Last weekend I finally did my first harvest of my small indigo crop, which I have been growing in my garden The variety I have is Persicaria Tinctoria – Japanese indigo, grown from seeds I bought from Bailiwick Blue. The seeds germinated beautifully indoors in the end of March and were planted outdoors in May. They have grown into healthy plants, which I grow in pots as I don’t have enough ground space in my garden. The hot weather in London this spring has really agreed with the plants. They’ve needed daily watering and I have fed them once a week and kept and eye out for slug attacks, but they have been a fairly easy plant to grow.
There are so many ways of using fresh indigo to dye with, but I wanted to make a vat to maximise the amount of leaves I had. I went through my dye books for recipes of various indigo vats and settled on one I found in the book Wild Colour. It was similar to the one I had used for a woad vat in previous years so I was familiar with the steps. I had to replace one of the chemicals with an alternate as I did’nt have any of the recommended one in the house.
I collected 700 grams of leaves for my vat. I saved the stems and added them in a pot with some liquid feed and water. This helps them grow roots, which means the stems can be planted again to produce more plants.
Indigo leaves stripped from stems.
Ready for extraction
First skeins being dyed
When I dye with indigo pigment, I vary the amount of fibre I dye, depending how dark I want the results to be. I read in one of my books that a good ratio is 3/1 with fresh leaves so 700 grams of leaves would dye 233 grams of fibre well. I wasn’t after a particularly dark shade this time so I dyed 600 grams of various fibres in several dips and throughly exhausted my vat.
Indigo can be harvested every two weeks and a week on from my dye day, the plants have grown new leaves and look very happy. Few of these skeins are now in my shop as I’m hoping to dye more throughout the summer.
Indigo stems a week after harvesting – they have started to re-root and produce new leaves
Recently my social media has been filled with people using salt to extract colour from fresh indigo leaves. I tried this method with my woad plant last year with some less than exiting results, but not one to shy away from a failed attempt I wanted to have another go with indigo.
I collected a small amount of indigo (Persicaria Tinctoria) leaves (58 grams) and added approx. two table spoons of salt into a bowl with some un mordanted wet linen, cotton and silk and started rubbing them all vigorously together.
That is the long and short of it. A whole lot of rubbing. Last year with my woad leaves, I only worked the fibres with the leaves once and managed to get a very light mint green shade, which has unfortunately faded to nothing. With the indigo leaves, I worked the fibres 4 times, letting them oxidise and rest between rubs and the colours were much deeper. I realize indigo generally gives stronger colours than woad, but I am now interested in trying woad leaves again.
I left the fibres to dry out for about and hour after my last rub and then washed them in some PH neutral detergent and left them to dry.
I am pretty pleased with the results, especially how well the plant fibres took the colour. I have mainly seen this method used on silk and it works beautifully on that so I am expecting the plant fibres to fade a little. I am planning to harvest my leaves again tomorrow, for another vat. When the plants have picked up again, Id like to try the salt rub again with mordanted fibres to see if the colours are different.
Gardening season has started with a bang and I am lucky enough to have a small garden. It is largely taken up by paving and a patch of very shaded grass. Not much grows in the grass as builders have filled the ground with rubbish. Most of what I grow, is vegetables in pots with my 5 year old, but I have managed to use it well to grow a bunch of dye plants for personal dyeing. As much as I love foraging, it is so much fun being able to grow different colours yourself and learn more about the plants this way. You appreciate the dye process even more.
I am in no means an expert gardener, but throughoully enjoy doing it. I will try and point you out to good websites for advice. I also find following dyers on instagram super helpful as many have dye gardens and share great advice. The current world situation has made it difficult to source compost, seeds and pots which are normally readily available in nearby garden centres. This has changed my plans a little this year as I wanted to expand my garden and build larger raised beds for my dye plants.
Here are the plants I’ve been growing
Woad (Isatis Tinctoria ): This will be my third year growing woad. I have my own seeds this year, which I planted few weeks back. I have tried few times germinating these indoors, but they never seem to survive the move outdoors. I now sow the seeds directly into larger pots and thin out as needed. Woad is an easy plant to grow and needs very little attention. They do suffer from snail and catepillar attacks so covering the plants with netting is advised. Last year I lost most of my plants to catepillars so I am being extra cautious this year. Woad can be used to dye with on it’s first year. On it’s second year, it goes to seed and spreads these wildly so make sure to harvest them swiftly. It can spread a bit too much and become a pest.
1st Year Woad Plant
2nd year woad plant flowering
Woad seeds ready for picking
Indigo (Persicaria Tintoria): I am very exited this year to grow indigo for the first time as the seeds I purchased from Bailiwick Blue have germinated beautifully and are almost ready to be transferred outdoors. I started them in the windowsill in small pots and had shoots within a week. They have grown a bit leggy as I have had trouble sourcing more soil, but hopefully will still be happy once in bigger pots in the sunshine. Susan Dye has great instructions on her website about growing Japanese indigo. I would actually recommend her blog for anything plant dye related.
Madder ( Rubia Tinctorum) : This is a plant that needs both space and time and produces shades ranging from orange, pink, red and rust. This year will be my first homegrown madder harvest as my first plant will be three years old, which is the minimum recommendation for letting it grow. Optimistically I am hoping to have a madder harvest each year after this autumn. I grow my madder in pots as I don’t have enough space for them in the ground. I am hoping this will make harvesting easier also. My oldest madder plant is in a 100 litre pot and you can see the red roots peaking out just on top of the soil. The stems on top of the ground grow crazily and are very prickly to touch. End of summer madder has little flowers that turn to seeds.
3rd year Madder plant
Red roots peaking above ground
Weld (Reseda Luteola): This is a biannual plant and needs two years of growing before it can be used for dyeing. On its first year it will grow as a small rosette on the ground that shoots up on the second year. I had some beautiful success on my weld last year, but a neighbouring cat attacked the pot this past winter and I am not sure if I will be getting any this summer. Weld produces one of the most lightfast yellows in the natural dye world.
1st year weld rosette
2nd year weld plant ready for picking
Yarn dyed with fresh weld
Marigold: The perfect plant for a beginning gardener. It grows easily from seed and is available in most garden centres and shops, in different varities. They don’t need much space and produce blooms through the summer. I dead head them straight after flowering and dry for later use. The dye colour ranges from yellows to oranges
Hollyhock: The black hollyhocks yield blue tones on fibres. Another plants that needs a bit of time and will flower on its second year. My own is only now on its second year, but last year I was gifted some dead heads which I used for dyeing
Dahlia: There are so many dahlia varieties in the world giving shades of green to rust. I bought a plant from a garden centre last year with no knowledge of which variety it is. In the dyepot, its given me olive green colour and the blooms can be picked throughout the summer.
Coreopsis: Easy to grow plant that yields strong orange colours on fibres. Its a beefriendly plant that also produces a ton of flowers through the summer.
Dried flowers from my garden
Clockwise from left: Marigold, Hollyhock, Coreopsis, Dahlia and Marigold
These are only few of the dye plants that can be grown. I have a small eucalyptus tree which I carried from a East London market a few years ago and have used for dye experiments as a well as a small goldenrod plant that hasn’t really taken off. If I had more space, I would definitely expand on my current range. Even having a small windowsill is enough to grow some blooms for dye experiments. Weld, woad and madder are some of my favourite dye plants so growing these in larger quantities would be amazing as I’m not a huge fan of buying dye material.
