Friday, 18 July 2014

A Trial of Meadowsweet Plant Dye on Wool with Alum, Iron and Copper Mordants and Another Silk Scarf Contact Dye

Meadowsweet is an interesting plant.  The leaves are much like rose leaves, but it comes up in the hedgerow as one straight stem in spring and dies right back in autumn. A rose without a thorn, or big petals either, though the white blossoms do have a lovely scent.  Like sweet almonds. The leaves also smell good, in a different way.  I've read it was Queen Elizabeth I's favourite strewing herb, which means it got scattered on the floor along with the rushes, to sweeten the air.  Curious to think that the great flagstone floors of Tudor halls were not all bare and echoing, back in the day.  People didn't have baths and went for a wee behind the arras - they don't put that in the costume dramas, but it explains why she would have particularly liked meadowsweet.
The flowers keep their scent well when dried to make pot pourri.  Despite reading that the stems give blue colours, I have found meadowsweet plant dyes are unremarkable yellowish shades of beige, though they too, are tenacious, keeping their colour well.  The stems snap easily and long stalks with their heavy flowerheads are often flopped over along the path after rain.  I picked up a bunch of twelve stalks weighing 400g and decided to have another dyeing session. Materials comprised a small skein of wool mordanted with alum - boring, guess how that was likely to come out - and two more, mordanted in advance with iron and copper, same as I did with comfrey. The total weight of wool was about 100g, so this is the result of a four to one ratio of plant material to wool, the whole bunch, leaves, stems, flowers and all, being chopped up with secateurs, soaked overnight then simmered for an hour.

The dye bath was a cloudy orange, the alum mordanted wool came out beige, the iron mordanted wool a dark brown and the copper one was more greenish than my camera shows.  That wool has sat on the side since mid June and still, the meadowsweet flowers are dazzling in the sunshine and falling over in the rain.

That dark brown wool is the best of the bunch, I reckon.  Still trying to repeat the success of a previous geranium leaf contact dye print, I wondered if a meadowsweet dye bath might work in a similar way to the geranium petal one that went so black with iron.  This time, I used a fine habotai silk scarf instead of chiffon, hoping the prints would come out more distinctly on the closer weave.

Hardy geranium leaves were laid out across half the width, then the silk was folded over and rolled firmly round a piece of plastic downpipe, before being tied up with string that had had a dip in a jar of vinegar in which I keep rusty nails soaking, to provide iron.  The whole thing was stood up in a dye bath of 200g meadowsweet, 
simmered for an hour and left overnight.  Even the little iron on the string turned the whole dye bath dark, as well as the string and the visible silk.  I gave it a day or so to dry out before the big reveal.
These are my best leaf prints so far.

Better still, the dyes did not run during a soak in pH neutral silk wash liquid and a couple of rinses. Where the leaves were pressed against the silk there is a yellowy green and that meadowsweet and iron dye has developed a purple cast, more vibrant than the brown on wool. 

I have picked up another bunch of meadowsweet stems and am drying them to keep, not for strewing on the floor or making pot pourri, but to store for winter dye experiments.  

My daughter is home again and was persuaded to humour me by modeling my latest scarf for the blog. 

Now I would never have imagined that Elinor Gotland's nose might be put out of joint by this.

However, there have been signs that she intends to be acknowledged as the resident style queen.


  1. Fran ,your blog is always a joy to read ,such inspirational ideas with fabulous results.
    On a more mundane note meadowsweet makes a wonderful cordial,make as for elderflower but it has a much better flavour.
    Mary (Celtinaspin)

  2. Beautiful result!

    Reading the previous comment, the night after drinking home made elderflower champagne! DH is off to look for meadowsweet before it rains! Thanks for the tip.

  3. far from drinking delicious elderflower, this year, my cordial steeped a bit too long and grew mould in the bucket before bottling. Must get out and try again with meadowsweet - thanks very much.

  4. the root of meadowsweet is supposed to give black with a copper mordant. you'll see why its called filipendula if you harvest the roots.

    1. Thanks Corran. I haven't dug up any roots from the wild, though I did try a dye recipe for the stems which was supposed to give blue - didn't work for me. Maybe I shall grow some in the garden next year and see what happens with roots and a copper mordant - or at least see what the roots ook like :)