Friday, 6 September 2013

Making Sunflower Dye from the Plant to the Wool

The new garden wall is a thing of beauty - notice the English Bond every five courses.  It is also a shelter and suntrap for tall plants.  Last May, while the footings were still being dug, I planted a multipack collection of sunflower seeds in trays in the greenhouse.  I have taken to starting them this way because slugs are more acrobatic than they look.  Remarkable how they can shin up even a tall stem in the border.  Never mind the worm at the heart of the rose, in my garden, their dark secret greed doth every seedling destroy. 

These sunflowers had to wait a bit longer than planned, growing on in the veg patch.  The young plants finally reached the new wall border in early July and needed daily watering through the heat wave.  In return, they leapt up, tygers, burning bright. Just gorgeous.  Helianthus annuus.  The past hard winter and hot summer have spared me from standing watch with a torch all night.  Truthfully, I mean there was no need to use slug pellets this year.  
I would have grown them anyway, but in  'A Dyer's Garden', it says that if well boiled, sunflowers give a green dye . The 'Russian Giants' have gone over, but 'Colour Fashion' and 'Red Sun' are still putting up plenty of secondary flowers.

At the feet of the big girls, the dwarf doubles 'Teddy Bear' are only just flowering now.  I have to give them a little time in the sun. The Helianthus debilis 'Italian White' look too pale to give much dye, so  'Colour Fashion' and 'Red Sun' were up for the chop.  Rita Buchanan doesn't specify precisely what ratio the weight of flowers to wool should be, but she does say you need to grow lots and must pick them in full bloom.  
Shed a tear over this dye bath. What the hand, dare seize the fire? Certainly twisted the sinews of my heart.  Two hours boil for 500g of flowers, left to soak overnight. Next day, I put in an 80g skein of Texere Chunky, mordanted with Alum and Cream of Tartar.  This got heated up to a simmer over one hour and was kept at 90 degrees for another hour.  

What dread beige!  Noooo!  
Rita says this dye is not pH sensitive, so no good scrambling for the soda ash and/or vinegar to modify the colour.  Haven't bothered with iron or copper afterbaths all season, but I still have a jam jar of vinegar with pennies in it, festering on a shelf since last winter. Poured in a healthy lug and simmered for twenty minutes. Copper did the trick, I got green wool.

Really not worth the sacrifice.  I'd promise the sunflowers will be safe from me next year, only I have read interesting things about Hopi sunflowers giving blue, black and purple dye.  Apparently, 
that comes from the seeds, so I wouldn't have to pick the flowers until the plants had died and dried.  
The copper ought to make this wool a great slug deterrent  itself.  I might end my slug war crimes by knitting little mats to go round the base of next year's seedlings. 

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely garden you have! But I feel your pain on the beige front :-)