I’ve been doing quite a bit of dyeing again over the last few months! When we first moved to Glasgow and into our flat, I really didn’t think I’d be able to do much at all as the kitchen is minuscule and there are no windows where I could put jars of dye and fibre to catch the heat of the sun… but, since we don’t currently have a garden and I’m not currently doing any hort work at all, it’s been the finding and collecting of plant material for dyeing that’s been my main interaction with plants, so I had to find a way to be able to then dye with it! So I’ve worked things so that, if I’m careful to be super clean and keep all my dyeing equipment separate, I can actually dye in the kitchen. Happy!
I recently discovered a huge patch of Dyer’s Coreopsis growing in a council bed near Glasgow University and was really keen to try dyeing with it. Despite the temperature dropping and the days shortening, a huge number of flowers have continued to appear, so I got into the habit of swinging by there every morning and picking a handful on my morning walk. Thanks, Glasgow City Council! (Normally collecting plants is a great conversation starter as people are always interested in what you’re going to do with it but, in this case, the students rushing to class were mostly oblivious to the strange woman harvesting flowers!)
So the results…
I’m using my standard method for dye tests with new species so that, though I’m still in the process of gathering a wide range of different fibres to test on, I get a sense of the possibilities of a species:
- I’m using an 8ply blend of Jacob, Portland and Leicester Longwool from Garthenor Organics (from Queen of Purls here in Glasgow) that dyes beautifully, I imagine because of the Leicester and Portland components… The large skeins are mordanted with alum and cream of tartar and the short lengths with iron (top) and copper (bottom).
- I also added small samples of silk and silk velvet fabrics, mordanted with alum and cream of tartar.
- At the top left, you can see two small samples of Polwarth from Tarndie, the original flock of Polwarth sheep in my home state of Victoria, which I added to compare how a yarn that is softer and less lustrous would show the dye- the top one is a pale grey and the bottom a white.
- And, to the left, a number of flowers showing the varying ratio of yellow to red found in the flowers…
All of these fibres were dyed in the same bath of flowers that had been covered in hot water, left to soak for 36 hours and then simmered for 1 hour. The bath was then cooled, the flowers removed and put in the freezer for another bath (Coreopsis is meant to be very generous!) and then the fibres added and simmered for 45 minutes.
I then removed the fibres and checked the pH to find it was in the neutral zone so put aside one set of fibres, which became the test set for dyeing at neutral pH (including the Polwarth samples).
I then added enough vinegar to lower the pH to 3-4, added one of the remaining sets of fibres to the bath and kept it on a low heat for 10 minutes. I then removed and rinsed that set.
And finally raised the pH to 9 by adding sodium carbonate and added the final set of fibres, again leaving them in for 10 minutes and then rinsing them.
And so you can see that, while there is there a huge amount of lovely colour in Dyer’s Coreopsis, it seems to have more of bit more of an affinity with wool than silk. PH definitely alters the result, with acids taking the colour to yellow and alkalis to deep orange and, while the copper-mordanted samples are very similar to those treated with alum/ cream of tartar, the iron samples range from a very dark hunter green to brown.
I think this is my new favourite dye plant! It might have something to do with the fact that I’m still getting used to how dark and grey Glasgow is at the moment but I love its cheerful, sunshine-y colours and the way the dye just poured out of it when I prepared the dye bath! I’m going to try to get the coral-red that is apparently achievable by leaving it in an alkali bath for longer so I’ll let you know how that little experiment turns out…
And in case you’re interested in learning more about dyeing with plants, there is one place left in my workshop at the Glasgow Botanics on November 15- you can find out more via my shop!