Friday, 7 July 2017

Dyeing Wool and Silk with Dyer's Chamomile Flowers

Several days of great heat in late June covered the Dyer's Chamomile plants in flowers and bared the bones of my companion, Elinor Gotland. Looking very chic with her fleece freshly shorn, that ewe lay out baking herself in the dye garden. I marvelled at her from the lurking spot where I perspired in the shade.
"You should keep your fleece like that. It's very slimming."
"I'd catch a chill, Beaut, soon as the wind blew. I have such a delicate constitution."
"Delicate? It's 30 degrees today - don't know how you can bear this heat. I can't remember when we last had weather like this in Wales." 

Dyer's Chamomile Anthemis tinctoria is said to thrive in poor soil with sharp drainage. I thought my plants did well enough in our cool, damp climate til I saw how they burst into action with some sunshine. That evening, the picked flowers weighed over 100g and while the heat lasted, I could gather as much again every two days. Three consecutive harvests were simmered for an hour, then left in the pot and reheated for another hour with a 50g skein of millspun merino yarn that had previously been mordanted with 10% alum. The wool was allowed to soak in the pot overnight, then a silk scarf, also mordanted with alum, was rolled up round other bits of fresh plants from the dye garden, tied up with string and simmered in the afterbath.

Wool and Silk dyed with Dyer's Chamomile Flowers
The colour from the first dye bath came out a beautiful sunshine yellow on both wool and silk.

Wool and Silk dyed with Dyer's Chamomile Flowers and Iron

The second bath had a splash of dissolved iron added, which sadden the dye to green. The red patterns on the silk were printed from fresh madder root.

Wool and Silk dyed with Dyer's Chamomile and Copper

The third dye pot had copper solution added to it. This made the wool turn a warm green, while the silk heated in the afterbath turned an old gold colour. That may have been affected by some orange seeping out from all the sprigs of coreopsis rolled inside the silk bundle, but it is such a gorgeous colour I shall be trying the same recipe again.

You can tell by the big pictures how pleased I am with these Dyer's Chamomile results. Amazing what a difference a bit of sunshine makes. Of course, the weather has been cloudy and cool since then and my companion has been shivering ostentatiously and clutching an old shawl about her shoulders.
"OK Elinor. You can choose yourself a silk scarf. Not the green one, though. Himself wants that."
"That man, wearing silk? Me oh my, Monty Don eat your heart out."

Hope we get some more sunshine in July.


  1. Such lovely results! I have dyers chamomile but it's the variety "Sauce Hollandaise" with white flowers, yellow centres. This is the first year that I've been able to pick enough to dye with so I'm looking forward to seeing if the flower colour makes a difference.

    1. That will be interesting - I think it is the centre of the flowers that has most dye. I wrongly supposed Anthemis tinctoria only came as all yellow flowers and the white petal ones were anthemis nobilis, I've learned something new and will look out for these, so thanks :)