Dyeing with gorse blooms and heather

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.

Gorse in bloom

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.

L-R: Gorse flowers + alum, gorse blooms + alum & gorse blooms modified with iron

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.

Heather

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.

Heather + alum 1st bath

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.

Heather + alum 2nd bath

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.

2 thoughts on “Dyeing with gorse blooms and heather

  1. Hi Emma! Thank you so very much for your blog — such great source of information and inspiration! I’ve noticed that you pay much more attention to the pH of dyebaths than other dyers out there. Can I ask why, or how I can find out more about this topic? Thank you!

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    1. Hi! Im happy you have found the blog!
      I look at PH a lot as it can really affect the colours that the plants give. For example some dyes like cochineal are very PH sensitive and in an alkaline environment turn purple and in an acid enviroment turn more red. There are really good dye books around ie Jenny Deans Wild Colour, that explains in detail about it 🙂

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