I am slightly cheating with my local winter dyeplant series as I must admit there aren’t many spruce trees near where I live in London. Nevertheless they do exist in the UK and my dye experiments were done with cones I brought back from Finland, where they definitely are a local plant. We have a bunch of trees in our garden and the lack of snow this winter made the cones easy to find. Spruce cones are something I didn’t think about dyeing with until I came across experiments wih these on social media.
Dyeing with any kind of cones, you come across a lot of tree sap. I dyed with pine cones few years ago and found it wasn’t worth the effort. After weeks of soaking and a decent simmer period, the colours were light brown and the yarn sticky from sap.
I didn’t mordant my fibres nor did I soak the cones. Tree cones are generally full of tannins so mordanting is not required. The cones were frozen when I collected them so I left them to defrost in water and simmered the bath for an hour. I added my fibres the next day; linen, two different silks, wool/cashmere, cotton and two small skeins of superwash BFL.
I simmered the fibres for an hour and left them to cool in the bath.
The colours on different fibres were all strong rosy pinks, apart from the two wool skeins that dyed a little browner. The fabrics were sap free and washed beautifully, yarn a little sticky and my dye pot took a battering and needed a good soak and scrub to clean the sap. I wonder what causes the pink colour in these cones. I dye a lot with alder cones for the lovely caramel brown shades and as I mentioned pine cones gave me shades of beige. I’ve always associated tree cones with these kind of colours. Spruce cone dye reminds me more of avocado dye, which is also a strong rosy pink.
The PH stayed at 7 during the dyeing, which is the ‘normal’ range for my tap water.
I also couldn’t find any information on dyeing with spruce cones in any of my dye books, but would love to find out more. These colours need to be tested for light fastness so they’re off to the windowsill for a few months.
Another dye plant perfect for winter experiments is Eucalyptus. I have a few different trees growing near me. I have no idea which these are, just know they are different looking at the leaves. There are over 35 varieties of eucalyptus in England alone and over a thousand in the world so I can barely even touch the surface of their dye possibility. The colours can range from yellow, brown to orange and red.
First experiments I conducted are with a small plant I have growing in my garden. I carried it home from Columbia Road flower market two years ago. In that time its doubled in height. I picked a handful of leaves for my dyepot as I don’t want to disturb the tree too much as it’s still young
Second tree I found growing near my daughters school and one drop off morning, I happened up some fallen branches. I am sure I get odd looks from other parents when I stopped to collect these on the way to class.
There is another tree nearby the riverside hanging on to the road from a church yarn. The winter storms have been good for a dyer as there too there were plenty of fallen leaves on the ground. These last two trees both have long thin leaves, but I still did separate dye baths.
I am concentrating on dyeing with the leaves although you can dye with the bark also. Eucalyptus needs a long extraction so I simmered all baths for two hours and then left these to sit for two days. I left the leaves in while I added the fibres to improve the colour. I simmered the fibres slowly for two hours and left to cool in the bath until the next day.
All samples were unmordanted and I used various fibres.
The samples above are very pink. The two wool swatches on the right have different dye lengths as I left the one lower on in the dye bath for a week. The colours are strong orange and I hope to find more of these leaves to continue experimenting.
In the last bath, the leaves had had a chance to dry out a little before I picked them. I don’t know if this had an effect on the colour, which was all around light brown.
Oak Galls are funny little round things that can be found growing on oak tree brances. An oak gall wasp lays eggs on the branch and these galls form around the larvae. They are incredibly tannin rich and have been used in ink making since medieval times when mixed with iron.
I collect oak galls in the winter as they are easily visible in the bare tree branches. By then they have turned brown and quite tough and will need to be ground into powder with a pestle and mortar. Often they may contain a wasp so it’s good to leave your bag open and let any bugs escape.
I soaked the ground up pieces for few days in water and then boiled them for an hour. I added in small samples of different fibres; cotton, linen, silk and wool/cashmere – all without a mordant.
I simmered my fibres for an hour and left them to cool in the dye bath. During the dyeing, I had left the ground up gall pieces in with the fibres.
Next I wanted to try making ink. I strained the bath twice, through a coffee filter making sure I’d remove all the bits. I re-heated the dye and divided it into two containers; one for my ink and one for my fibres.
I added a quarter of a teaspoon of ferrous sulphate to both baths. I dipped my fibres in for 5 minutes, removed them and rinsed immeadiatly.
For my ink I added in Gum Arabic solution. It thickens up the ink and depending how much you use, you can even make it into a paste for printing. I tried a little on some watercolour paper with a paintbrush and the colour was a dark black, just as youd expect ink to be.
Although the weather has been milder than usually in January, we are in the middle of winter. Growing up in Finland that usually meant mandatory skiing in schools and freezing temperatures. Even Finland is lacking in snow this year and London has been depressingly warm. A lot of my dyer friends pack up their dye pots for winter, but I like to forage all year round. It is also a good time to give some love to plants I tend to ignore when the fresh blooms of spring and summer start popping up. I am trying to challenge myself to do some weekly experiments on otherwise neclegted plants which are readily available at this time of year.
One of my favourite winter plants to dye with is alder cones. I collect them when they start turning brown and save to use all around the year. Alder trees grow often near water and there are tons near the riversides in London, making them easy to forage.
The tannins in alder cones make them an easy dye plant as no mordant is required. For this experiment I had 50 grams of alder cones and small samples of various fibres as well as a 20 gram skein of wool.
I extracted the colour over few days; simmering the cones an hour at a time and then straining cones out of the dye liquid. Fibres are added in and simmered for an hour and then left to cool. The colours range from warm to cool browns depending on the fibre.
Every year I seem to be in London when the mushroom season is at it’s peak in Finland, There is a rainbow of colours to dye with in the fungi family and I love foraging them for food as well. When I visited home last month I was gifted some cortinarius semisanguineus and cortinarius sanguineus mushrooms, a small sample of each, but enough for some dye experiments
When I got back to London, I weighed the mushrooms. I had 5 grams of cortinarius sanguineus and 4.5 grams of cortinarius semisanguineus. This might seem like a small amount, but the colours go quite far.
I started my dyeing with cortinarious sanguineus. I soaked the dry mushrooms for about half an hour, the liquid immediatly went brigth red and afterwards I simmered them for another half an hour. I measured the PH of the water which was 5, a more acid PH than my usual dye baths. The recommended ratio of dyeing with these mushrooms is 1:3 so 5 grams should dye 15 grams of fibre. I had a 20 gram skein of Merino/Nylon as well a silk sample ready (both premordanted with alum) and a small snippet of unmordanted shetland roving so decided try dyeing these. The dye liquid was a strong red, but shifted to a more orange after I added my fibres. I used an aluminium pan although I normally dye in a stainless steel pot. I left the fibres to simmer for an hour and then to cool in the dye bath.
These two mushroom varieties can give you several dye baths. I dyed a small secone bath with 10 grams of bfl/bamboo, silk sample (both premordanted with alum) and a tiny piece of unmordated shetland roving. Afterwards I kept the mushrooms, but discarded the small amount of liquid I had left.
