Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Local colour from Natural Dyes

Natural Dyes from Joybilee Farm, weld, and woad

Today I started a weld pot from some dried plants that I harvested 2 years ago.  The bright sunshine yellow is weld.  There is dye in the leaves and stems.  Lots of dye.  It is a very generous dye plant.  Extract the colour by bringing a pot to the simmer.  Do not boil.  Turn off heat and let sit until cool.  Strain and reserve liquid.  Add more liquid to the spent leaves and repeat.  Add both liquids together for your dye session.  Add a bit of baking soda or washing soda to the dye pot when you are ready to dye your fabric.  All natural yellows dye better with the addition of a mild alkaline.  Permanent yellows are rarely soluable at a neutral pH, so you need the mild alkaline to allow the yellow dye molecules to be soluable in water.

This is on cotton T-Shirts, mordanted with Myrobolan and then Alum, before dyeing with weld.  The blue is from Spring woad -- plants that are already sending up their flower shoots.  We extracted the dye from fresh leaves and stalks and then reduced it using thiourea dioxide.  Again it is on cotton, but the blue is unmordanted.  If I had used wool or silk the colour would have been darker. 

The green has been mordanted with myrobolan and alum and then put into the woad vat only. The myrobolan is a source of tannin.  It is steeped in a cold pot for a few days and then rinsed before mordanting with alum -- 1/4 cup per 1 kg. of cotton fabric.  The alum is simmered for one hour and then the fabric is allowed to cool in the alum pot.  The fabric has a slight green cast after both mordants and the green became darker after a dip in the woad vat.

These fabrics will become beach bags.  The dyeing takes longer to do than making the beach bags.  I am getting a lovely effect by using some carved blocks with gold and silver gutta to over-pattern the natural dye colours.  You can just barely see the gold gutta printed on the weld dyed cotton.  It really shimmers.

Belle and Bubbles

Good night.


  1. What absolutely beautiful colors!! I saw woad and weld plants at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. In some US states woad and weld are considered invasive. I may have to watch for woad growing wild and then try this.

    As soon as I set up my blog on my fibreshed, I'll let you and Terri know. Had so much fun at the Festival and even came home with a fleece to spin.


  2. Hi, Kirsten There are only 10 states where woad is listed as noxious. The dye potential is in the first year plants so if you pull the plants up by the roots at the end of the first growing season they can't produce seed and become invasive.

    I hadn't heard that weld was on any noxious list. But it does self seed and since the dye is in the second year plant it would have a tendency to self perpetuate. However, Its an awesome dye plant, so if you can grow it, its a good choice for yellows. It contains lutein, which is the flavin that produces a light fast yellow. There are other lutein containing dye plants -- yarrow and mullien for instance -- but most yellows come from other dye molecules and are not light fast. Onion skins yellow will fade even if kept in the dark. So if you are dyeing textiles for sale it very important to use a fast natural dye, rather than one that will fade in a few weeks.

    Can't wait to read your blog post on your fibershed and subscribe to your blog.

  3. Fantastic Chris! Nice to see your fibreshed's beginning of a colour palette!

    Looking forward to your blog Kirsten...