Dyeing with Reed/Grass?

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.

Fibres in dyebath

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!

Silk and yarn straight out of the dye bath

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 (Calamagrostis epigejos) or reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea). 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.

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