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Friday, 14 November 2014

Dyers' Chamomile from the Plant to the Wool

Dyers' Chamomile or Anthemis tinctoria is pretty enough to earn a spot in the sun in any garden.  Seeds germinate easily and come on fast in their first year.  The flowers are fat yellow buttons which last for weeks. Although they keep blooming from July to early September, the production of new flowers is relatively slow, so the crop from each plant is modest and the long stalks look gnarly if you just pick off the flowerheads. Having a proper clip at the whole plant now and then stops it growing leggy.   The foliage is finely divided and tough, slugs don't bother to graze on the leaves, but blackfly have to be rubbed off the stems.  Horrible, squishy little sap-sucking beasties.  

Last year, I dried Dyers' Chamomile flower heads to keep for winter.  After a rather pallid outcome from dyeing with fresh flowers late that summer, I never felt inspired to fetch the bag back out of the drawer.  This spring, the plants put on new growth, filled out and flowered nicely.  Decided I'd just enjoy looking at them, then one day in late June, seeing dozens of heads perfect for harvesting, I picked the lot.  Stuffed them into a solar jar with some alum mordanted fleece and left it on the shelf in the greenhouse.  Being one of those things that I didn't have a particular plan for, the jar got left on that shelf til I was clearing down the greenhouse at the end of October.
Emptied the contents into a pail with a clothes peg at the ready. Far from gagging on the stench of festering foliage, I sniffed fresh, fragrant chamomile.  What a result.  I have had to chuck out honking horror fleece from forgotten jars before now.  This wool had picked up a fullbodied yellow colour and the flowers looked little different to when they went in, firm, intact and bright.
Adding some more water, about 50g scoured and alum mordanted fleece was simmered in the pot for a hour.  The resulting yellow is warmer than the picture suggests, though not as deep as the solar dyed fleece shown above it.  The chamomile flowers still hadn't gone mushy and I happened to have come unstuck using up small balls of wool dyed with Japanese Indigo to knit another Dragonfly Wings scarf by Boo.

Not my best dye effort. I had already overdyed some mid blue yarn with coreopsis and was doing the lace border in muted green.  As is the way of such things, it ran out before the last couple of rows.  Rather than finish with deep blue, I put the yarn in the Dyers' Chamomile afterbath with a teaspoon of alum.  There was still enough dye in there to turn the blue into green, but once I had actually used the wool, that new green edge looked oh so wrong. Nothing for it but to put the whole scarf in the dye bath for a gentle simmer, hoping there would be enough yellow left to shift the other colours into harmony.

Very pleased, I really did not anticipate the pale blue + yellow giving such a vernal lime. Although my original Dyers' Chamomile plants have now shot their bolt, been uprooted and dug over, next year I shall start some more seeds.  In future, the flowerheads will be kept steeping in a jar of water til I have enough for a project.  Generations before me were not so daft, there had to be good reason to call this plant Dyers' Chamomile. Much more generous with colour than it first seemed and a positive pot pourri to work with.


  1. Love the way that shawl has turned out. Must admit I wasn't too keen when it was blue and greens, but this is just perfect. If any of your dyer's chamomile developed seed heads you may find it everywhere in your garden next year! I haven't actually planted any of this for about 6 or 7 years, but I always have enough to dye with. It's currently taking over our gravel driveway and I don't have the heart to pull the plants out - they just have to stay there until they're finished. Still getting the odd flower, but probably not for long.

    1. Mmm, blue and green should never be seen. How is that, when the sky looks fine behind the trees? The scarf was just a 'use it up' project for bits of Polwarth too good to waste. BG puts all kinds of colours together and they work for her, but I was really wasting my time with it til I got lucky with that despairing plunge into a chamomile afterbath.

  2. It was a very good idea to overdye your bloue+green shawl with dyer's chamomile. Now it looks really pretty.

    1. Thank you. I am going to try to repeat the combination, aiming for lime, but probably missing!