indigo and you get brown. There’s other stuff you can add to make a cool rather than a warm brown.

Well, if you are interested, check out the website above, and you can read all about it.

I mixed 100 grams of my henna with lemon juice to make a thick paste — it needs the acidity to activate the dye release. I threw in some ginger to make it smell better. Henna naturally smells like hay, which isn’t too bad, but not one of my favorite scents. After letting it sit long enough to release the dye, I mixed 25 grams of the indigo with enough water to make a thick paste and mixed it in with the henna paste.

Then comes the fun part — applying it to the hair. This is a very messy process, so I put newspapers down in the bathroom (Lucy really enjoyed this part) and donned rubber gloves. I slathered it on my hair and covered every single hair from root to tip. After smooshing it all in thoroughly, I wrapped my head in plastic to keep the moisture in and waited.

How long to leave it on? the instructions tell you to leave it on from 1 to 5 hours, so I split the difference and left it on for 2.5 hours. You want to leave it on long enough for the dye to penetrate the hair well. Henna is pretty permanent because it is absorbed into the hair’s protein and really colors deeply. It’s also very good for your hair and strengthens it and gives it shine.

So after 2.5 hours, came the long and messy process of rinsing it out. I rinsed out as much as I could with water, and then slathered on a lot of conditioner and combed that through (no easy task) and then rinsed thoroughly.

I am very very pleased with the results.

Here is a “before” picture:

You can see the lovely mousy color with grey at the temples.

Here is an “after” picture:

And this is “after” in direct sunlight:

According to what I’ve read, it will darken/deepen a bit over the next couple of days. I got great grey coverage and the color on the roots blends nicely with the rest of my hair.

Once she discovered that there was to be no game with newspapers, Lucy lost interest.


  1. I love the color πŸ™‚

    Karens last blog post..

  2. I just chemically colored my hair red yesterday, but next time I’m trying the henna.

  3. You are incorrigible! Just think of how many of us unsuspecting minions are going to become addicted to henna now. πŸ˜‰ Actually, I’m going to forward the info onto my hairdresser – but not for me, alas. I stay away from the reds completely.

    Pattis last blog post..Who’s Surprised?

  4. Lovely shade of brown. Thanks for sharing.

    Abis last blog post..Dgital cameras

  5. This also seems like a great alternative for pregnant women who are worried about chemicals.
    Although my hair is dark brown, almost black, I’m speedily turning gray so yay!! Red highlights πŸ˜€

  6. That looks terrific. You have a great head of hair – – it really makes me consider going red!

  7. I actually started using henna 2 years ago when I could no longer use the store bought hair dye. I have a friend who is from Egypt and recommended henna. It is great stuff. It also works for getting rid of head aches. I just mix mine with water (you can add vinegar instead of lemon it works just as well) let it sit and then put the green mud on my hair. those plastic shower caps work great too for covering. I was told that the longer you leave it on the deeper the color. I am around 3 hours, I seem to be unable to let it go much longer then that.


    Qutecowgirls last blog post..Let it Snow Let it snow Let it snow

  8. Love it!

  9. You got the color right!

  10. I am :totally: gonna do this. Though I can only imagine how stir-crazy I’m gonna get with the waiting part. Guess that’s time for a movie & some good knitting!

    PlazaJens last blog post..Can’t Buy A Thrill….

  11. I *love* henna! I don’t actually use it for the colour, but more for the wonderful things it does for my hair. It’s not only thicker and smoother, but it gets rid of the scalp itchies! Oh the joy!

  12. I use henna on my hair and I’ve tried the powder, but since I tried the henna from Lush — I’ll never go back to the powder! It washes out so much more easily and is less messy. Plus the brown color is mixed for you. (It actually comes in several different colors.) You might want to give it a try if you plan on doing henna again in the future.

    Julies last blog post..I spent the weekend bowling, making aebleskiver and decorating the house for the holidays

  13. Beautiful!

  14. You are a brave, brave person.

  15. For some reason my mom let me use henna on my hair when I was in high school in the late ’70s (no one else had colored hair then, so I stood out) and to this day when I run into people from the past they think I’m a true redhead who now dyes her hair dark brown. Remember the episode of I Love Lucy where she pretends to be a foreign princess, and calls herself a Henna Rinsecess?

