Monday, May 17, 2010

learn to do by doing

On Saturday morning I harvested dandelion flower heads.
In the evening I boiled them for 30 minutes to make a dye bath. I followed advice from a varieity of books on the subject. I chose to use silk because apparently dandelions dye animal fibre better. I wish I had put a little wool in as well to see if there was a brighter result. I mordanted two kinds of silk with alum and cream of tarter, following instructions. Dye stuff and flowers had to be in equal amounts so I used 6 inch pieces of fabric. The fabrics had to be brought to a simmering point and then be allowed to cool down again, remaining in the liquid over night. On Sunday I combined the fabrics in the dye and brought everything to a simmer and kept it simmering for an hour, but again the fabrics had to be allowed to cool and sit in the 'dye' overnight. This morning, nothing magical happened to turn the tan fabric yellow.

Dyeing with natural dyes is labour intensive, slow, and unpredicatble but I knew that. This is a process I have wanted to DO for years. I am posting this as evidence of my own learning.
Any advice on getting yellow rather than tan?


  1. Sorry, no advice to be had from me. I just learned from you that natural dyeing is labour intensive and things don't always turn out as you had hoped. I was really hoping for yellow too.
    I wonder how my son's dandelion wine is coming?

  2. I got a fairly nice yellow with dandelion flowers. I dyed in the one pot 4 kinds of yarns: tencel (resulted in pale yellow), bombyx silk (became a beautiful yellow with slight greenish tones), tussah silk (a pale offwhite tannish yellow)and cotton (a yellow somewhat darker than the tencel). I simmered the yarns in the dandelion dye bath about an hour, and let it sit overnight.

  3. Use onion skins or marigolds. Eat the dandelion greens.

  4. onion skins are the easiest yellow for me. but the trial and error is the fun part too. and the errors always seem to be soft and gentle colors on their you have india flint's book? fabulous. because it is so focused on local color and experimentation. it's a real gift.

  5. oh, and pomegranate skins. no mordant necessary.....probably not local tho......

  6. Yes, I do have India Flint's book Eco Colour and love it for its own beauty as well as her lovely philosophy.
    I find that my borrowed copy of Jenny Dean's Wild Colour is really clear about explaining the process as there are many coloured photos and charts etc. I'm so glad to see that this book is being reprinted and will be available in November.
    Other books I've had on my shelves for years, and they range around the subject. There is one from Scotland that makes everything seem like a folk recipe - and easy - it's inspiring just to think through it.

    Thanks for these comments. I have used onion skins and they are really easy - it's true.

    I got tan from birch bark and a yoghurt mordant using India Flint's book last summer - shall post image some day.

  7. Anonymous1:40 pm

    I've only just got a copy of India's book and I totally agree that it's such a beautiful thing in itself, quite apart from the writing. Sorry, no advice on yellow, but I read your post with the greatest of interest.

  8. Thanks for this very interesting post, I should try it,

    I have a giveaway in my blog, if you have time, stop over.

  9. Anonymous3:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experiment - it sounds very fascinating and I'm inspired to try plant dying as well.

  10. yellow--have any wild apples? hawthornes? cut small branches (or a big one--it's the bark where the dye lives) and simmer. i'd put silk right in--no straining, etc. another yellow--coreopsis. goldenrod (later). applebark should be your best bet.

  11. Keep trying, Something I've always wanted to do too...and finally wondered what was stopping me. But I have gotten lots of brown...maybe too much heat?

  12. i think you'll find the secret is in the water..dandelion heads in our rainwater in an aluminium pot [the metal acts as mordant] does a good yellow.
    important to steep rather than boil [ie steam rises from surface of dye but surface isn't moving]

    water quality and the hidden stuff dissolved in it changes colour outcomes dramatically

    on the other hand you could stick to onion skins, and do what my Grandmother used to do with her bumper crop of Dandelions in Vermont...make dandelion champagne!

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  14. menopausal moment...i meant to write calendula, not coreopsis. geesh! are you stuck to the dandelions, or do you want yellow? you could try old man's beard or reindeer moss lichens. i seem to remember (ha!) getting yellows from them...

    and then she made yet another posting mistake. sorry, judy.

  15. Thanks Velma

    I have a lot of hawthorne bushes that I can access. I shall try the bark.

    I'm not stuck on dandelions or even stuck on yellow - I'm just playing around with using real plants to make real colour.
    I just want something more real than tans.

    Thanks so much for your advice - your blog is also full of information as is India Flint's. Shall visit both later on tonight.
    Velma's is wake robin on my side bar.
    India's is not all who wander are lost on my side bar ...
    for those who don't know. These are soul-full blogs.

  16. here is my suggestion, I have had good luck with celantro and thyme boiled together, it is quite a bright yellow and I have only used it for eggs, not cloth, but it is worth a try.

  17. I think water does indeed have something to do with it. When I lived in Regina (very hard water) I got a great yellow. Just recently here on Lasqueti (soft water with a lot of iron) I tried dandelions again and got an insipid tan. A big surprise for me in the same dying session was a fantastic rich yellow from rhubarb roots - useful to remember next time you are dividing your clumps of rhubarb.

  18. There was hardly any colour from my miniature experiment with dandelion flowers but I got a nice yellow from horse chestnut blossom - quite a surprise :) Glad you're enjoying the process!

  19. I have used Monbretia, also known as Crocosmia which will come into flower later in our summer; a really bright yellow/orange; I am not a dyer but just wondered what would happen if I stewed the flowers and then soaked cotton or silk in the liquid - it was quite satisfying.
    Regards to you


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx