Thursday, May 26, 2011

Natural Plant Dyes

Since the days of Joseph's Coat, herbs have been utilized to dye and transform woolens and linens into exciting colors. It is -- or was-- one of their most important economic uses. The harvest from our roadsides and waysides is abundant with plant material to experiment with this ancient craft.
Madder (bright red color, above) and Osage Orange (yellow color, below), Queen Anne's Lace (soft green color), black eyed Susanna's (moss green), Sumac (Confederate Grey), black walnut hulls (rich chocolate brown), sassafras bark (tan), onion skins (golden/orange) and dandelion roots (celery) are only a few of the natural plant dyes readily available for the gathering.

If you try dying with herbs, bear in mind at all times that it is not an exact science but rather an uncertain adventure. The results of each experiment will be affected by the amount of the plant material, how and where it is grown.
To Dye, use any untreated white wool or natural cloth. I suggest no less than one quarter pound and up to 1 pound of wool per dye bath. Tie the wool loosely in several places so it does not become entangled.

For best results for permanence and clarity of color you will need to mordant your wool. To do this, first simmer it in a bath of 1/3 C alum to four gallons of water, Always add the wool to cold water and raise the temperature simmering gradually, stirring gently on occasion. Alum is the safest, easiest and most readily available mordant with which to work. Other mordants are iron, tine, chrome and copper. Each mordant will yield a different color, some colors drastically different color in the dye bath. In the meantime prepare your dye bath by boiling your herb of choice, say the tops of a peck of goldenrod for two hours and strain. The mordanted wool is then simmered gently in the dye bath until the desired color is obtained. Different dye lots will yield considerable variation on the same color but the goldenrod should be a vibrant golden yellow hue. Rinse the wool until the color runs clear. Allow the dyed wool to dry thoroughly and rewind it to use for special projects.
Natural plant dyeing is a magical project that begins with gathering plants and ends with the creation of beautiful colors.


Wanderer said...

I love this post! Thanks for sharing!

Lady Linda said...

So interesting!
I want to visit your part of our country.

Angela McRae said...

Wow, those are some seriously beautiful colors, and I love that they come from plants. (I'll bet you're a Tasha Tudor fan too!)

GardenofDaisies said...

GORGEOUS colors!!! I bet there are all sorts of needlework guilds that come here for visits and want to learn how to dye their own yarns.

Marilyn said...

Many years ago I use to make natural dyes. There is something just so beautiful that comes from natural plant dyeing. Thanks for sharing.