  16. I’ve been dying by henna for a while. But stopped a year ago because I want to go blonder again. (yay I have light brown hair and can go whatever way I want!). But note that you NEED to do a test strand if you go back to chemicals. You could get some very unintended colors.

    PS if you don’t want to mess with the indigo, has some hair hennas that have been adjusted to go to levels of brown. You can add cranberry and vinegar to make the red a little brighter, but it takes some of the guess work out.

    Abby Ms last blog post..Hi.

  17. Long years ago I used henna on my hair, because I liked the red. You used to be able to get henna in little metal containers with some kind of Egyptian design on them. πŸ™‚ Nice, bright reds!

    As I started getting greyer, I stopped using the henna, because you can get some really bright shades of orange if you’re not careful.

    I should try some of the new formulations, though. My bigger problem is thining hair. I really hate that.

    Janice in GAs last blog post..My sister sent me this

  18. Alice in Richmond says:

    Wow, I think it looks great!

  19. Last night I helped #2 son touch up his roots; he has light brown hair but dyed it black last winter. I have no idea why, but he is 19 and beyond my need to control him. During the process I said I would never dye my hair because getting rid of gray is a no-win game. It just keeps coming back.

    Now I am thinking about henna…

    kmkats last blog post..Manic Monday, a public service announcement, feline follies, and a wee rant.

  20. OK, after reading the website, now it makes sense. I remember my mother saying that she stopped henna-ing her hair when she started to go gray, because it wound up bright orange! (This is many moons ago.) Obviously the modifications are necessary in that case. Your color looks great.

  21. Beautiful, Wendy. What a perfect match. I would be afraid that I wouldn’t get the right formula and my hair would turn out to be bright red. I tried coloring my own hair for many years using store bought stuff. Then, I sprained my wrist and couldn’t even hold a brush so I started going to Aveda. They have totally spoiled me so much so that after doing it again for myself a couple of months ago (and my hair was going much to far to the very dark side—-I didn’t know that if you continue to color all of your hair at each application instead of just the roots that the ends will get darker—–duh!!!!)—anyway, I’m back at Aveda expensive or not. It’s so much nicer not to have to “mess” with all the “mess” of dying my own hair.

    Elizabeths last blog post..Home again, home again…..

  22. My mom has been using henna for years and she mixes yogurt into her henna because it has conditioning properties. I’ll tell her about the indigo though because she gets orange “highlights” in her hair. LOL.

    Tanus last blog post..FO Rage!

  23. Dr. Jackie says:

    My Romanian grandmother always colored her hair with henna. A lovely dark reddish-brown. My grandmother’s hair was long enough to reach almost to her ankles (not kidding here), and she usually wore it in two great, long, heavy braids which she wound around her head like a crown, fastened with tortoise-shell hairpins. I remember as a child watching her take down the crown, and standing behind her trying to lift those long braids (they were at least 4 feet long!)

    As you might imagine, washing it was quite the undertaking. She would take it down and lay it out the length of the bathtub to wash and rinse. I remember watching her mix up the henna solution to the right color. Then she would apply it, and wind it up on her head again. After the appropriate length of time, rinsing the henna out required laying it out in the bathtub again and using one of those hand-held sprayers that attached to the tub faucet. When she was satisfied with the rinsing she would put on a “leave-in” conditioner/dressing, braid it up again, and reform her crown.

    I always remember her insisting that she did not use “hair dye”. To her, henna was a natural product and did not qualify. Though she lived to be about 93, she was proud to tell people that she did not “dye” her hair!

  24. This brings back memories from university, dying my girlfriend’s hair with henna. I’d have the surgical gloves on and slathering this smelly mixture to give her this fabulous red hair. Didn’t know about the indigo – that’s pretty neat. Yours turned out great. I can’t imagine doing it by yourself. Good job!

