Friday, 21 April 2017

Dandelion Flower Dye on Wool and Cotton

I straightened up slowly after wrestling a particularly recalcitrant weed out of the lawn. Crumbs of earth spattered up against the back of my companion's newspaper as I flung the beast down onto the patio.
"April really is a cruel month for dandelions, Elinor. This one put up quite a struggle." 
She dusted off her crossword puzzle, regarding me with some irritation.
"You might look very savage all covered in mud, but I see the plant won. Carry on digging in that slap dash fashion, snapping off half the root and the dandelions will grow back in no time." Elinor stomped across the lawn. "Look, this one is already setting seed. Soon you'll have a whole new generation to contend with."

I flopped into a chair. 
"I've been saving the flowers, though I suppose I could have another go at dyeing with dandelion roots, lots of online sites list them as a source of magenta red. Don't know if I can be bothered, though. Last time I tried, I got no colour at all. Not even beige."
"Which of the 234 species of dandelion root did you try?"
"I have no idea."
"Well, consider this a great opportunity for a controlled trial, Beaut. I should think most kinds of dandelion have found a home in your garden."

My dandelion dyeing objective was much simpler, just the April project from the Plant Dyes for All Seasons 2017 Calendar. Though I've heard you can also dye with the leaves, it was only too easy for me to gather 300g of dandelion flowers, this being about five times the total weight of the small skeins of wool I planned to dye. All of them had been mordanted in advance with 10% alum. Wanting to double check the effects of shifting pH and modifying the dye colour with iron and copper, I decided I was already confident enough of the necessity of using a mordant for dandelion dye.

After simmering the flowers for an hour and sieving them out of the bath, I added the soaked yarn, simmered it for another hour and left it in the dye pot overnight. Next day, the wool had taken on a pale greenish yellow colour and I put one skein aside as my reference point. In the photo above, it is on the far right, with the other skeins described anticlockwise. The pH of the dye bath was already naturally slightly acidic and soaking the second skein in water with vinegar made it only marginally paler. Soaking the third skein in water with dissolved soda ash to alkalinise it made the yellow come up much brighter and clearer. Pouring the remaining dye bath into two pots, I added some iron dissolved in water to one and copper to the other. The fourth and fifth skeins were warmed for half an hour in these two pots before rinsing, iron modified the original colour to a grey green, while copper made it go bright green. I think that last is the nicest colour I got, very vernal.
Having gathered another whole kilogram of dandelion flowers, I remembered a previous occasion, when I wished I hadn't squandered expensive woollen fabric on such an unremarkable plant dye. This time, I used a long offcut from some cotton and linen mix curtains, which had been mordanted with aluminium acetate. Well wetted and rolled up around some blackberry, hardy geranium and lycestra leaves with some dried flowers of coreopsis and chamomile and bits of fresh madder root to add splashes of yelllow, bronze and red, the bundle was tied with string soaked in dissolved iron. Expecting the iron to turn the dandelion dye a dull green, I simmered the loose fabric at the top of the roll in the
pot of dandelions on its own, before standing the roll up the other way in the pot with the business end submerged.
After an hour or so simmering, overnight soaking and a day or two to dry, the roll was unrolled. Dandelion dye had made the loose part of the cotton/linen mix go a similar colour to the first sample skein of wool, the roots and flowers had contact dyed the colours I had hoped for and the leaves had made iron prints.

In this photo, the fabric is folded in half, with the part which was innermost on the roll showing. The outer portion gets a bigger dose of the iron from the string and the colours are thus more saddened and the leaf prints more dense.

It has been one of those months. Good in parts. Plenty of dry weather and a fair amount of sun, but not many of my dye plant seeds have done well. The coreopsis seedlings mostly curled up due to thrips in the greenhouse and three successive sowings with no germination have convinced me my saved weld seeds are no good. No use grieving. I have ordered a new packet of weld seeds and some plug plants of other kinds of coreopsis. With some embroidery, the duller end of the cotton print made a cushion to thank my friend BG, who gave me the curtain material. 

At last, the time is ripe.

Tomorrow we are off for the weekend of all wool festival weekends!

 Awake BG and with my Mum,
The happy road to Builth Wells run;
Shake off dull sloth and joyful rise,
For Wonderwool at half past five.

(Poetic licence there, we shan't actually leave til quarter to eight and I shall be driving.)


  1. It 's a bee remix cushion! Lucky BG. Nice poem!

    1. Poem is adapted from a hymn - a paean to wonderwool :)

  2. lovely pillow - I esp. like the clear read madder root prints! they might be used in a 2nd print? and I envy you your weekend - one day I'll travel over to wonderwool - but unfortunately not this year:( let us know about all the nice stuff you'll see - and buy?:)

    1. The madder roots do still look red after contact printing, but I have tried reusing them before - very little colour came through. Still haven't put away the wonderwool shopping - I have just been admiring it all over again.

  3. I like the added stitching to your dyed piece. Nice job all in all! Helen

    1. I enjoyed the sewing - I have seen it done quite often, embellishing contact printed fabric in photos on a facebook group, surprising how effective an easy running stitch can look.