Tag Archives: natural dye

Experiments in Dyeing


So, I have good intentions of sharing my dyeing outcomes.  Instead, life sometimes gets in the way.

 Anyway, I have used several things to create dye including silver maple (Acer saccharum) seeds (aka helicopters), daffodils (which I have already posted on), irises, and amaranthus (amaranthus cruentus) seedlings. 

 Normally, I will write down what I think will happen.  Normally, the outcome is vastly different, although sometimes I am pretty good at guessing.  Daffodils don’t count since I have already used them in the dyeing process.

 The silver maple seeds were taken from a tree that my husband Mitch cut down at my parents house a month ago.  The seeds were just starting to come out, many were reddish in color, but most were a brilliant green.  I put the seeds in a dye pot, soaked overnight and simmered for 45 minutes.  I allowed the pot to cool and then strained off the dye liquid.  Using alum mordanted yarn, I simmered the dye again, allowed to cool and then took the yarn out.  I rinsed the yarn until the water ran clear.  The result was a minty brownish green.

I think that I may have over-heated the seeds.  I am not sure what color I should have expected, but I think the brownish color is a result from allowing the dye liquid to get too hot.



 My mom gave me several irises when we moved into our house.  This is the first year that I have actually had any real blooms, or anything you could call success with them.  Every plant I have had flowers on it this year.

 As the flowers wilted, I plucked them off and set them aside, careful not to get them wet.  Again, I know what happened with the daffodils, and I did not want to go through that stink again!

 I poured enough water to cover and brought to a slow simmer.  This takes a little bit of time and patience, which is something I have learned.  I can’t just turn the heat up to high and have the liquid come to a quick boil and then allow it to cool, that damages the plants and gives you a different color then you would get had you allowed the liquid to come to a slow simmer.  I guessed the flowers would produce a brown color (primarily because I wasn’t all that hopeful in achieving purple and I hadn’t found any information on using purple irises to achieve a natural dye anywhere).

 Since I started this project on the Friday prior to Memorial Day weekend, I poured the cooled liquid into a glass canning jar and allowed to cool over the weekend.  When I poured the liquid in, it was a khaki color.  After allowing to cool, the liquid was a pale purple.  I wish I would have taken pictures of the initial color, but I was trying to get 3 kids ready to go for the weekend, plus clean the house.  It just wasn’t on my priority list.

 Here is a picture of the dye liquid prior to pouring it into the dye pot.  It is such a lovely grayish purple color, I was really hoping that I would end up with this color on the yarn.  After going through the dye process, I thought I would end up with this color on a lighter scale.


After rinsing the dye out of the yarn, I ended up with a color completely unexpected.  It is a green, but it is a soft sort of fairy green.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  You can tell that I used some kind of plant that had blue in it, but the hint is so subtle that from a distance, and even on the computer, it is difficult to tell.



Amaranthus “Hopi Red Dye” Seedlings


(and yes, I actually took this picture)


One job I hate doing is clipping seedlings in order to allow the bigger and stronger plants to thrive.  I would rather let nature take its course, but in my experience, this just doesn’t work for me.  Anyway, I have also found that I shouldn’t toss everything out, but try to find a use for it (when it comes to making natural dyes).  I had roughly a handful of amaranthus seedlings.  I poured 3 cups of cold water into the dye pot.  Initially, the water turned the same brilliant red as the plant.  I was kind of excited.  I know that this plant is suppose to produce a red dye, except it is is the flowers and/or the seeds that do the trick, not the plant itself.


After bringing to a slow simmer (man, I am going to have to think of another way to say that!), the water began turning a true yellow green.  It was the coolest color.  I thought it would be great if the yarn ended up turning that color!  After allowing the dye to simmer for 20 minutes, I poured off the dye-stuff, and let the dye cool.  I put the yarn into the glass jar I had the dye in.  Again, I wish that I had taken pictures of the progression of this, and I didn’t.  Maybe I will just have to try to use this plant again!


After allowing the dye to sit for several hours, the color of the dye went from this brilliant green-yellow to what you see below.


Again, I was thrilled!  A pink.  I love it!  Everything I have been making seems to have made a green, yellow or brown.  Sometimes I think this is due to my own doing and I am sure that the plant might make a different color if I try to slow down the process just a bit.


After roughly 24 hours of sitting in the dye, I took the yarn out to see this wonderful pink I was going to end up with.  What I could do with pink, right?


Wrong again.  I took a picture of what the yarn looks like with half of it rinsed, and the other half not rinsed.  Pretty amazing.  I really am going to have to take an organic chemistry class just to satiate my interest.  I don’t know how it all works, but I would love to know how!


The end result of this yarn, was the yellow you see on the right.  I still think that it is a beautiful color, I was really excited for pink though.


My next experiments are on strawberries, peonies, false indigo and hickory.  These posts will come sometime in the future.  Hopefully sooner then later!


Until next time…








Daffodils Spring Forth Yellow

Daffodils Spring Forth Yellow

On a recent trip to my parents home, my husband cut down a few trees, trimmed a few trees, and I was the beneficiary of plant material that I will use in my dyeing experiments!

One tree that was cut down was a silver maple.  The tree had just burst with seeds, those fun little helicopters that have entranced children for ages.  (Okay, I am also amazed by them and could watch them fall from the sky for hours).  I grabbed handfuls of the seed bunches and piled them into my paper grocery bag.