  25. I have to say you are very………very brave.

  26. Henna brings back memories of Lucille Ball! I am happy for you that the Henna worked. I once turned my hair green (unknowingly) and had to go to a color specialist. Now it is silver.(LOL)

    Shirleys last blog post..Smittin’ with Mittens

  27. Does this mean you have to do this 2.5 hour thing every 6 weeks? Gads? It looks just beautiful. I love the color. But I would go berserk at that 2.5 or 3 hour wait.

  28. I stopped chemically coloring my hair about six months ago after being a redhead for 15 years because my hair started either falling out or breaking off…I’m not sure which. Everyone always used to comment on how natural red looked on me. When my hair grew in, it was a reddish brown. All of this time I wasted dying my hair! *sheesh* I’m going to definitely try henna now, though. I didn’t realize how good it was for your hair, and my hair is a little sad right now.

    knittinandnoodlins last blog post..Super Skate Socks…

  29. Shine! And how!

  30. O so need to color the gray in my hair. Just had a picture taken with Santa and I have this scary gray stripe right across the middle of my head. I wonder if I could manage that home dye myself. Off to visit the website now. Your color looks great by the way. Same color I would be wanting.

    Aunt Kathys last blog post..Sunday- Here Comes Santa Clause…

  31. I was just sure, when I read that you were trying henna, that I’d scroll down and find a red that would burn out my monitor, but it’s beautiful. I never knew that henna could look so nice. And it’s shiny. And think of the money you saved.
    I wonder what chlorine does to henna.

  32. ahmcguffin says:

    Poor little princess! Hard work supervising your experiments (and this time no play) ! She looks so sweet and innocent.
    And after I had given up trying to get my light reddish brown going grey here and there hair to take color…henna you say. I will need to try this delightful tip. Thanks again.

  33. I’ve been using henna (from Henna for Hair) now for about 4-5 years. I LOVE it! I would urge anyone really interested in using it for reds or browns to blacks (depending on the amounts of indigo to henna and how they are applied – all together or one after the other) to really read the site thoroughly. Catherine answers most questions in her intro and instructions. While I am NOT a henna expert, I might be able to help with simple questions if anyone needs it.

    Wendy, I would urge you to watch the lemon juice though. I found it was WAY too acidic and drying for my hair/scalp. You just need a touch of acid in the mix for it to break open the cellulose and allow the dye molecules to get out. I actually found after working my way thru trials of lemon, apple, orange, grape, cranberry juices and then my drinking (tap) water that my plain tap water is enough to allow the dye to release. While I still drink that slightly acidic water, it works great for my hair. You will see the henna deepen in color as it oxidizes over the next couple of days and as you con’t to apply it, if you con’t to apply it.

    And I’d urge anyone serious about henna to make sure your getting PURE henna. The stuff I see in stores is mostly crap and a lot of it is chemical crap. Henna dyes red – and only red. If the box/bottle says it dyes any other color – it’s not pure henna no matter what it says on the box. Henna + indigo can equal various shades of brown. Henna first and then indigo applied in 2 separate applications gives the deepest most beautiful black colors. BUT – Chemical crap henna mixed with previously bottle dyed hair = frog butt green or fried mess! Pure henna over previously bottle dyed hair is generally ok.

    And Maureen – pool chlorine and pure henna is no big deal, or at least I’ve never heard of it being an issue. It can sometimes be a little weird with indigo but one shouldn’t really use indigo by itself on hair – it gives strange blue-green colors when used all by itself. Catherine has pictures of that too on the Henna for Hair site. She’s a remarkable expert in all things henna and she’ll answer any questions you might have, if they aren’t already answered in the forum.

