Friday, 12 September 2014

Dyeing with Black Hollyhock Flowers

Alcea niger, the black hollyhock, is not truly black, but darkest maroon.  I suspected that its darkness concealed an even wider range of dye pigments than I found in the Double Maroon variety last year. Though I sowed black hollyhock seeds late last August, the slugs had most of them.  Two plants survived, by July, enough to pick a dozen flowerheads and give them a gentle simmer before adding a modest amount of scoured fleece, mordanted with 10% alum.

The dye bath looked a rich wine colour.  The fleece came out grey. Perhaps I overheated it and killed off any blue shades.

Once I had collected another good handful of flowers, I put them in a solar jar with warm water.  It turned purple within half an hour.  Terrific - I put in a large handful of lovely Polwarth fleece to soak up solar powered purple. August was cloudy and damp, but four warm weeks ought to have shifted some colour into the wool.

Less heat seems to have meant less colour, but not more variety. How did all that glorious purple stay obstinately in the water? What could be done to fix it on the wool?  Pulling out the locks, shown top left, wasted a fair amount of tangled Polwarth fibres - top right.  Still, I had a go at flicking out the tips and spinning from the locks to make a fine fingering weight yarn.  Soft and pretty, but vanishingly pale grey.

Not the subtle and complex colours I had hoped for.  Slightly grubby looking Polwarth really and well, the other is just grey fleece. By the beginning of September, the hollyhock spikes still had a couple of flowers at  their very tips.  One more shot at extracting some purple.  Trusting the hardy geranium leaves to make a pattern, a few black hollyhock petals were scattered on alum mordanted silk.

Using the remains of a coreopsis dye bath with some iron water added, the strip of silk was wrapped around a length of drainpipe and simmered, using the same method as usual.

Adding iron to the coreopsis dye bath had turned the outermost silk a rich olive green.  Unrolling it to see what had happened to the inner layers, the geranium leaves had made a brighter yellow than earlier in the summer.  Though the petal marks were smudges rather than prints, the black hollyhocks had at last given up some purplish dye.
My companion sighed with content as she parked her arse on the silk. 
"Fair play, Beaut.  You found your Land of Heart's Desire."  Her tone was abstracted.
"Oooo.  I'm not the only one enjoying a purple patch, then."
"Away with Yeats' faeries, me."
 She sauntered off with a casual wave of her hoof.
"Elinor Gotland, come back with that silk, you mad old ewe!"  

"Let me have all the purple I have lost;
Work when I will and idle when I will!
Black Hollyhocks, come out of your grey world
For I would ride with you upon the wind."  
"The wind blows over the lonely of heart, and the lonely of heart is withered away."


  1. Fran the patterning of the leaves is beautiful.

    1. It is. I keep coming back to those geranium plants with another bit of silk and another left over dye bath. Very straightforward and lovely every time. Lucky the geraniums keep putting up new leaves and interesting how their dye colour is shifting - greener in spring, yellower now.

  2. Sorry, I meant are beautiful.