Friday, 29 June 2018

Dyers Chamomile and Solar Jars

Two Dyers Chamomile plants have taken over the entrance to my dye garden. Every winter I cut them down to 10cm above ground, every spring they bush out, then sprawl over the lawn in summer. Having survived frost and snow, they are absolutely loving a month of unusually hot weather.
I picked all the flowers last week, rubbed off some blackfly then staked up the stems to stop them getting chewed by the lawn mower. About 500g fresh flowers were simmered in a pot of water for an hour, then sieved out before I put 225g alum mordanted yarn into the dye bath to simmer for another hour. 
Indicator paper showed the bath was acidic at pH 5, so I added just enough soda ash to bring it up toward neutral pH 7. The yarn was 75% merino with 25% tussah silk, which I know takes up dye particularly well. Notwithstanding these advantages, I reckon the hot weather has doubled the dye content of my Dyers Chamomile flowers, as I have never known the dye come out as powerful as the colour of the actual flowers or turn as rich a green with an iron modifier.
A few days later, more flowers had opened and with more hot sunshine forecast, this seemed the perfect time to run a solar jar experiment. Only my Kilner jars were still full of experiments I never completed last year. I remember the tall jar contained 200g flowers, but the garden had to be abandoned in July and I only got round to putting a couple of alum mordanted silk skeins in there during the winter.
The jar sat on the underfloor heating in the bathroom for a while and came outdoors in spring. After nearly a year, the flowers were still intact and sweet smelling and fermentation had acidified the pH right down to 4. When I emptied it onto the compost heap, very little yellow had gone into the silk. Though I hoped that rinsing might wash out the acid and bring up some colour, the silk stayed drab and will need overdyeing. Years ago, I spent July filling these jars with concentrated dye solutions, made in a dye pot then plant material sieved out. They looked very pretty lined up on the shelf, I had scalded the jars in advance and no mould grew. Unfortunately, when I tried to dye with them during the winter, only the jar of meadowsweet gave wool much colour. I know saving up flowers as you pick them over a few weeks works fine in a solar jar, but it isn't a long term storage solution, for longevity, flowers need to be dried.

The other two jars of Dyers Chamomile had alum mordanted Speckled Face Beulah fleece in them. One also had a couple of rusty nails in the bottom to provide iron. Though it looked yellow when I tipped it out, once the air got to the wool, within a minute the iron turned the dye to green. I would have been pleased with the depth of colour if I hadn't seen how much more strongly this year's flowers are working. The fleece felt a bit rough, but as I expected from past experience, it had survived.
My companion, Elinor Gotland, had been less optimistic. She called across the lawn to me while I was carrying the jars down to the compost heap.

"Whatever you left to rot in there, just dump the lot and don't go bringing any mouldy wool into the house, Beaut. What last year's solar jar experiments should be telling you is not to start any more."
Putting the fleece into a bucket to rinse, I shouted back over the noise of the hose.
"I think some of these jars must have had different varieties of coreopsis flowers in them, only they've all turned to mush. Probably rinse off ok."
"Oh, disgusting. Just scrub out the jars and be done with it. What can you possibly make with a few handfuls of plant dyed fleece?" 


  1. Absolutely love your fairies/angels sitting amidst vibrant yellow flowers!

    1. Thanks very much - it's official, we have a heatwave.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Claire - I've decided making fairies is a good project for the June chapter of my book which is about solar dyeing :)

    2. You are writing a book??? exciting!!

    3. I committed to it while chatting things over in Leominster last Easter. It is going to be a companion to the 2019 calendar - if I get it finished. I am writing the June chapter at the moment, so nearly half way :)

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