    Welcome to the wonderful world of kitchen witchery Wendy! Hennaheads unite! lol

    My henna mix is 300gms henna with enough tap water to get a thinnish pudding consistency. Cover with plastic wrap and place paper towel over that. When towel turns orange, dye is released and ready to use. I then put honey in mine. A) the honey is really good and soft for your hair. B) the honey (or any sugar, I just like honey for my hair) will then thin out the consistency and make it better. I really can’t find the words to explain why, but it does. Try it! Glob goose poop on head. (Dye released henna turns the exact color of goose poop! lol) Cover. Wait 1.5 hours. Rinse. Be beautiful! And never but NEVER dye your hair the day before you want it done! I always get a wee bit of ring around the face and that dye comes off quick, usually within 24-36 hours. The dye sticks to keratin. Not much keratin in facial/scalp skin so there is weak dye uptake and it fades quickly. I dye mine Friday night or Sat. morning to be ready and clear to go to work on Monday.


  34. Chlorine can turn henna a greenish hue. So can conventional hair dyes. Years ago I used to use colorless henna on my hair because it added such shine. I made the mistake of getting highlights and ended up with green streaks. I can’t remember how it was corrected, but it was! If you want to put chemicals over the henna, it has to be removed some way or it has to grow out. Wendy–your color turned out perfect! It’s very natural looking!

    KozyKittys last blog post..Busy busy!

  35. What? Not even a tiny henna highlight on Lucy?? She never gets to have any fun–no henna, no nail polish, no nuthin’. Poor girl.

    Lisas last blog post..It’s Official!!!

  36. Ann in Montreal says:

    Wendy, your hair colour is very attractive. The last time I used henna was 1979, what a task it was as my hair hung down to my thighs and was incredibly thick. I needed an assistant to help me apply the henna as I stood in the bathtub. Seeing how beautiful your own hair turned out I am very tempted to have another go with henna and as my hair is now cut in a chin length bob I am sure I could manage on my own. Of course my own feline supervisor, The Grand Duke Arthur the Carnivorous would be on hand to over-see my efforts.

  37. Beautiful color – it’s a lot of work but it’s got to be better for you than chemicals…is there a blonde henna?? (I know, but I wish)

  38. Your hair looks great! πŸ™‚

    LittleWits last blog post..Christmas Swap Questionnaire

  39. Nice color! Thanks for the info about henna and indigo. I had no idea you could get such a broad range of colors.

    Sydneys last blog post..The Post Thanksgiving Edition

  40. I use Logona’s products (plant color) which is available in several colors and works much the same as what you described, but is premixed, comes with gloves and a plastic haircover.

    Karins last blog post..Lost in Translation

  41. Gorgeous Wendy! Love the shot in the sunlight – beautiful colour. Be sure and show us an update in a couple of days if the colour does deepen!

    Kellies last blog post..Eureka! I haz it…

  42. Sheila in Ohio says:

    I now wonder if some chemical dying I did recently is the procreator of some skin issues I’ve developed!

    This looks very natural on you. Please keep us updated on how the color deepens. Will you be able to stay poo-free (if you still are)?

  43. Lovely color and great results. I’ve come close to trying henna, but chickened out because it’s not compatible with conventional dyes that use metallic salts. I was afraid that if I didn’t like it, I’d have to grow it out before I could conventionally overdye it.

  44. I have mouse brown hair, when I don’t color it. When I was 17 I got a box of Henna to dye my hair. I’m pretty sure I only left it on for an hour. It was very messy to work with. After rinsing it out my hair was a dark carrot orange. I came out of the bathroom, and my dad only said, go wash it off. :o) That was not going to happen, since as you said, it’s permanent until it grows out.
    At school the next day, every teacher looked at me with big eyes, and dropped mouth. I liked it. :o)

    Monikas last blog post..It will only be a break!

  45. Oooo… Now that sounds like a great idea! I’ve pretty much the same colouring as you do, and wow – something other than chemicals in my hair? I’m in.

    Brigittes last blog post..Hearts Tunic

  46. Oh thank God. I was terrified this was going to end with a punk-like Union Jack dyed into your hair. Looks great!

    P.S. Isn’t it unfair that cats don’t turn gray as they mature? Lucy will always have that gorgeous mane. Hmph. All that grace and beauty AND she never has to worry about grays.

    Carols last blog post..Something new

  47. Good God! I bow deeply, once again. First (and always) in homage to your talent. And now for the courage you have demonstrated.