I then moved onto my cortinarius semisanguineus caps (separating the caps from the stalks yields different colours). The recommended ratio of mushrooms to fibre is 2:3 so I dyed a 10 gram skein of alum premordanted merino/nylon, silk and a snippet of unmordanted shetland roving. I measured the PH of they dye bath which was 7. The fibres were dyed as before and I managed to get a second bath from these mushrooms as well.
These mushrooms are truly magical and I feel so lucky to have these gifted to me. I’m hoping one year to be home around the time they start popping up from the ground.
There was a little bit of colour left in the dye bath so I’ve combined the mushrooms together and am attempting to make some watercolours out of them. Fingers crossed it works!
The generosity of dyers never seizes to amaze me. As well as having friends full of knowledge and advice to whatever dye enquiry I might have, I have been lucky to receive dye plants I have no access to experiment with. Last week I received a parcel of Bog Myrtle (myrica gale) sent to me from Scotland by Julie of Black Isle Yarns. Opening up the parcel the smell was gorgeous, not something you can usually say of a decaying plant that has been travelling for days.
I had to wait a few more days to finally get it in my dye pot. The bath was a mix of leaves as well as twigs. Although the leaves had started to turn brown, I had hopes for good colour.
I simmered the bog myrtle for an hour and a half and measured the PH which was 7. Previously I had dyed with some heather from Scotland and the dye bath PH went down to 4 so I made sure to it check this time also, just in case. My water is neutral/alkaline so an acidic dip without modifiers is always interesting.
The dye liquid turned a dark brown and I left it to cool down a little before straining out the leaves and twigs.
I dyed a variety of fibres, most pre mordanted with alum apart from some roving and a piece of cotton. As there was a bunch of twigs amongst the bath, tannins were present to act as natural mordant. I simmered my fibres for an hour and left them to cool overnight. The results were lovely buttery yellow, a lot stronger on the merino/nylon as well as the silk. The un mordanted cotton and roving stayed quite light in colour.
As I write the walnut season is at its peak. I have been waiting for those beautiful green gems to start falling out of the trees since August, but now he constant rain is keeping me indoors. I found the joy of walnut dyeing last year and then discovered my neighbourhood filled with black walnut (Juglans nigra) trees as well as the odd English walnut (Juglans regia). This year I have been reading more about walnuts and found out they have an alternate bearing cycle. The crops can be quite irregular and trees which produced a large amount of nuts a year before might not bring out a single one this year. The places I have been foraging have been fairly bare compared to last year when I carried home more nuts I could dye with. I dried a bunch so I have an emergency stash at home, for nut dyeing emergencies.
Walnut dyeing is the one of the most eco friendly dyes out there. The trees are grown for the fruit and the wood. The husks, where the dye comes from are discarded. The whole tree is full of tannins, which means no mordant is required for the dye process.
This year is my first year dyeing with leaves of a walnut tree. I collected 300 grams of black walnut leaves to dye 40 g of merino/nylon, a sample of shetland roving as well as cotton and silk fabric. The silk fabric was premordanted with alum. I simmered the leaves for an hour, strained the dye liquid and added my fibres. They were simmered for an hour and then left to cool. The dye liquid was a strong brown colour and this caught on the fibres quite quickly. All, but the alum mordanted silk took on shades of brown when the silk turned a golden yellow.
I tried dyeing with leaves for the second time. I doubled my quantity of leaves and mordanted 300 g of silk/merino and ramie as well as 20g of merino/nylon with aluminium beforehand. I know the tannins in the leaves are a mordant on their own, but I assume the yellow shades cam with the addition of alum.
I could talk about the amazingness of walnut husk dyes for days. The rich browns they yield are gorgeous on their own and even more beautiful when used as a base for dyeing with other plant dyes. As well as my dried husk stash, I also have a bucket of water, husks and vinegar that has been sitting in my flat for a year now, fermenting but luckily not going mouldy. I am saving that for a special smelly dye bath.
To dye with the fruit I break the husks from the nut. I take the nuts out for squirrels to enjoy. Some may think this is silly, but I have an aversion for eating them. I ever really weigh the husks. I use around 20-30 per an 8 litte dye bath. I soak them for a day (at least) and then simmer for at least an hour. I leave them for another day in the dye bath and then strain the dye liquid. The husks could be left in the dye bath with fibres, but I have noticed they easily discolour the yarn/fabric when in direct contact. Fibres are simmered for an hour and left to cool. The dye liquid can be used again and again for lighter shades of brown.
I have had such a love affair with goldenrod this year and two of its varieties; Canadian and European goldenrod. I’ts a plant worth waiting for as goldenrod blooms in the end of summer, around August when most other wild flowers begin to wilt.
Canadian Goldenrod (solidagocanadensis) has been and elusive plant for me in past. When I have found some, it always seemed to be out of my reach; growing on the wrong side of train tracks and in private gardens. I was given a small amount of slightly wilted goldenrod blooms last summer by my friend Mandy. I dyed with those, a small dye bath and got a nice yellow on a wool and nylon yarn.
This year I have been on a mission to introduce it to my dye life properly. I bought a plant to my garden which was a start, but to my delight I have been able to find it in nature. Up in the lake district a huge cluster of goldenrod flowers were in full bloom when we drove past this August. Naturally on the way back we stopped and I managed to collect 800g of flowers. They had to wait for two days for my return to London and my dye pots. I decided to dye some special skeins of Finn sheep wool; 300 g in total, just for me as well as a sample of silk (all pre mordanted with alum) and was over joyed for a strong golden yellow colour on both. I used my usual method of dyeing; an hour of simmering for the plant material then I strained the liquid. I added in my fibres for an hour (80 degrees) and left to them cool over night in the dye bath.
I used the dye bath again and dyed another 400g of bfl/bamboo and got a cooler yellow. I used quite a large amount of yarn/dye stuff and I wonder how strong the colour would have been in second bath with less yarn.
To my excitement I have started seeing more plants in the wild near my home too. I collected another 400g from the riverside near me, which I saved in the freezer for some winter dyeing. The blooms from my garden have also been picked and frozen for darker days. You can only imagine what my freezer looks like! I tried to dry some too, but the blooms turned white and I’ve heard they loose a lot if their colour if stored this way.
European Goldenrod (Solidagovirgaurea) is everywhere inFinland. Iwaslucky to spend my summer home in the countryside and got to dye with this variety. During my stay I collected 500 g of blooms from the roadside and dyed 120g of yarn as well as a silk sample with it. Although the dye bath was strong yellow, the skeins turned out a cooler yellow than the Canadian variety.
Last week I dyed some more with Canadian goldenrod, picked from the back of a nearby train station. The blooms have started turning brown and the colour in the dye bath was quite brownish yellow. I dyed some plant fibres as well as wool yarns. I pre mordanted my cotton with soymilk and linen with aluminium acetate. The linen turned a very pale yellow when the cotton took on a brownish yellow colour. All the wool fibres dyed a good bright yellow.
Last year I missed acorn season completely. I think due to the hot summer, they came out earlier while I was busy concentrating on other plants. This year I’m early and they’re just starting to fall off the trees. I also have help finding them in the form of my 4 year who is an amazing acorn spotter.
