Friday, 21 August 2015

Dyeing Wool and Silk with Croscosmia Flowers

Crocosmia, or Monbretia, has been taking over the path to my front door, despite some brutal digging at its corms.  I am the Slack Alice of tidy summer borders and crocosmia evades my spring clear outs by lying dormant til May.  Fed up of wet swipes at knee height, I went out along that path with
secateurs, mentally prepared for savage action.  Or not.  It was dry that day, the plants glowed in fiery riot and after sweeping the spent blossoms up, I just wondered if their colour could be extracted for a dye.  The basket had 20g dried or wilted flowers and a brief simmer in a small pan resulted in a strongly orange coloured bath, to which was added 10g merino tops, mordanted with 10% alum.
"Not really captured the blaze, have you Beaut?  What's that beige bit, down the bottom?"
"That, Elinor, is the effect of acid, in this case, vinegar.  Which is something you'd know all about, you caustic old ewe."
"Just because you've wasted a morning and a nice bit of merino, there's no need to get shirty with me."  My companion went back to slicing limes for her ginger beer. "There's a reason why your
reference books don't include crocosmia. Stick to weld and woad, Beaut.  Plants people have been dyeing with for millenia won't piss on your firework."
"Elinor!"  A sip of her drink kindled the glow of comprehension. "Swigging Moscow Mules before tea, now, are we?"
"Ginger to warm the bones and a drop of vodka to blow on the embers. Autumn is coming."

Alkalising the dye bath with dissolved soda ash had minimal effect on the depth of colour in the wool, though the water still looked a decent orange.  Maybe silk would come up better, might even go green with a drop of iron to modify it.  As the puppy recently uprooted a whole coreopsis plant, I thought I would fire away, roll that up with hardy geranium leaves and a couple of dyers chamomile flowers in a silk scarf
and give it a simmer in the crocosmia bath.  The string to tie the bundle was soaked in a jar of water and vinegar with rusty nails, for a supply of iron.  A few more crocosmia flowers got pressed into the mix.

The silk came out a pale gold. Though I'm not sure how much of that colour leaked out from the plants within the bundle, I'm inclined to repeat the whole process.  As the background to the orange and bronze coreopsis prints, crocosmia exceeded expectations.
Staying pale and unmodified by iron actually proved to be its strength.  By leaving the iron to make shadowy leaf prints and form dark lines from the soaked string, the crocosmia scarf turned out a proper bonfire.
"See, Elinor, you've got to innovate."
"Scorching, Beaut, totally scorching."


  1. Another beautiful scarf Fran! And another hiding place for Her Ladyship!


  2. stunning...wonder if the red crocosmia might have the same effect?

    1. Might give a stronger dye. Someone on Ravelry was saying they got a stronger colour after leaving crocosmia to macerate for a day.

  3. I hope you do not mind me posting this for you Fran... I saw it on Pinterest and thought of you.

    1. I have read the preface and I already want to own the real book. Thanks very much indeed, I am off to good old ebay.