    Georgeous results, but if I had YOUR hair, the only thing that would touch it would be a comb. My hair was an ashy blond…then grey started. And I had it colored..good salons, meh salons and home. Every single time it would fade to a nasty orange. Enough! Now I look like a roan horse…and that is just fine with me! Like I said If I had YOUR hair…..

  48. I am so glad you posted this! I have been wanting to henna my hair but didn’t know if it would cover grey okay. Was it hard to keep off the skin around your face?

    Astabeths last blog post..Uneven Spinning and Other Things

  49. If my husband (PhD Chemist) read this, he would be quick to point out that, by definition, henna is a chemical, too. So are water, air, etc. It’s just his pet peeve that people “worry about chemicals”. Perhaps we should say “harsh chemicals”. Whatever you call it, your hair looks marvelous!

    Barbara-Kays last blog post..Olives for Christmas

  50. So pretty — I am really tempted to try henna. It’s getting difficult to cover my gray hairs, and I just don’t have the coloring to pull off gray hair.

  51. Yeah! It looks great! I order henna from that same site and I love my hair too.

    One word of warning I got from my stylist is don’t ever try to use regular chemical hair coloring after henna- he said your hair will basically all break off. I told him not a problem b/c no way I’m going to stop using the henna!

  52. I know the website well, I have been using the henna/indigo mix for 4 years. Now I only do my roots when they need it. The only thing is you cannot switch to commercial dyes until the henna grows out.

  53. And you call this “non-chemical”? How did you reach that conclusion, what with acids breaking the cellulose cell walls, and the dye binding to keratin in the skin and hair, etc etc? Of course it’s chemical. And a time-consuming, erratic, messy way to do what you can do in ten minutes with $3.00 worth of store-bought hair dye. With love and respect, I say to you: Sheesh.
    It does look beautiful, absolutely no argument there, a lovely color and lovely shine.
    So does mine. πŸ™‚

  54. Gorgeous!!! How very tempting to try. I’ve been putting crap on my hair for a few years now to cover the gray and to lighten up; I’ve darkened over the years. I just love the color you got! I’m worried, though, about the chlorine in our tap water and the silver in our pool (a non-chlorine purification system). I guess I have some studying to do. I just love, love, love your hair. Thanks for sharing this.

  55. this is great information, thank you! my mom dyes her hair but is allergic to almost every hair dye under the sun, so she can’t use anything with ammonia or anything else. i hate the way her hair turns red with henna (it’s black), so this will come in handy!

  56. Such great info in the comments! One of my friends has been using henna since college–she’s basically a redhead anyway, but it does make her hair so vibrant and shiny… I’ve had reactions to commercial dyes, so I won’t use them again, but I wonder how much trial-and-error I’d have to undertake to match dark golden brown hair…

    Jennifers last blog post..

  57. I have just resurfaced from the Henna for Hair website after an hour of exploring. I hennaed my hair years ago and loved how shiny and healthy it felt but hated the orangeyness of the colour. Seeing your colour using a mix of henna and indigo (very pretty) as well as others on the website has decided me on giving it another go. Thanks for that!

  58. Theresa in Italy says:

    Your hair looks terrific, Wendy! I’ve never used henna myself (don’t have the coloring to carry red hair, darn it) but had a friend with reddish brown hair who tried henna. Not only did she get glorious, glorious red highlights, but her hair was so shiny! Just beautiful.

  59. Thanks for the henna link. Your hair looks wonderful.
    It is wonderful to know there is an alternative to man-made chemicals to color hair if I ever decide to part with my gray. Ever read the chemical list of commercial dye? Blah. I was always amazed at the number of chemicals allowed into our food, medicines, body products, cleaners or lawn products that passed safety tests only to be recalled as unsafe years later. My nephew, a scientist, says the tests are very short term, sometimes only 2 months whereas many of these products will be used for years. Then the true harm of the chemical shows up. It is very sad for the people who are harmed while thinking the product was safe for them and the environment. (In most cases much of our medicine or hair dye or whatever ends up down the drain where it causes further trouble for our environment. For instance, many rivers have high antibiotic levels from our waste.)
    Sorry to get so serious but in many cases there is a wonderful natural or safe old man-made alternative to many of the products we buy, but corporations make more money with a new patent so we have the current system.
    Hurrah for henna and indigo!

