Friday, 10 August 2018

Attempts at Dyeing with Marigold Flowers

I used to grow pot marigolds as companion plants for tomatoes and I was sure that some years ago, I'd got a good orange dye colour from them. Only that was before I started keeping a blog, so I couldn't check. This spring, I sowed a couple of packets of marigold seeds.By June,the plants had big flowers with multiple layers of petals.

Here is a photo of one flower, laid on alum mordanted wool fabric in the middle of a circle of eucalyptus leaves. 

So many petals and such a bright orange, I thought these marigolds would easily be able to dye the thin layer of wool fabric underneath them. After rolling and tying up the fabric and simmering it for an hour, then leaving it to cure for a few days, I found the eucalyptus leaves had printed beautifully, but there were no marks at all on the wool to show where the marigolds had been. Still, hey ho, very few plants have a sufficiently intense dye concentration for contact printing. With my expectations downgraded and the sun blazing the whole way through July, it didn't seem too much to ask that a solar jar full of marigolds would dye a measly 10g of alum mordanted wool and silk fibre.

Not a lot of joy to be had from the jar by August, was there?.

Somewhat baffled, I thought it might help to have a proper look at the dye. No shortage of new flowers blooming and the sun still shining, so last week, I simmered a big basketful of marigolds in a pot of water. After sieving out the flowers, the remaining fluid looked, well, just like water - see the sample in the jar on the left? When I added some dissolved soda ash to the jar on the right, it turned bright yellow, convincing me there was actually dye in the dye bath. Big smile, I reckoned that all this time, my miserable results had been down to having the wrong pH for marigold dyeing. Haha - I put several teaspoons of soda ash into the pot and added a mere 10g of wool before simmering it in the alkaline dye for an hour. This time, the fibres turned a marginally deeper yellow than the wool from the solar jar. I'm disappointed. According to the book, marigolds should be able to dye their own weight of fibre a strong greenish yellow. Probably I've been growing the wrong species. No more casual picking up of seed packets with pretty pictures in the garden centre.  Next year, I shall be buying the old classic pot marigold, Calendula officinalis. Though the ones in the garden do look lovely.


  1. Your 'marigolds' look like a variation of Calendula officinalis to me. It is the 'pot' marigolds or 'french' marigolds you want...I think. They have a pungent, serrated leaf and should yield good yellows and oranges. Looking it up I see an African marigold, Tagetes erecta, which is the one I've used for dyes before. Maybe try that?

  2. Tagetes species have way more colour than calendula (aka pot marigold). No need for the alkaline addition. I’ve also found them best used fresh or frozen rather than dried. In my garden (west coast Canada) calendulas just get horrible black aphids. Yours are very pretty!

  3. I agree, I'd go for the tagetes for dyeing - and you can always use the calendula for making salves etc... just picked a jar full of goldenrod - some more yellow-dyed wool, I'd say:)

  4. Yep, as the others have said, I have had tremendous golden yellows from tagetes - they also dry beautifully, so you can have an enormous bagful at the end of the summer if you keep deadheading them (but not quite dead obviously) and drying them all summer.

  5. Ah, thank you everybody - not calendula officinalis, next year, I shall plant tagetes - you have saved me from more disappoinments and I am well chuffed to have a plan. I bet it was tagetes I dyed with before, if only I could find my old paper records :)

  6. I know you were hoping for a stronger colour, but I do love that gentle yellow <3 What wool did you use? It's so silky and shiny!

    1. I've been using Blue Faced Leicester 75% with silk 25% tops, which I bought at Wonderwool - think it was Adelaide Walker's stand. It is lovely :)