Acorns grow in oak trees and are full of tannins so no mordant is needed. The bark, leaves as well as oak galls can be used for dyeing, but I have only even used acorns for the easy accessibility. I have recently saved a jar full of oak galls, but these are being saved for ink experiments.
I collected two litres of green and brown acorns, ones fallen on to the ground and simmered them for an hour for three days, leaving them to cool overnight each day. The dye liquid was a strong brown colour. I left the acorns in the pot during dyeing.
I used various unmordanted fibres; merino/nylon yarn, shetland roving as well a silk sample and a cotton fabric sample. The fibres were simmered for an hour at 80 degrees and left to cool.
I modified half of my fibres with iron (1/4 teaspoon of iron and 10 minutes in the dye bath)
You can see a lot of shade variations with different fibres. Cotton had barely taken any colour on its own and with iron it turned a light grey. Silk takes colour beautifully as well as the nylon re-enforced sock yarn, which was no surprise. The roving comes from my friends sheep and was washed, but was still quite lanolin rich and the colours are much lighter.
I love the colour acorns and iron give. It’s such a strong grey; almost black, which is an elusive colour in the natural dyeing world.
Whenever I stray away from my normal surroundings, I try and find a bit of time to explore what nature has to offer and find plants to dye with. Travelling back from Finland, my bags were full of plants to dry and freeze for the winter and my recent visit to the Lake District was no different.
Whilst walking along the hillside I found the forest floors covered in Bracken (Pteridiumaquilinum). It grows here and there in London. Richmond Park has large areas full of ferns, but as it’s a Royal Park, foraging is not allowed.
It took me a few days after getting home to start dyeing with Bracken. I had collected a bagful and was interested in doing experiments with modifiers. I had seen Jenny Dean getting some interesting colour results. I dyed 4 skeins of merino singles with the bath; all pre mordanted with alum. I had 80 grams of yarn in total and 600 of bracken. The leaves were simmered for an hour, strained and yarn added in for another hour. The PH for the water was neutral.
I then used three different modifiers; citric acid to lower the PH, soda ash for a higher PH and iron each skein was in the bath for 15 minutes.
My woad plant (Isatis Tinctoria) suffered quite an extensive catepillar attack while I was away this summer. I thought it best to dye with it as soon as possible before it got all eaten away. This is my second year of growing my own woad and my old plant produced plenty of seeds to grow even more next year.
Last year I used a great recipe I found online by Finnish Dyer Leena Riihelä. The recipe can be found in Finnish at http://riihivilla.blogspot.com/p/morsinko.html?m=1. This year I combined my notes from last year with this recipe as well as a bit of experimenting for my dye bath.
I set off a saucepan with 2 litres of water to simmer and went out to collect my leaves. I weighed them (200g in total) and washed them. I boiled the leaves for a minute and then took the dye bath of the heath. I left it to cool for 15 minutes and added cold water to bring the temperature to 50 degrees. The liquid was a lovely reddish colour as I hoped for. I then strained off the leaves and added in 15 g of soda ash to bring the PH up to 10.
Then the fun part begins. You need to introduce oxygen to the bath so I poured the liquid from one bucket to another for 15 minutes until there was a layer of blue foam on top of the liquid. The colour of the liquid was a strong bluey/green.
I returned the dye to the sauce pan and to the hob, raised the temperature to 50 degrees and sprinkled 10 g of dithionite on top. I left it for 20 minutes to sit. The liquid had turned yellow and was ready to use.
I dyed a total of 220 grams of yarn; some mohair, wool/bamboo, merino/nylon as well as two small samples of silk with my woad bath. All the samples had two 10 minutes dips in the vat with left to oxidise in between. I desired lighter shades so I used quite a lot of yarn per leaves, but I am sure darker shades could have been achieved with less fibre.
I have left the vat to sit overnight and will see if there is any indigotin left today and hopefully the plants will revive themselves and produce few more leaves this summer
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. The flowering season for Common Reed (phragmites australis) goes away as quickly as Christmas. The purple bushy shoots dye beautiful greens. They need to be used on the same day of picking, which makes the dye season even shorter.
The lakeline near my home is abundant in reeds. The plants I collect from, are smaller than many you can see on sides of roads and on the sea shores, but they still give out great colour. The location of the plants, make them a bit of a challenge for foraging. The last two years, I have resorted to paddle boarding amongst them in my bathing suit which has proved an effective method and quite enjoyable on a hot day.
The dye recipe I use for dyeing with reed is the same as usual. I always pre-mordant my fibres with alum. I simmer the reed shoots for an hour and then add in my material to the purple liquid for another hour of simmering. I leave the blooms in for maximum colour and I always leave the fibres in overnight.
I play around with my quantities of fibre/dye stuff when I dye with reed. This years first dye bath had 100g of Reed flowers and I optimistically added in 100g of wool/bamboo. It started taking on a gorgeous green quite quickly so I added in 40g of merino/nylon and sample of silk. I was very happy with my first dye bath as all the fibres came out in beautiful bright green shades.
I am fully taking advantage of my summer holiday at home and experimenting with new to me plants. St Johns-wort (hypericumperforatum) is one of these and what a fantastic little flower. According to Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour; four colours can be extracted in one dye bath! I went on to try this with some success
First I collected 80g of blooms (with some leaves) and simmered these until the dye liquid turned red. Then I added a 10g sample of unmordanted wool/bamboo as well as alum mordanted silk. Both started going red so I left them in for 10 minutes for the colour to deepen before removing from the dye bath.
Afterwards I added in a 20 g skein of alum mordanted merino/nylon which took on a brownish colour quite quickly, as did the skein that followed. I left the second skein in the bath overnight and modified both the next day with iron water for an olive green shade as I wasn’t particularly exited about the brown shades.
Next bath I prepared, I dyed with the whole plant. I collected 100g of St Johns Wort and chopped it up to the dye pot. I simmered the bath for about 15 minutes until the dye liquid turned red again and then added in a 100 g skein of alum mordanted wool/bamboo. I left it for a simmer for 20 minutes and watched it turn a beautiful shade of green. I took the skein out and left it to cool overnight.
I added in more yarn to this dye bath; another 100g skein of wool/bamboo and some silk fabric and then left these in the dyebath overnight after simmering for 15 minutes. They both dyed a very similar green as the first dye bath.
So out of the four possible colours, I managed three; reddish, green and brown. The green kept on giving and the last few dye baths I only added in small mini skeins as the dye liquid started loosing its colour. It never gave me any yellows. The PH in all baths was neutral and I used rain water for dyeing. I wonder how St Johns Wort would work dried as Im tempted to take some with me to continue experimenting.
I have been engrossed in a dye plant mystery this past week. I am holidaying home in Finland and have enjoyed the summer plants in bloom here, experimenting with plants I haven’t before. The other day I picked a bucket full of a grassy reed, which I suspected to be in the common reed family due to its almost identical appearance.
I had 250 grams of plant material, only the top bits and 100 grams of yarn as well as a small piece of silk. I simmered the plant tops for an hour and added my yarn and silk pre mordanted with alum into the bath. They immediatly changed colour and started turning blue. I simmered the bath for an hour and left it to cool overnight. Next day I checked on the fibres which were now a bluey/purple colour. Not what I had expected!
