Plant dyeing in Greece; Oxalis blooms, Broom flowers, Judas tree pods and Carob tree leaves

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.

Oxalis flowers

Oxalis bath:

  • 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.

Oxalis dye bath
L-R: linen, silk, Superwash BFL, merino singles, BFL, silk, cotton

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.

Broom flowers in bloom

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.

L-R: paper, raw silk, silk, merino single all dyed with Broom

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.

Judas tree
L-R: merino singles, cotton tape, silk, fine cotton, linen, paper all dyed with Judas Tree pods

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.

Carob tree leaf dye bath
L-R: merino singles and alpaca

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!

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