Sunday, September 18, 2011

goldenrod dye experiments

just the flowers We have a lot of goldenrod on Manitoulin. At least four varieties, including the large late blooming Canadian goldenrod. It's everywhere. I harvested twice last week. In the first session, I made two concoctions. The batch on the right is flowers and the upper leaves (no stems). On the left, just leaves and stems (no flowers). These were simmered for an hour and then left to steep overnight. For the second harvest, I painstakingly cut the flowers from the stems and tried to include no leaves. These I also simmered for an hour and left to steep overnight. Then I strained them and reheated the coloured water to just a simmer. Alum mordanted wool cloth and embroidered linen were dyed with the flowers only bath. I love using the wool, it accepts the colour so well. The next day I tried something I read on Leena's Riihivilla blog. She suggested adding lye or soda ash to yellow flowering dye baths to make the colour more intense. You can see the difference in the above photos. The top fabric in each set was processed with a weak lye solution added to the dye bath. When I used lye however, I did not heat the liquid. Just steeped the cloth in the natural dye for one day. I plan to overdye some of the yellow fabrics I've coloured with indigo eventually. Silk rayon velvet is the best recipient of any kind of dye. (no mordant necessary, top has lye, bottom not)

p.s. This is quite a la-de-da post about natural dyeing. It does not reflect the hours of time invested in harvesting, processing, mordanting. It does not speak about the time spent with research or record keeping of my own. I like that there is time invested. Time is my main material. Also: It does not mention the extreme caution required when using a caustic substance such as lye - (used to clean automobile garage floors). I always used rubber gloves, I worked outside as the fumes should not be inhaled, I did NOT use heat, and I won't put the liquid down my septic system when I'm finally finished. One good thing about these kinds of dyes is that they do last for quite a while, and multiple dips can be done. I made quite a bit of yardage. Protein fibres work well with natural dyes so I used mostly silk and wool. I had some success with linen. I've researched that a pre-soak in tannic acid will help cotton and linen accept more colour, but have not tried that yet. There is so much to learn.


  1. Golden Rod looks very similar to our wattle (and we have quite a few varieties too). I will have to harvest some of the late wattle and see what I come up with.
    I love the colour using the lye.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Jacky xox

  2. our goldenrod this year was SO shortlived and so sparsely fluffed, i barely got a handful of tufts--shall have to try the soda ash with my tansy--love the natural yellows as glowpoints and for mixing with other "primaries" :)
    the silk velvet is sumptuous

  3. This is funny-- natural dyeing must be in the air. A few weeks ago I dug out my natural dye books, plus I borrowed a pile from the library. Your post convinced me to harvest some sumac for a tannic acid bath since I work with cellulosic fibres. Thanks!!

  4. Goldenrod makes a nice mellow yellow. Its beautiful on the plant and on the fiber. I'm not a yellow fan,but this is one yellow I can live with. I have gotten some good results using iron and copper mordants with it as well.

  5. Anonymous8:21 pm

    i love watching everyone dye

    but is it odd i rather enjoy the mystery of it ?

  6. What a beautiful stack of fabrics.

  7. "Time is my main material." I love that.

  8. Question for you--did you keep the different varieties of goldenrod separate when you did your dye experiments, or did you just mix it all up. I'm curious as I'm in Central Oklahoma and we have goldenrod here, but I have no idea what varieties. Do you know how permanent the dye is?

  9. Hello Leigh

    In Canada, the goldenrod varieties seem to come into bloom at slightly different times. Some are just buds while the others have their flowers nearly gone, they are so mature.

    To answer your question, no I did not keep the varieties separate.
    I did separate the flowers from the leaves and stems, and that was time consuming but did make a difference. The fabric dyed with just flowers was clear lemony yello while the fabric with the leaves was more golden. It also depended on the fabric - and I didnt have enough of each variety to make really scientific experiments, so that's another variable.

    I would say that it seems to be fairly permanent. I have washed and rinsed the cloth and the colour remains. I am using the golden rod silk that I dyed in this post in a large quilt. It looks really gentle and beautiful.

    Thanks for your questions and good luck with natural dyeing.

  10. I plan to do some dyeing with goldenrod with my outdoor nature class or 3-6 year olds. I do not want to use lye as I don't want them to touch it. Do you know if you can dye with a room temp or cook dye bath, just using alum and wet silks?

  11. Kristin

    Do you have Jenny Dean's wild-colour book? Answers are likely in there. I would say yes, that you can leave out the lye. Now that I am more experienced with plant-dyeing, I have had success with allowing the plant-stuff to steep over night 2 or 3 evenings - and then straining the liquid off - and adding the alum-processed fabrics , bringing to a simmer for an hour - and allowing to steep over night. Repeat the simmer-steep another couple of times.

    All together - it takes me at least a week to dye cloth using plants - because I allow everything to steep.

    Also - when the fabrics have been dyed, I air dry them slowly and allow them to rest for a few days before rinsing.

    Time is our best friend. Good luck.


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