I was so confused about the plant so I asked around my Finnish Dyers Guild as well as hauled home books about Finnish plants. After extensive investigations I have narrowed it down to either wood small reed (Calamagrostisepigejos) or reed canary grass (Phalarisarundinacea). I have gone as far as measuring the width of the plant leaves and am leaning towards the latter myself, but a lot dyers guilds friends are saying the first option. The plants grow in similar spots, but the latter grows near watery places, which is where I picked it from for a third bath. Its quite hard to tell as there seems to be a lot of similar plants around!
The discussion with the guild has been active, especially about the unusual colour. There is no information about it out there for such a common plant. One of the members mentioned that reeds are full of antocyanins like red onion skins and are suscebtible to colour changes and their growing environment has a huge effect on the colour. Its definitely all worth investigating!
I dyed a second bath with double the amount of reed tops and more alum mordanted yarn and the result was a lot bluer than the first time. The third bath was a small one with just one skein of yarn, but I wanted to try various picking spots; two roadsides and the lakefront and the results were all pretty similar.
I prepped some yarn for a light fastness test so stay tuned for more.
All through last summer I saw people dyeing with fresh indigo and salt, simply rubbing the leaves and salt together creating a mushy liquid paste and then rubbing this into fibre.
I spotted on instagram @plants_and_colour had tried this with woad. After my unsuccesfull indigo growing attempt this year, I planted plenty of woad to experiment with and what better time to try than a day before heading on holiday.
I picked a handful of leaves, sprinkled two tablespoons of salt on top and started rubbing. The leaves turned mushy very fast and I added in a sample of silk, wool fabric and a small skein on wool yarn and just kept rubbing.
Its a fascinating process. The woad leaves disappeared and the fibres turned green pretty fast. I think I should’ve used a finer salt and more woad, tips I’ll bear in mind for next time.
As the fibres dried, the colour lightened to a mint green. It’s a shame I am heading home tomorrow, otherwise I’d be experimenting again immediatly!
I love living where I do for various reasons, one of them is being surrounded by miles of riversides perfect for long walks. Few weeks ago whilst enjoying family walk, I came across a barren area near the water, overgrown with brambles and weeds. In the midst of them a familiar plant caught my eye; weld (reseda luteola). A plant I was growing in my garden and eagerly waiting to harvest. There were shoots here and there and a lot of them. I had never seen any in the wild and have always considered weld a garden plant! I collected a handful, making sure I left plenty to go into seed for next year.
Weld flowering in the wild
I made a dye bath with the shoots as soon as I got home.
There was 30g of weld; I used the flowers, leaves as well as some bits of stalk. I dyed a 100g skein of yarn I pre mordanted with alum, a mixture of wool, silk and ramie.
I simmered the weld for an hour. I made sure to keep the temperature low, around 70 degrees. I have read that letting weld boil will change the colours to a duller yellow.
I added the yarn to the dye bath leaving the weld in with the skein. As I had such a small amount of weld, I wanted to make sure it had plenty of time to yield its colour. I kept the bath around 70 degrees for an hour and left it over night to cool down.
There was plenty colour left in the dye bath so I simmered the plants again and added more yarn. This time a 100g skein of bfl/bamboo. I repeated the previous dye process and then discarded the bath. I have been told that yellow dyes don’t usually give more than two baths and then they start loosing their colour fastness. I don’t know if this is actually true, but I had very little colour left in the pot.
The weld in my garden has just bloomed and the bottom leaves are starting to turn yellow. This is the time to harvest the shoots for the brightest colours, before all the leaves turn so two days ago I chopped it all up and carefully went through the stalks, saving some seeds for next year. I had two plants and that gave me 125g of dye material. As this was my very first weld harvest, I had some trouble choosing what to dye. I decided on some silk mohair, bfl/bamboo and a small skein of merino/nylon sock yarn. I repeated my earlier dye process
I have doubled my weld plants this summer so hoping for even more gorgeous neon yellows next summer
Dock leaves are one of my most commonly used dye plants due to their year round availability in London.
A friend of mine Louise, who runs South Down Yarns had a great idea to do some tests on dock dyeing in different places using different varieties and share our results and as a huge lover of dock dyeing I immeadietly did some experiments.
I prepared a dye bath of 400g of dock leaves, these were all broad leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius) which I collected from the riverside in west London.
I simmered the leaves for an hour and let the bath cool. I measured the PH which was between 5-6. (Normally my tap water comes around 7). I strained the bath and added my yarn; 120 grams of merino singles as well as 20g of South Down Yarns wool.
These were simmered for an hour and then left to cool in the pot. All skeins apart one of each variety were pre mordanted with alum.
I tried four different modifiers; iron, copper, acid (ph 2) and alkaline (ph 9) . The yarn was in the modifiers for 15 minutes and I rinsed the skeins immediatly afterwards.
This was one of the many experiments I plan to do with dock leaves. I have read alongside oxalic acid the leaves are full of tannins, but don’t seem to have the same reaction to iron as other tannin rich plants (Usually the colours shift to greys). I would love to know more about the soil content of where I’m foraging as I’ve seen various dye baths yielding apricot shades, which I have never seen in any of my dock dyeing. I am planning to spend some time in Finland over the summer and near my home, the fields are full of curly leaf dock (Rumex crispus) so a whole new set of dyeing needs to be done whilst I am there.
The one thing I really love about living in London is that the dyeing season never really stops. There are plenty of plants for forage even in winter such as alder cones, oak galls, ivy leaves, scotch broom etc.
When the weather starts getting warmer, the ground starts turning to green quite rapidly. Some of the first dye plants to come through are my favourite ones; nettles and dock leaves. The latter I have been dyeing with throughout the year and enjoyed seeing the change in its dye colour as the weather changes. Nettles loose their a lot of their colour after blooming so are best in the spring.
Nettles are a bit of a powerplant. They are nutritious as food (dont worry they stop stinging after simmering in hot water), can be used as tea, dyed with and even spun in to fibre. Living in London, I rarely use them for food as I tend to collect my nettles from fairly pollution rich areas, but a good nettle sauce with new potatoes is one of the best summer dishes.
Earlier in the summer nettles yield stunning greens when post treated with iron. If only alum is used, they give a light yellow colour.
Dock usually grows where nettles are. It’s leaves are an effective relief for nettle stings. The leaves are high in tannins so no mordant is needed. I always use yarn premordanted with alum as I havent done any light fastness tests on non pre treated yarn. You can also dye with the roots of dock plants as well as the dried seed tops in the summer. Dock is an invasive weed, especially for farmers and grows back quickly which makes it a even more perfect dye plant
Green dye recipe for nettles:
Simmer nettles for an hour and strain the dye liquid.
Add yarn premordanted with alum and simmer for an hour.
Remove yarn from the bath and add iron
Leave in for about 10-30 minutes depending on how dark you want the colour
Rinse immediately! Iron can damage the fibre if left in too long!
Wash skeins with some ph neutral detergent and add a little vinegar to the last rinse
Dye recipe for dock leaves:
Simmer leaves for an hour and strain dye liquid
Add yarn premordanted with alum and simmer for an hour
Let yarn cool in dye liquid
Wash skeins with some ph neutral detergent and add a little vinegar to the last rinse
A week ago with my daughter in tow, I headed to Greece to visit my friend Christiana for a little holiday and a chance to explore some Greek dye plants. It was a refreshing change from waiting for the London spring to arrive and see flowers in bloom and trees full of leaves. After a few days in Athens we headed down to the south coast and to the seaside to a village called Skourati.
