A Ray of Hope in a Sea of Drab

Well the dye experiments continue.  My earlier trials have been with non-native varieties of sunflowers and pear trees, but now I am getting into the native plants.

Here is my dye notebook so far –

dye samples

50 shades of brown?

sunflower dye samples

The sunflower dye samples show a little more variation – a little green and pink, but they are very muted tones.

A lot of the samples seem to be losing whatever color they had and slowly turning tan. All the modifiers I have tried – copper, ammonia, and vinegar – don’t seem to be doing much, so for now I am just sampling different plants to see what I get.

In Wild Color, Jenny Dean got some amazing pinks from elm bark, so I was excited to try that.  I have a lot of Winged Elm.

winged elm

Winged Elm, Ulmus alata.

I let the twigs soak for a week as she advises.  Then I put them in the dye pot, heated them to a simmer for an hour or two, added the yarn, and left it in the pot for five days.  I got a nice strong russet-tan, but I don’t think I will do this again – it’s a lot of waiting for a pretty ordinary color.

elm dye samples

The top one has no mordant at all; the bottom one has an alum mordant.

Then I tried this mystery plant.  I think it’s in the hawthorn family, but it doesn’t have any thorns.  If anyone can tell me what it is, I’d appreciate it.  It could be a mayhaw, but it doesn’t bear fruit.

mystery shrub

There are long vertical ridges on the bark.

mystery leaves

Here are the leaves as they appear on the shrub.

mystery leaves scan

And here they are in a scan.

I just put some leaves and twigs in a glass pot, poured boiling water over it, and added yarn mordanted with alum.  The color showed up so quickly, I decided to try it in the heated dye pot too.  I left the yarn in about 48 hours, and got some very strong yellows.

mystery dyes

Both have an alum mordant. The top one was heated in an enamel pot on a hot plate for an hour, then cooled.  The bottom one was in the solar jar.

But here is the best one so far!  This is Southern Bayberry –


Southern Bayberry, Myrica cerifera

bayberry leaves

Southern Bayberry leaves

and I treated it the same way as the mystery plant – just fill a glass jar, pour boiling water on top, and let it sit.  The resulting yellows are so clear.  Another nice thing about bayberry is that it doesn’t have any thorns.  I think it would make a great plant for a dye demonstration, because it’s safe and quick, and it smells beautiful!

bayberry dye samples

All of these have an alum mordant. From left to right, 24 hours in the dye, 48 hours, 72 hours.

It makes a great overdye.  Here, on the left, is a dye-only, no-mordant sample from the solar jar. The middle sample was initially one of those nondescript tan colors from the pear leaves dye.  I think the bayberry gave it a nice color.  On the right is a sample from the sunflower dye – it was partly pinky-tan and partly gray-green.  After being in the bayberry solar jar for 24 hours, it is a consistent mushroom brown – it got the same effect as if I had put it in an iron dip, but without the harsh effects of the iron.

more samples

Left – bayberry dye with no mordant, bayberry overdye on pear, bayberry overdye on sunflower.

We are having some unusually cool weather, so I am working outside a lot.  It’s nice to take a little break and check on a dye jar a couple times during the day.

The sunflowers are done for the year.  While I was trying to get some final shots of them, I saw this bee.  Once I had zoomed in on the computer, I spotted her companion!  It’s just another part of the fun of gathering plants for natural dyes!

bee & spider

I was trying to photograph the bee, and didn’t even spot the spider until I was processing the photo!