Friday, 17 July 2015

Achillea Plant Dye on Wool

It has been raining solidly for days. The garden is turning into a quagmire and the taller plants have fallen over under the weight of water - I always mean to put stakes for them to grow through, but rarely remember. The big yellow flowers are on a single plant of Achillea Coronation Gold. 

This is a huge variety of comon yarrow, a plant I have dyed with before. Cutting back the prostrated stems near their base produced over a kilogram of plant material. Even if not as powerful as yarrow, I decided such a big quantity ought to contain some dye colour. Just then, my companion, Elinor Gotland, telephoned home from Montreal. Having established that it was also raining there, we got to the real point of her call.
"Did you get that dog then?  Has it chewed up your knitting yet?" 
"I have called our puppy Yarrow, because her fur is golden brown, just like the dye I got from yarrow plants.  Wait til you see her, she is so pretty."
"Handsome is as handsome does, Beaut."
A long silence spanned the continents.
"Are you having a good time at the Fantasia Film Festival?  What have you been to see?"
"A horror film called 'Bridgend'."
"Now, that was uncalled for.  You used to seem happy enough here."
"No, you numpty.  There's a new film based on all those hangings."
"Is that our only claim to fame?  Who would make a film about that?"
"Danish director, British cast.  That girl off 'Skins' is playing the lead."
"So, why travel half way round the world to see it?"  
"I might be interested in advising on the Hollywood remake."
"Or you might be scared of the puppy."

It seems we lost our connection at that point.  I got on with chopping the Achillea up and simmering it for an hour, before sieving out the plant material through a colander. The dye bath looked brassy orange. I put in 200g of chunky yarn, which turned a pale butter yellow after an hour simmering below the boil.  Jenny Dean and Rita Buchanan both say in their books that yarrow dye is only slightly sensitive to pH changes,
so I wasn't expecting much when I tested two samples of the paler yellow dye afterbath.  The jar on the right has the unaltered dye, which had a pH on the acid side of neutral.  Adding enough dissolved soda ash to bring the pH up to 11 caused the dye in the jar on the left to go a much deeper colour. In order to add a variegated shade to the wool, I suspended the skein from the towel rail so that half was above the water level and added
soda ash to the dye bath,before heating it up again.  I got a bit distracted and accidentally let the pot boil, but once it had cooled down, the wool that had been in the alkali bath was a much brighter, richer shade. Jenny Dean also writes that yarrow will dye wool green with an iron modifier, so for a final flourish, I added a glug of iron water from the rusty nail jar and suspended the skein again so that half the original yellow and half the alkali yellow sections were back in the warm dye bath.  Just half an hour soaking, no more risking another boil, and the colour had been shifted to a greenish beige, better once rinsed and dried.

None of the colours look anything like the golden brown I remember from dyeing with common yarrow, certainly they're not like the colour of the dog's fur.  Anyway, it's too late to think of a new name, she already comes when I call 'Yarrow'.  And even if I don't.  It is certainly novel, if a little inconvenient, to have such an interest taken in everything I do.

Now, would that puppy chew anything woolly?
I was about to ring and reassure Elinor that Yarrow was quite harmless, when I noticed a dark and muddy pit had mysteriously appeared just below her hammock.   Perhaps I'll leave mentioning that til she gets home.  I'm sure she will be back soon.  The likes of J-Lo and Brad Pitt are not going to fancy being filmed outside the kebab shop on Nolton Street on a Friday night.  Far too scarey. 


  1. Good dye experiment, the modifying of colours in aferbaths are fascinating.
    Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium) is toxic to dogs, cats & horses just in case the puppy tries to nibble the plant.

    Susan (Pembs).

    1. O, thanks for the warning. The puppy is on a mission to eat my garden, I'll have to do my best to keep her off the Achillea.

  2. Yarrow looks a splendid puppy! Also keep him away from onions.. and their skins. There is a whole list of stuff you need to keep him from Fran. Grapes, raisins and Elinor's chocolate amongst many.


    1. I got a list from the vet's this morning when we went to have her chip and booster. How the old dog survived my benign neglect, I cannot imagine, reading all the current safety tips.