I was exited to see oxalis flowers (oxalis stricta) everywhere. I had seen these used for dyeing in America, the blooms producing gorgeous neon yellows and was exited to try them myself. Christiana is a weaver and had brought a variety of fibres to dye. I had some merino singles as well as superwash bfl which is great for dye experiments as it soaks up colour.
Simmer flowers for 15-30 minutes.
Measure ph -7
Add pre soaked yarn to the dye bath
Simmer for an hour and leave to cool in the bath overnight
Oxalis has oxalic acid which is a natural mordant. We had pre mordanted our protein fibres with aluminium potassium and cellulose fibres with aluminium acetate. Oxalis dye is also very susceptible to PH changes. The premordanted wool took on a strong orange colour and the silk a slightly softer shade, when the cellulose fibres went yellow.
Second plant we dyed with were the flowers from Broom (Genista Tinctoria). I was happy to see it growing everywhere as in London I’ve only found few plants near me and I really like it as a dye plant. So far I have only dyed with the branches before blooming so this time we only used the flowers.
We used the same dye method as with oxalis and the ph was also 7. The dye bath was a lovely yellow as expected as were the skeins we dyed.
We then moved on to two plants I have never heard of Judast tree (Cercis Siliquastrum) pods and Carob tree (Ceratonis siliqua) leaves. As the leaves and pods were harder, we left them to soak for a few hours before simmering them for another hour. The yarn was then added to the baths and simmered for another hour and left to cool.
The Judas tree pods yielded shades of brown with a hint of pink. The ph of the dye bath measured 7. I wish we’d had some iron sulfate with us to check for tannins.
The Carob tree leaves measured a ph of 8-9. The only non neutral bath we had. The reason we decided to dye with the leaves in the first place was as over time the pavement under the tree had changed to a darker colour possibly from the colour of the leaves combined with rain. Again I wish I could’ve tested for tannins. The dye bath had a green colour that came out with beautiful strong yellows on protein fibres. We also attempted to dye some cotton, but this took barely any colour.
I wish we had had more time to experiment. We kept the oxalis baths going when we returned to Athens and tried more fibres. The ph in Athens measured 4 so very acidic, but the colours seemed to be the same. We came across many other dye plants in Greece I have yet to try; such as wild fennel and mullein. And also found plenty of heather by the mountains which I would loved to have dyed with, just to see the difference for the other times I’ve used it. I guess this means I need to go for another visit!
Here and there I dye with avocado stones. The pinks they give as well as the greys when dipped in iron water are simply stunning and a joy to use up something that would just be put in the bin. I’ve convinced a few my friends to save me their stones as I don’t eat nearly enough avocados for regular dye baths.
I thought I’d write down my dye ‘recipe’ as I’ve shared it a lot amongst dye friends and it has yet to fail me in achieving pinks. In no way its a bullet proof method, but seems to work for me.
I always freeze my avocado stones. I used to dry them, but had some problems with them shrivelling up 8and loosing colour. I use about 10 stones per 100g of yarn. No science to why, but this seems to give a good shade and a good colour for a 2nd dye bath also. I put my frozen stones in water and simmer these for an hour in about 80 degrees. I then leave my bath to cool. I add a bit more water to the pan and repeat the process and then I leave the dye bath to cool down again. If I dye a small amount of yarn, I leave the stones in as I add my yarn, but with larger quantities I strain the bath to remove the stones.
I don’t mordant my yarn when dyeing with avocadoes. The tannins in the stones act as a natural mordant and fix the colour in the fibre. I simmer the yarn for an hour and then leave it to cool in the bath, sometimes until the next day. You can modify the colour with iron water. The pinks turn to purpleish greys.
I have never done any colour fastness tests on avocado dyed wool, but I have knitted up garments dyed with them that have stayed a great colour even after continous wear. At the same time I’ve seen some avocado dyed fabrics loose their colour completely, but its difficult to know why, not knowing how they were pre-treated before dyeing. I am now going to pop a skein in the window and will see what happens after continuous exposure to sunlight
Update: 4th March 2019
I have had a skein of avocado dyed super wash merino wool in the windowsill for two months. My windowsill gets the sun most of the day and even in the winter the temperature rises quite high wilting my plants whenever the sun is out.
There is not much chance to the original colour after exposure to sun. The colour seems slightly darker and peachier than the original skein (see photo below). This is a positive sign! I might repeat the test in the summer and see if the strentgh of the sun makes a difference to the colour.
Few weeks ago I spent some time in Glasgow and the Highlands. I even managed to fit in a little bit of foraging as the temptation of dyeing with Scottish flora was too much to resist!
Me and my friend Jules collected some Gorse blooms for a little dye pot. Only 20 grams and put in 20 grams of alum mordanted yarn. We also added in two small alum acetate mordanted pieces of cotton to see how they took the colour. I’ve never dyed with gorse before. I’m not actually sure if I’ve ever come across it in nature at all. Its a lovely shrub giving a much needed yellow glow to a wintery landscape. The coconutty smell of the flowers was amazing and something I never expected.
We simmered the flowers for an hour and then added the yarn and fabric squares. These were simmered for another hour and left to cool in the pot. We also modified one of the fabric samples with iron to see how the colour shifts.
The blooms gave a lovely buttery yellow to the yarn, but the big surprise was the depth of colour in the cotton. The sample above has had some contamination with my iron modified sample, but you can still see the strong deep yellow it was originally. This is encouraging me to prepare more samples of alum acetate mordanted fabrics for all my dye baths.
Another plant we gathered was heather (calluna vulgaris). This I have dyed with twice before, with G-uld in Denmark last April. The second time in Finland in the summer; I collected a bunch of stems and blooms during the July heatwave. Both of the times the colour was a strong yellow.
I brought the heather home to London with me and weighed it, just over 100g. I soaked the stems overnight and simmered for an hour the next day. I added my alum mordant to the dye bath as I hadn’t had a chance to pre mordant my yarn. I decided to dye a 100g skein of yarn, which I thought could be a bit much, but the dye bath looked very strong. I measured the ph which was 4 (acidic). I simmered the yarn for an hour and let it cool in the pan.
The colour was a lovely orange! Not at all what I expected. I used the same the dye method as I did in the summer with a completely different result. One clear difference was the place I picked my heather from as well as the drastic change in weather and season.
I prepared another dye bath by adding the heather stems in for another hour. After simmering them, I added chalk to the dye pot and the ph rised to 6 and the colour turned yellow from orange. I added another 100 g of yarn (and alum beforehand). Another hour of simmering and I had a skein of lovely lemon yellow yarn.
My knowledge of heather dyeing was quite small beforehand. Unfortunately a lot of my dye books don’t really mention it at all, but I managed some reading about it. The orange colour comes from a long simmer as the tannins in the stems are released in to the dye bath. Yellow is generally achieved from blooms. Interestingly in Finland I had quite a lot of stems in the dye bath and the colour was still strong yellow. I’m going to keep dyeing with heather. Im hoping to be able to dig some up under the snow when I travel home in few weeks, just for a little colour experiment.