I also collected daffodils that had been smashed by falling tree limbs and branches.  There weren’t too many, but I was able to gather a few more the following weekend when the daffodils were at the end of their bloom time.  My first batch of flowers had been soaking for a week, and I simply added the new flowers in.  I didn’t add anymore water because I had added too much the first time.  I brought the dye batch to a slow simmer and allowed it to simmer for 35 minutes.  I don’t really know how I came up with 35 minutes, but it is all an experiment with me!

Instead of throwing out the mushy leftovers from the daffodil dye bath, I decided to use the vase full of dyeing daffodils (did I mention my mom has a plethora of daffodils in her yards?).  I plucked off the flower heads and added them to the dye pot as well.  I have to admit that the mushy daffodils looked a little like cat vomit, but at least it didn’t smell like it!  I added cold water to the dye pot and will bring it to a slow simmer for 30 minutes (experimenting once again!).

As much as I would love to report the colors I achieved on wool, I cannot.  My next experiment is going to be in using roving to dye and then spin the yarn.  Did I mention that I have never spun wool before?  I am teaching myself with a drop spindle.  I might just end up taking a class at Silver Creek Cabin, a yarn store in Buffalo, MN.

My next post will hopefully contain some results from the helicopters and daffodils.  Cross your fingers as I am crossing mine!

Circle Tree: Complete, Well sort of


I finally finished hooking my circle tree.  Now I have to put on the finishing touches.  This one is one of my favorites so far.  In a previous post I think I mentioned that the greens seen in this tree are made primarily from buckthorn berries.  I also got green dye, well greenish blue dye from petunia flowers.  I used plums to dye purple, twice.  The darker purple is from the first dye bath and the lighter purple is from the second  The pink is from prarie dock-otherwise known as those ugly brown stalks that dry up right away in the summer-you can see them along the roads in Minnesota, and in parks, on trails, etc.  You get the picture.  I also hand dyed the blue-except I used a chemical dye.  Hopefully by next year at this time, I will have indigofera to dye yarn blue!

One of the yarns that I used in this project I bought from Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista, MN.  Here’s the link to get to their website.  www.threeriversparks.org/parks/galewoods-farm.aspx.  I was pretty hesitant to buy yarn from them primarily because of the price.  I have been buying yarn from Joann Fabrics at 3-5 dollars for a skein.  I would like to eventually buy my wool from a farm like Gale Woods.  I don’t know how likely that is, but????

Anyway, here is two pictures of my circle tree!

The second pictures is a close up of the circles in the tree.  I was definately trying to be extra artsy fartsy with this one!

Buckthorn Berries, the Invasive Wonder


A few months ago, I decided to use buckthorn berries to dye yarn.  I thought from the looks of the berries that the color would turn out to be a dark purple or maybe blue.  Instead I ended up with an array of brilliant green dye that varied depending on the amount of time that the dye simmered.  Longer times ended up with a more golden toned green and less time ended up with a vibrant green that I am hoping to replicate today.

Buckthorn is an invasive species that has taken over parts of forests here in Minnesota because there aren’t many if any animals that eat it.  Deer won’t touch it, which is too bad because deer end up choosing more hardwood seedlings to munch on rather then the overpopulated buckthorn.  I like to use vegetation that is unwanted or seen as weeds because I feel like I am not taking away from the environment as much.  Corny, right?  Most of the weeds that I have used have not come up with such brilliant colors as buckthorn berries.

Here is a sample of the yarn that I have made using buckthorn berries. The problem with sharing pictures of hand dyed yarn is that the yarn looks different in different light.  The top yarn is a khaki green, the middle a golden shade of green (I think this is the first time I have ever referred to green as being golden), the next one is a mixture of the two and the bottom yarn is the vibrant green that was created when I processed the berries and the yarn for a short amount of time.  I have been using this yarn, primarily from buckthorn berries, but also from red petunias, to create a rug I can “Circle Tree”.  I had to also use a wool blend store bought yarn since I have not been able to create a dark green color-yet…  I also used store bought dark brown with a reddish brown I had dyed using Sandbar Willow bark.  This yarn has been one of my favorites so far.  I just love the depth of color it produced, and it is a little unusual.  In the background, I used yarn I hand dyed using synthetic dyes-primarily the blue.  The purple is from plum fruit.  In the future I hope to use indigo to create blue dye, but that won’t be until next summer when the growing season returns.  If you asked my husband, he would say that will be in about six months.  Let’s hope not, but after winter comes spring!

  Here is my Circle Tree in progress.  Hope to have more done by the end of the day, but first I have to go have lunch with kids at school!

Dyeing with Cleome


Last year, I planted these plants.  I couldn’t remember what they were.  Surprisingly they took over the back of one of our landscapes.  They are really neat flowers.  Their flowers turn into seeds and each individual stalk continues to grow.  I am not anywhere near a person who is knowledgeable in gardening or flowers, but I thought this was quite unique.  I decided to pick off the flower heads and use them to dye wool.  Upon doing so, my fingers were covered in a sticky mess.  I had to wash my hands multiple times to get the “stickiness” to go away.  Not only that, but the main stalk of each plant is protected by thorns, not unlike those found on rose bushes.  Anyway, today I decided to start my journey into dyeing with cleomes.  Cleomes are also known as Spider Flower, Rose Queen, Cleome spinosa, Cleome hasslerana