  60. It’s still chemicals, no matter what anyone says. Now, the chemicals in conventional commercial hair dyes are indeed wildly toxic and carcinogenic– when the FDA was first created, those substances were grandfathered in; there’s no way they’d ever get approval today. So it’s almost certain that the chemicals in henna and indigo are less toxic. But that doesn’t make them “not chemicals.” Remember, cocaine is a natural plant extract!

    Zeldas last blog post..Barbara Walker on Civilization

  61. Henna does contain chemicals. All that talk about acidity? Yes — chemistry!

    Rachels last blog post..Beyond the lace-only stereotype

  62. Wow – beautiful! Not that you needed it πŸ™‚ I’d love to play around with henna, but I don’t dare until after Christmas. With me being me, I’d wind up with hair a color not found in any rainbow….. I’m going to bookmark the site you directed us to, and hope that I still remember it after the holidays.

  63. WARNING: If you plan on dying your hair with henna (which is a great idea), you CANNOT use another chemical process (such as perming, straightening or texturizing) on your hair until it grows out! The henna will react with the chemical agents in the “texturizing” process…and your hair will disintergrate.

    I used a henna rinse when I was younger. Then, I decided to get my hair permed. Beautician didn’t think it would be a problem, but agreed to strand test…and my hair literally dissolved.

  64. I tried it once. I was going for a brunette shade. It was supposedly good stuff that was getting harder to get – you know that story. I put it on for hours and while there was some change to the overall hair color the gray did not take. I was disappointed but your hair looks great!

  65. You, my dear friend, are BRILLIANT!! I’ve always been afraid to try Henna because I don’t care for the Lucy Red — Never even thought about adding indigo!! The Henna site has already kept me busy for the last 45 minutes (that felt like 5!!)

    AND your hair looks GORGEOUS!! Thanks for sharing this — I have not been able to dye my hair for years because of the chemicals and am thrilled to know that I CAN cover the grey now!!

  66. darnit, I’ve just gone from learning to live with the grey to about to order some BAQ henna. I used the storebought tins years and years ago with seriously disapointing results. Now I just need to decide which one to buy πŸ˜‰

    Risas last blog post..Giving Thanks

  67. Thanks for the link – I ordered some henna and I can’t wait to give it a try!

  68. This post, with the juxtaposition of hair dye talk and beautiful Lucy picture, reminds me of when we were in Spain last year. A woman was walking her white standard poodle that had been dyed bright pink and green. This was obviously no accident. And then it made me think of how I can’t imagine any cat suffering through the indignities of being dyed.

    Love the new color, by the way. Your “before” looks similar to me!

  69. Hi all,
    I just wanted to chime in here because I used to sell henna at Lush, a store that a few commenters have already mentioned. I definitely agree that it’s a great product, full of conditioning shea butter and high quality henna, in 4 color formulations! Hand made with natural, animal-testing free ingredients! (Uh-oh I’m stuck in a loop. Back to henna.)

    So the difference between henna and commerical dyes is similar to the difference between stain and varnish. Dyes push pigment into the hair shaft, which is why many people complain that their hair is brittle after a dye job (not that immediate, thorough conditioning doesn’t fix that). Henna, on the other hand, coats the hair shaft like a varnish, which a) enhances the underlying color (albeit a through a coat of henna) b) and makes for a more graceful fade-out. BUT, as someone mentioned earlier, if you use a chemical process on hennaed hair, like a perm, dye, or relaxer, the henna will be forced into the hair shaft, and you’ll just have to grow it out to be rid of it. (If it doesn’t break apart first.) Also previously dyed hair accepts henna a little differently than virgin hair, and in my experience this makes the henna more fade resistant. Finally, there are lots of ways to enhance henna colors, such as mixing coffee or tea into the paste, or even paprika for a little more red. Always a fun experiment!

    Anyway, thanks for the blog! I enjoy it a lot.