Over the last month or so I have been dyeing a lot with madder (rubia tinctorum), trying to get a clear red, which can be a bit elusive to achieve. I thought I’d write a little blog post about it as there has been a lot of reading and experimenting involved, a lot of swearing and disappointment until finally a success!
I’ve always dyed with dried roots and not powdered madder and all the material has been sourced from the same supplier. All the dyeing has been done using my tap water. My yarn is all pre mordanted in a 10% alum mordant bath. London is in a hard water area which should create ideal conditions for madder reds. Well, this doesn’t seem to be the case in my house as my water Ph is 7 which is neutral. I’ve been reading a lot about madder lately; from books and blogs. I knew I needed an alkaline environment for clear reds so I needed to increase the Ph of my water.
I did three different experiments for red. I’ve dyed with madder before, but in these three occasions I wanted clear red and nothing else. I used super wash yarns for all the dyebaths. The first was a 100% Bfl and the other two merino singles.
The first try was a cold dye bath I found instructions for Riihivilla’s blog. I dyed 1:1 ratio of yarn and madder root. I pre soaked the madder overnight. They went in the a bucket and stayed there for a week. All I did was to give the bucket a good stir once a day. The smell was very unpleasant and the liquid slimy a gunky, but red.
Alum + madder from a cold dye bath
The colour turned out beautiful! Not what I was after, but a fun experiment. I didn’t alter the Ph at all this time neither did I discard any soaking water like I did in the following experiments.
Second time I dyed a bath with again 1:1 ratio of yarn and madder root. I prepared the bath by pouring boiling water on my madder roots and discarding this water afterwards. I repeated this once more. I found this method on Jenny Dean’s blog. I added chalk to the bath and had a Ph of 7 and kept the temperature at 60 degrees for an hour
Top to bottom; Madder+ alum, Madder + copper, Madder + Iron, Madder + citric acid
The results were very much on the orange side. I think not soaking the roots meant the colour stayed quite pale. And my Ph was neutral. I’ve then realized adding chalk doesn’t increase alkalinity, just creates a neutral Ph. I’m not one to be put off by an unsuccessfull dye bath I decided to go for a different kind of experiment and modify the skeins in various after baths. I used citric acid, iron and copper, a gram of each in and kept the skeins in for 5 minutes. All yielded different results and I was surprised how subtle the difference between the copper and iron dyed skein was. I expected the iron to be a lot darker. Next time I’ll try a longer modifying period.
And now for the third time lucky dye bath! This time I combined a few recipes and brilliant advice from my friend Jules. I doubled up on my madder; 2:1 ratio of madder to yarn. I soaked my madder over night and then discarded this liquid. I then rinsed it once more, again throwing away the liquid. I put my madder root in the saucepan and turned on a gentle heat. I measured the Ph which was 7. I then added bicarbonate soda to my dye bath, about two teaspoons of it. This raised the Ph to 8. I added my yarn and left it on a low heat. I kept my yarn in the dye pot for 2 hours with heat on and left it in overnight to cool down.
Madder + alum
Hurray! Finally I created a red! I did a little happy dance when I lifted the skein out of the pot.
Growing madder takes a good three years (at least) so dyeing with it was never going to be a quick process. I’m not sure if there was a single element that caused me to succeed in the end or was it all the knowledge I combined. Now I need to re- create this colour as well as try cold dyeing again, but with a raised Ph. I really wish I had paid more attention to chemistry lessons. I might have a better base skills to understanding all the variables properly, but maybe I’ll get there one day, hopefully in time for when my own madder roots can be harvested.
Yesterday I taught my second dye course at Tribe Yarns in London. It’s bringing me such immense pleasure to teach natural dyeing, all in the hope people will fall in love with it as much as I have. I taught an introductory course where we dyed with two dye plants; avocados and ivy. I want to use locally foraged plants in my workshops to show the possibilities of plants nearby. As were now in December and winter is upon us there is less plants to forage, but the evergreen ivy has been a plant on my dye list so I thought it was a great experiment for me as well.
I collected the ivy leaves around the corner of my house. There are huge bushes growing everywhere.
Ivy dye recipe:
160 g yarn
500g Ivy leaves
We simmered the leaves for an hour revealing a light yellow dye bath. Keeping the leaves in, we added the skeins and simmered for an hour.
Avocados are having a moment as a ‘it’ dye plant and as a fan of their colour (and taste), I felt like it was a great choice for a second dye plant. I had prepped my avocados a few days prior to the course. I had them on the stove at home for 3 days beforehand, simmering them each day for an hour letting the stones oxidize and slowly extracting colour. My friend Jules (woollenflower) has a great method on her blog for another way to bring out the colour; where you create an alkaline enviroment for slow colour extraction. I have yet to try this, but have always gotten great results with slow simmering.
Avocado dye recipe:
17 avocado pips (frozen)
As the dye bath had been prepared earlier, we went straight in to dyeing and simmered our skeins for an hour.
As we ended up with a smaller group of dyers than anticipated, we played a little bit with an iron after bath. I had brought some iron with me, 2 g which I dissolved in the ivy bath. I had divided the skeins in half and simmered them for 15 minutes in the iron bath.
Definitely my favourite kind of way to spend a Sunday. And I love learning new things myself when teaching
During late summer buddleia or butterfly bush starts to flower. Suddenly the riverbanks and railways of London are shining in purple glow attracting insects and natural dyers. Buddleia was one of those plants that everyone was dyeing with this summer so I thought I would too. I don’t normally dye with flowers, the light and colour fastness isn’t always the best and I like to dye with plants that create a lasting colour in yarn. In saying that, I really love to experiment also and enjoy finding new dye plants around me.
There are two different varieties of Buddleia near me; one with light purple flowers and one with dark purple flowers. I prepared a separate dye bath for each and dyed some skeins pre mordanted with Alum. I only had about few hundred grams of each of the blooms for this experiment.
The lighter blooms yielded a lovely golden yellow and the bath had such a strong colour even after I took the skeins out. The dark blooms dyed the yarn a lovely olive green. The colours were so beautiful! And as Buddleia is everywhere, quick to spread and a bit of a pest, I thought it could be perfect for a dye plant. I hadn’t read much about it though, as a dye plant, which made me question the colour and light fastness.
I divided my skeins and placed a small skein of each colour into my windowsill. My window gets a alot of light through the day, especially during the summer months. And the summer went on for well into September this year. Today I started to compare the skeins from the light to their counterparts I’d kept in the dark.
There is so much fading on both skeins. Even the skeins I kept in the dark, have lost their amazing glowing colour and have turned much duller. But the fading from the sun is really strong and in some parts the yarn has turned almost white. The yarn was exposed to sun for three months during my test. I’m quite disappointed as I was so exited about the possibilities of Buddleia. I think from now on I’m going to leave the flowers for the butterflies.
Earlier this month I continued my experiments on the sumac trees near my home. This time I moved on to dyeing with leaves.
I gathered a bagful of leaves to dye a 50g skein of yarn. I forgot to weigh my leaves, silly mistake as I wish I knew how much I had exactly. I simmered the leaves for an hour, checked the PH and it was 7 and strained the liquid. I added a skein of unmordanted yarn ( no need for mordanting as sumac leaves are full of tannins – sometimes they can have up to 25% tannins) raised the temperature to 80 and kept it there for an hour.
