Friday, 24 April 2015

A Trial of Dandelion Flower Dye

The roadside dandelions look outstanding this April. As I crouched on the verge of the A48, snapping off flowers and ignoring the cars whipping by, I was joined by an ancient itinerant who hopped off his bike, asked what I was doing, then lay down for a sleep in the sun. I have a way to go to be as free as him from concern about who might see me and what they might think. Bit more uncomfortable than I had supposed, just taking this small step off the beaten track, inwardly debating which of us was making best use of our time, given the probability I was collecting material for yet another natural beige dye.  Still, there were heaps of flowers and pretty quick to pick.

Anyway, back in the privacy of a suburban kitchen, 900g dandelion flowers were simmered for an hour or so in 7 litres of water, leaking out a clear yellow colour. Remembering that flower dyes often come out stronger at an alkaline pH, I filled two jam jars and added soda ash to one til the pH came up to 10.  Since the dye colour got visibly deeper, I alkalinised the whole bath.
The subjects for this dye trial were 50g fleece mordanted with alum, 35g wool yarn premordanted with iron and 35g premordanted with copper and 20g cotton jersey mordanted with aluminium acetate. Overall, the ratio of fresh flower weight to wool and cotton was about 6:1.  The things were soaked beforehand then simmered in the dye for an hour or so and left in the pot overnight.
After a couple of rinses in plain water and a chance to dry out,
this is how they looked.  Only all a bit greener than the camera will pick up and you'll have to take my word for it that the cotton was a stronger yellow and the iron mordanted skein less red in tone, though it was nearest to the dreaded beige.  
Hardy geraniums have been making the most of this April sun too, putting up new leaves.  I did not realise how well they contact print til halfway into last summer, so I took the chance to see what the spring leaves would do on a strip of alum mordanted silk, bound up round a length of 
drainpipe with string

soaked in iron solution and simmered in the remains of the dyebath.  The ochre splodges come from a few dried up petals of yellow cosmos I found gathering dust in a dish, the background silk took up a pale green and the leaves printed quite clearly with iron, but didn't add much colour of their own.  While I count the weeks in linear time, my imagination has been jumping through a wormhole to another dimension when my life can be immersed
in plant dye baths.  Now for a bold step forward, to discover the exigency of dyeing fine wool fabric, which is actually heavier and more expensive than good silk, but I think might sit well as a stole or wrap.  Truly daring, I cut a piece 1.5m long by 50cm wide, scoured and mordanted it with 10% alum, then laid out a band of geranium leaves sprinkled with dried coreopsis flowers, folded the other end over, added some more leaves and flowers and tied it up with the iron soaked string.  As the wool fabric weighed 100g, I picked another 400g dandelions and simmered them up in the previous afterbath, before giving my creation a simmer and an overnight soak.  
Next morning, I headed off to work sad at heart, as the wet wool looked like that dingy brown I got on iron mordanted yarn.  Which of course, I could have predicted, had I paid attention to the original test bath findings.  When I unrolled the 
dry bundle, it was a real lift to find the geranium leaves had given up a green gold.  I think that may have happened because I alkalinised the bath again, to get more colour out of the second lot of dandelions.  The main colour also came out more of a subtle olive green than the photo shows, so my piece of wool fabric is not quite as dull as it seems.  
"I don't think the time and the dandelions have been wasted, do you, Elinor?
"To be honest, Beaut, I'd say you should have laid down and made the most of that sunshine.  Don't know how long we'll wait for some more, they're forecasting rain all next week."  
"Right now, I care nothing for the weather.  At last it is Wonderwool Wales !"  I skipped about, slinging a change of underwear and a toothbrush into a holdall, leaving plenty of room to bring home all my shopping. "Is your bag packed for the weekend and have you taken some cash out?  Remember lots of stalls don't take cards."
"Oh, I only go for the atmosphere, Beaut."

Elinor Gotland is economical with the truth, if nothing else.


  1. I'm intrigued by your yarn results here ... I've been getting some lovely greens with dandelion leaf (no flowers) after-mordanted with iron.

    1. Dandelion leaf - just when they finished flowering and thought they were safe. Now, I might visit those plants again.