Thursday, July 24, 2014

Learning about Saint John's Wort for dyeing

saint john's wort plant dyed wool skeins, indigo and muslin hand stitched patchwork on studio wall
Mid summer is the time to process wild Saint John's Wort for dye colour.  These flowers were gathered from our beach and weeded from drive way and juniper bushes. 
Hypericum perforatum.  Identified by the row of little black dots along the edges of the petal.
Jenny Dean advises that one can get four different shades on wool if just the flower heads are used.  This is my first time trying Saint John's Wort as a dye plant, and next time I will try to gather many more flower heads.  I only had about 3 oz. 

The recipe says to simmer the flowers until the dye liquid turns deep red and then strain it.  At first the liquid is a clear golden colour that looks red from above, but isn't.
It took about two hours to get the colour below and by then it was so concentrated that I had to add 3 cups of water and re-heat the strained colour to get enough liquid. 
I dyed three different pieces of wool along with skeins of about 2 oz each.  
The first one is the darker piece in the photo below.  Alum mordanted, simmered 15-20 minutes. (Jenny Dean advised that I would get a green colour).  
The middle piece of wool in photo above was UN mordanted wool, simmered one hour. (This was supposed to turn red..but didn't.  In fact, it looks greenish don't you think?).  
Finally, the pale piece was steeped overnight.  It was mordanted with alum and cream of tarter first.

Even though I did not get the promised colours this time, I am pleased to be learning more about using plants from my local area to dye fabric and threads with.  Experience is the best teacher.  
I'm still working on dyeing a good amount of blanket weight wool to create a new piece with.  Above is the onion skin dyed piece from way back in May- more than 90 inches long, 50 inches wide. 

Two books were my guide for Saint John's Wort...both by Jenny Dean.
Wild Color: revised and updated  and A Heritage of Colour: Natural Dyes Past and Present


  1. Beautiful shades from a pretty amazing plant. I've been using the same plant just a couple of weeks ago here in Yorkshire.

  2. Yes, Claire. I visited your blog about a week ago and saw what you had been doing and that partly inspired me to work with Saint john's wort.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experiments

  4. if you are using only the flower heads then you're potentially wasting a lot of dye.

    if you make an ecoprint from the top six inches of a flowering stalk you will see that the red dye [which is the one that will fix on protein fibres] is contained in little dots on the plant, quite thickly on the flowers but also on the leaves and stalks - decreasing in number as you go down the stalk.

    so it really makes sense to use the top six inches of the plant rather than just the flower heads

    bear in mind too that the water used to make up the dye will have an effect on colour as well

    and you may find that putting mordanted wool into the same dyebath as unmordanted won't give you clear some of that mordant may be released back into the dyebath and affect the colour.

    to get a deep cherry colour on wool i first of all drop in a piece of cotton [or other cellulose fibre] to pick up as much yellow as possible - then put in a wool sample. or put one of each into the dyepot, they'll each attract "their own" colour.

    it's a splendid dye plant. endless fun and amusement :)

  5. Thank you India

    I have saved the tops of the plants without the flowers. I understand that they will still be OK even if dried. I want to try some more as am intrigued by getting red colour from this plant.

  6. Lovely color, even if not red!

  7. peekaboo - i see you in those lovely curtains. in those circles inside a square . . .

  8. I have been extracting the red for a long time by only using the flowers, but i am using it in a oil, for herbal reasons and had decided to use onlt the leaves, since the flowers won't bloom in my garden and guess what? I got a lovel red oil after my months long wait! I am going to do some experiments with it in my cloth dying now, after taking a class with Lotta Helleberg this spring, and reading India's post! Thanx for the great information!


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