The result was very much ‘dyer’s beige’ and a bit of a disappointment. I had seen some gorgeous yellow colours my friend Jules (@woollenflower) had dyed and was hoping to achieve those.
But I am not one to dis-recard a humble beige and will keep the skein for over dyeing experiments.
And I even dyed with sumac leaves again last week. I collected about 800g of leaves in an ambitious attempt to dye 300g of yarn for a vest I wanted to knit. I used the same method as before, but dipped my skeins in a 10% iron solution for 5 minutes afterwards. The colour turned a darker grey/brown which I am happy with.
This doesn’t mean I’m giving up on achieving the illuminacent yellow I’ve seen. After talking about it to Jules, I am going to triple my dye material and see if that has any affect. Stay tuned…
One of the first things I do when I go home to Finland in the summer is set up my dyepot. My dad very generously lets me take over his barbeque hut for my experiments. It’s an old granary building, that my parents have converted to a dining area. I love dyeing yarn at home as my parents live in the countryside with and abundance of plants and a lake to get water from. This summer I wanted to dye a lot of green. This all came from my friend Anna’s request to have an odd green for a project we were planning and that kept playing in my mind. Green is an elusive colour and even though ever present in nature, it is not so common from dye plants. Usually greens are achieved by overdyeing yellowy shades with indigo or modifying these with iron or copper.
These nettle skeins were dyed in July in Finland. Nettle is such a versatile plant! It’s great in cooking and tea, can be spun into fibre and dyed with. I never seem to carry gloves with me when I go to pick some and always get stung like crazy. I used alum mordanted yarn, simmered the plant for an hour and then added the yarn for another hour. This is the method I used with all the plants in this post. I wasn’t organized enough to measure Ph. A mistake I am definitely going to rectify next summer so I can compare the lake water with London water. With nettles, I dyed the yarn in stages and then created an iron bath and dipped each skein in for 5 minutes. Nettle dyed skeins have a tendency to turn a greyish green after a while, which is still a beautiful colour. Nettles are one of the only edible plants I like to dye with.
One of my favourite summer plants to dye with is Lupin leaves. Its actually one of my favourite plants alltogether. I have so many memories of picking them for my grandma, from roadsides on our way to the summerhouse. They are a weed and have spread everywhere in Finland. My mum doesnt let me bring the blooms anywhere near her garden as she thinks they will take over, even from my dyepot. Luckily she has nothing to worry about as I dont dye with the flowers, just the leaves. The flowers can be used for dyeing and in cool temperatures, they give out gorgeous blues and mint greens. But these colours fade easily into greys and I’d much rather look at their blooms in nature. Lupin leaves give gorgeous almost neon greens when used early in the year before blooming. These greens are also fairly colourfast.
Common reed was a new dye plant to me this summer. The lake line is full of them and as my luck would have it, this year my dad bought himself a paddle board. So off I went in my bathing suit, paddling away amongst the reeds, picking the heads for the dye pot. I really wish someone had taken a picture of me..the lengths you for dye material. After dyeing I let the yarn sit in the bath until the next morning for the most fantastic bright green. I have recently seen Louise from South Down Yarns achieving a luminicent green with reeds and copper in the autumn and I’d love to try this also if I can get my hands on some in London.
Earlier this year I came across mugwort as a dye plant on my trip to Denmark where I spent a weekend at a dyeing course with Guld-dk (one of the most amazing things ever!) I am ridiculously allergic to mugwort so in between sneezes I picked a bunch for the dye pot. I only used the flowerheads, before blooming for light greens. Later in the summer I dyed another bath of mugwort that had already flowered and it turned a more of a yellowy colour. Mugwort contains thujone and the plant has been used for medicinal purposes. The thujone can be an irritant and I would definitely recommend dyeing in a well ventilated area as the smell from the plant when simmered is very unpleasant!
I wanted to write about these lovely greens as I found very little information about mugwort and lupin leaves myself. I love finding new plants to dye with! And I feel quite lucky to have two countries and varied their plant life in my reach.
I am not a fan of dyeing with berries! Generally the colours aren’t fast and if we’re talking edible berries, I would much rather eat them. Sumac trees are a new discovery in my dye pot and to be honest, I hadn’t paid any attention to them on the road sides until I heard about their dye potential. They have high levels of tannins in the bark and leaves. The leaves can have 10-25% percent tannins and can be used in other dye baths to improve colourfastness.
In the spring I dyed a small, 10g skein with 7 berry clusters. These were all from the previous summer and had shrivelled and turned dark. I used a 100 % superwash BFL for my experiment. The berries dyed my skein a beautiful brown which I was hoping to recreate.
So last week I collected 16 berry clusters to dye with. My hands were covered with pollution as the tree I chose is by a main road. I soaked them overnight and then simmered for an hour. Now the liquid in my dye pot was bright burgundy! I measured the ph which was 7. I hadn’t mordanted my yarn as my assumption was the berries were also rich in tannins and only soaked my yarn in water before adding it into the dyepot. The skein turned beautiful dusty pink. This was an utter surprise as my previous experiment was brown. Obviously the dye liquid should’ve given some indication on the colour, but with berries it’s hard to tell as the colour in them is water-soluble, but doesnt attach to fibres easily.
I deciced to try iron to modify the colour and see how the skein would react. The colour immediatly darkened to a gorgeous purple/grey with only a few minute dip in a 10% iron solution.
There are quite few Sumac trees near me and next I’m planning to dye with the leaves as well as store some to use for tannins.
First of all it’s so much fun! I always like to fill my days with fun and natural dyeing ticks a lot of boxes for me. Bear with me when I list ‘a few’ of them!
I am a knitter who loves her yarn and a bit of a yarn snob also. I like to know where the yarn I knit with comes from, who has dyed it and how, all the time hoping it came from happy sheep. I wish I could have my own yarn, but I have no resources and little knowledge to make that happen. So I am playing around and trying a lot of different yarn bases and seeing how they take colour.
Speaking of colour; I am a colour lover and creating it myself is even better.
I am a bit of a history geek and natural dyeing has long roots.
The first findings of use of natural dyes come from thousands of years BC, which is amazing! I love learning about the traditions and different cultures dye processes. There is a lot chemistry involved in natural dyeing, this is where I wish I could go back to high school and actually listen my chemistry teacher. But I cant so I’m spending a lot of time reading about each dye plant I use, why they give certain colours, are they colourfast and so on.
I have always loved foraging. I grew up in Finland and picking berries and mushrooms is a part of my personality. Dyeing with gathered dye stuff is when I’m happiest. I love the whole process of finding the plants, picking them, preparing them and seeing what colours come out. Living in London is great for a forager. There are plenty of parks, riversides and forests to find things to dye with. I never leave my house without a bag and a pair of scissors, just in case.
So there are few reasons for why I love natural dying. I have found an amazing community of knitters online, all who have been so generous to share their knowledge with me and encouraged me to write about my experiments. This has filled me with so much happiness that I’ve taken he plunge to do this. I can in no means say that I am an expert! I read a lot of dye books and have been to many dye courses, but I want to learn more. And I want to teach what I’ve learnt to others. Another reason why I love natural dyeing so much, there is always so much more to learn!