Friday, 9 February 2018

Goldenrod Plant Dye on Wool and Silk

Goldenrod, or Solidago, has a great reputation among dyers  for producing a strong, lightfast yellow dye. The plants are said to thrive in full sun with sharp drainage, which may well be why I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to grow it in heavy clay in damp South Wales. 

My neighbours have one of the smaller species thriving in the cracks of their concrete path, but even in a raised border with added grit, I have had no luck. I had to stop and stare when I came across great swathes of a huge species of Goldenrod last August, not in a garden but on muddy, rough ground by a railway line . You might think the photo above is shown sideways - it isn't, there had been a rainstorm and though these Goldenrod plants would have been five feet tall, they were bowed over with the weight of their wet flowers. The poor, battered giants were growing in South East England, where summers are generally more dry and sunny.

At the time, I was not only away from home, but also occupied with more important stuff. Even so, I couldn't pass up the chance to pick up a few Goldenrod flowers knocked down by the rain. When I got back to Wales, I stuffed them in a large pot and simmered them, but I've no idea what weight  I collected or how long the plant material festered in the pot before I had time and energy to sieve it out and examine the dye bath. Oh, actually, looking at the dates on the two photos above, I can say they were taken 12 days apart.
I can also derive from looking at the second photo that the neglected dye bath turned out to be acidic - see the strip of pH paper next to the central jam jar? I put vinegar in the sample on the left, which made it even more acid and paler, soda ash in the jar on the right made it more alkali and deeper yellow. The photo jogs my memory, I think I put enough soda ash in the main dye bath to get it just above neutral pH before adding some yarn and simmering again to see how it would dye.

I rediscovered that yarn only lately, stored in a plastic bag. The total weight is 250g. I recognise the two types well enough, the three little skeins on the left are mulberry silk, the three on the right are Texere chunky 100% wool. All would have been mordanted with 10% alum by weight before dyeing.

Judging by the look of them, I'd say the yellow is the pure result of dyeing with Goldenrod only, the middle colour was probably modified after dyeing by a brief heating in a dilute bath of copper acetate and the green would be Goldenrod modified with iron. The silk is prettier than the photo suggests, paler than the wool, almost iridescent. All the skeins still look a desirable colour after spending six months in a plastic bag in a box under the bed, not a bad result from one bunch of flowers, good enough to make me think I should have another try at growing Goldenrod in my dye garden this year.

Presently the ground is far too cold and sodden to permit much gardening and I am spending the long, dark evenings knitting by the fire. Trawling through the Ravelry pattern database for a project that called for a modest amount of sturdy, chunky wool yarn, I was delighted to find these Cadeautje slippers by Ysolda Teague. Maybe the best little present you could get in February.

The slippers are made with thrums - short lengths of unspun wool fibres worked in with the knitted yarn to pad and insulate the fabric. I've fancied trying thrums since I saw someone making thrummed mittens at Wonderwool and felt how cosy they were inside. Merino, Blue Faced Leicester or Shetland are the types of wool tops recommended for thrumming. Stroking the fibres and trying out the colours of several unlabelled bumps lurking at the back of my drawer, I decided to go with the red, which I think must be Devonia from John Arbon.

The soles of the slippers are knitted flat with thrums, then the top of the slipper encloses them by picking up stitches all around the edge and working on circular needles. The construction of the foot works out most pleasingly neat, there is a wide range of shoe size options given in the pattern and the size 7 fits my feet nicely.

Rather than stop with the short ankle cuff given in the pattern, I modified it to make a split on the outside of each leg and carried on knitting and thrumming til my Goldenrod dyed yarn ran out. I made fat thrums and used up at least 150g of wool tops, spinning up my last 50g to make enough yarn to border the split with button holes and finish with an i-cord bind off.

I name these tall slippers 'Goldenrod Beauts'. So warm to wear and such a pleasurable knit, I'll definitely be using this pattern again.


  1. breathtaking colours ,especially the silk

    1. Might do some embroidery with that, wish I had more, it is very sophisticated and subtle. Next year ...

  2. WOW! Love those, need them in -25C SNOWy Calgary!!!!

    1. oo, can't compete with that, just sleet going to rain this week. Your need is definitely greater than mine :)

  3. they look great - only, I practically never wear my "sock shoes" (without thrums), because I need proper soles - too much running in and out here! in the pic with only the thrummed sole it looks like a particularly nasty fat slug:)
    I have similar problems with ornamental goldenrod in the garden, so I only pick the wild (solidago virgaurea) that grows along the roads - usually on the side of a bank = rather dry and well drained... when I collected seeds and grew it in pots - the seedlings succumbed to rot after a few weeks:(

  4. Could be the Love Slug, with all those heart shaped red thrums. Lives on Valentines Cards, when it can't get chocolates and flowers. I've not seen goldenrod growing wild round here, I was thinking of buying seeds - maybe I should just keep looking.