Friday, 19 August 2016

More Dyeing with Yellow Cosmos Flowers on Wool, Cotton and Silk

Yellow Cosmos really enjoys full sun.  For a couple of years, I've been sowing a few seeds, just to keep my stock of plants going, really. Never had enough flowers to do much dyeing and frankly, not that excited by having another source of yellow.  This year, having planted out my seedlings in a better site and paid more attention to cutting all the flowers every few days, August has provided a bonanza of bloomage, mostly bright yellow, some strongly orange.  In 2014, I blogged about my first trial, when I saw how washing dyed wool in an alkaline detergent shifted the yellow toward red.  This summer, weighing and saving flowers in a temporary solar jar has set me up nicely for a bit of further experimentation.
Half a dozen plants have provided about 70g of fresh flowers each week and are still covered in buds, though the two in terracotta pots are always thirsty and droop alarmingly if I neglect to water them.  Pouring some fluid out of the solar jar of saved petals into a jam jar with soda ash, confirmed that alkali deepens the dyebath from cloudy yellow to orange. Simmering the whole week's harvest with another teaspoon of soda ash made a dye bath of rich
terracotta.  After an hour simmering and an overnight soak, a skein of about 50g handspun Speckled Face Beulah woolen yarn turned terracotta orange and there was enough power left in the afterbath to dye another 20g skein a browner terracotta shade, once a slug of iron solution was added in.
Pursuing a revived interest in dyeing plant fibres, I mordanted a cotton T shirt weighing 100g with alum acetate, ready for the following week's supply of 70g yellow cosmos. The T shirt was rolled up with some sprigs of coreopsis and a few weld leaves, tied tightly with string that had been soaked in iron solution, then put into an alkaline bath of yellow cosmos to simmer for an hour or two, soak overnight and dry out.

Once unrolled, it seemed a fabulous orange.  After rinsing and a standard 30 degree machine wash with colour powder, the cotton had faded to a soft terracotta, still with deeper contact prints from the coreopsis and yellow from the weld leaves.  In future, I'll use a pH neutral detergent and a wool wash cycle.

While I was admiring this week's unmodified yellow cosmos dye result, my companion, Elinor Gotland, happened to return from another little jaunt to the Mediterranean.  Lost in thought, I jumped when she patted me on the shoulder.
"Hiya, Beaut.  Still hanging around in the garden, titting about with plants, is it?" 
"Just enjoying this big skein, dyed without any mucking about with the pH, that orange one had an alkali bath and the reddish brown had added iron. All from about one to one ratio of fresh yellow cosmos flowers to weight of wool."
"You really should get out more."  
"While you totted up air miles, I have been travelling in the realms of gold."
Elinor rolled her eyes.
"Hardly an Homeric Odyssey."
"Why don't you join me for my next epic adventure - walking the dog in the fields?"
Elinor quite enjoyed our stroll, making tableaux vivants from Keats' Ode to the golden season. She posed as 'soft-lifted by the winnowing wind', I thought 'hefty chum of the harvest mouse'. Happily, she has now developed a greater appreciation of the yellow cosmos. Never did she breathe its pure serene, Til she saw the silk scarf gleaming brown and gold. Then like stout Cortes, when with eagle eyes, He stared at the Pacific, she looked at me with a wild surmise, 
not quite Silent, on a pot plant in the garden.
"Is this a contact dye from one of your yellow cosmos baths?  Fair play, that old gold background colour on the silk may have been worth the journey."
"I like to think I've come a fair way in the last few years."
"Indeed. Take courage from that thought, Beaut.  See if you can you make it as far as the kettle without getting a nose bleed."


  1. They are both wonderful Fran. I particularly like the orange before washing t-shirt. The colour is so bright.

    Does that ewe bleat on all the time? Maybe you should offer her some mint! Don't worry Elinor.... I think you are a lucky lady to be a companion to Fran... All that time off!


    1. Funny how mint never seems to survive in my garden. It's supposed to be invasive ...

  2. lovely scarf! have you tried leaving the dyed stuff for a few weeks before washing? my friend Ulrike, who is a whizz in dyeing veggie fibres with plants, told me that most results are more washfast after a rest of a few weeks between dyeing/drying and washing! no guarantee, but worth a try? the orange wool turned out nicely, too - pity that our average summers are so miserable that sun-loving plants have a hard time here:(

    1. I think you are right - I have been far too impatient to let things 'cure', they are barely dry before I am rinsing them.

  3. Beautiful scarves and tee's. Plant dyeing with natural fibres is tricky, they resisist the dye. The deepest yellow/gold dye I've achieved was by using a cold 48 hour bath with fustic and flax.

    Susan (Pembs)