Texas Dandelion Dye
I tried a new plant from the yard, and couldn’t believe the depth of color!
This is from Texas Dandelion, Pyrrhopappus paucifloris. The really great thing about it, is that it grows on very tall stalks, meaning I don’t have to lean way over to pick it!
My first attempts at natural dyeing were made with some inexpensive wool yarn that was pretty rough. Once I found out that I could actually get nice results, I upgraded to Licorice Twist wool and Euro 6-ply sock yarn from Dharma Trading, and I really like the feel of both yarns, even after they’ve been dyed. (I don’t get anything for mentioning them, I just put the links to make your life easier if you are interested in these yarns.)
I found lots of little critters while I was harvesting the dandelions — you can see them here.
I have written about my dye process in other posts, but here it is again for those who need it.
Jenny Dean’s Wild Color has tons of research on dye variables. I have tried several of her methods, but now I stick to just one, alum, and I have simplified her recipe so much I don’t even have to look it up anymore.
Equipment — all set aside for dyeing purposes only.
- dish tub or plastic storage box
- big enamel pot, the size for canning
- tea pot
- Pyrex measuring cups
- measuring spoons
- big Pyrex bowls
- alum (I use McCormick brand from the grocery store)
- cream of tartar (I use Adams brand from the grocery store)
Fill the dish tub with water and put in your yarn to soak. You can soak it as long as overnight.
Put 2 gallons of cool water into the big enamel pot. (I have used distilled and also our well water.)
Boil about 5 cups of water separately.
In one measuring cup, mix 2 ounces alum* with 2 cups boiling water, until dissolved. (*McCormick actually has only 1.9 ounces but that works fine.)
In another measuring cup, mix 2 ounces of cream of tartar with 2 cups boiling water, until dissolved.
Add a half cup of the alum solution to the cool water in the big pot, and mix in well.
Add one-half cup of the cream of tartar mixture to the cool water in the big pot. Stir everything well.
Place about 8 ounces of wool yarn in the big enamel pot, heat to just about boiling. Turn down heat and let simmer one hour. Take the yarn out and place into a large bowl with some of the solution, and do not rinse!
Repeat with remaining solution and yarn — add a half cup of the alum solution and the cream of tartar solution, a new skein of soaked yarn, heat, let simmer one hour, etc.
When all your yarn is mordanted, put all the skeins back in the large pot, and let them soak overnight.
The next morning, take them out and hang them to dry in the shade, but do not rinse!
Harvesting Plant Material
Take the usual precautions:
- only pick on your own property or where you have permission
- only pick a percentage, not every plant you can find
- watch out for thorns, bees, allergens, etc.
When harvesting your plant material, you are trying to get an equal weight of plants and yarn.
- glass cooking pots or half-gallon size Mason jars (I use this size because they won’t fit in my canning kettle, therefore I know they are for dyeing only.)
- tea kettle
- long tongs
- oven mitt
Pack the plant material into the jar or pot, but leave room for yarn.
Pour boiling water over the plant material. Let it cool for a few minutes, and then add the yarn.
Let sit for about 24 hours. Good dye material like the Texas Dandelion will give a lovely clear color within a few minutes — you can take the yarn out as soon as it is a shade you like. Longer dye times will produce deeper color.
When you take the yarn out, do not rinse! Hang it in the shade to dry. You can then re-dye with the same plant, or another to get a different shade, if you want. Let the yarn rest up to a year before you rinse it.
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It wouldn’t let me hit ‘like’ enough times! Amazing colors!
And so easy! Maybe even a full-time sheep rancher could stick some flowers in a jar one day! 🙂
I can’t get over how different the English dandelions are. What a fantstic array of colurs you have created.
Yes, sometimes I think every species we have was named by a man who wasn’t looking very closely — “Oh, that reminds me of a bird we have at home, I’ll call it a robin!” “Oh those look like some little flowers we had at home, I’ll call them dandelions!” 🙂
That orange color blows me away! I have to admit that dyeing is a complete mystery to me, but I like reading about it!
Anyone who can temper chocolate can follow a dye recipe! 🙂 I know you are busy with so many other interests, but the great thing about dyeing is that you do about 5 minutes work, then let it sit for 24 hours or so, and repeat, so you feel like you are getting two things done at once. BUT the colorfastness of these yarns is not proven — I will have to do some tests, and then wait a year or two — so I wouldn’t advocate them for your lovely handwovens anyway. I would hate for the floats in your overshot blocks to fade. So I guess this is one craft you can pass over guilt free, at least for now. If it turns out these dyes are colorfast, I may try to talk you into giving it a try later! 🙂
Your dandelions look different from the ones we had in Maine, but I made dandelion wine from those years ago, and it was fun. And yellow 😉
We have the ordinary short ones as well, but not nearly as many, and not as easy to pick! I have never had dandelion wine!
Not our dandelions!! What fabulous colours. I wonder what ours would do, goddess knows we have enough of them 🙂 Taraxecum Official . I have that book and will check and see what she says. Thanks. you will enjoy using them.
We have the ordinary short ones too, I just tried the tall ones because they were so easy to pick!
That turned out beautifully!!!!!
Thank you, I was so pleased to find a flower that produced color so easily! 🙂
2nd skein from left is awesome…can you say how you used your modfier?
Initially both skeins were yellow, and then I just added about a teaspoon to a tablespoon of clear, non-sudsing ammonia to the dye bath in one jar. The color changes immediately.
The jar does need to be cleaned well before being used again, because any residue can affect the next dye bath, and you won’t get a perfect clear yellow. Ask me how I know. 🙂
So vibrant for natural dyes! I do worry about the color fastness, especially if the item will be washed. I’ve had lovely dyed colors vanish in the suds. And Texas dandelions sure are big!
Yes, I would never sell these yarns or even give them to anyone, because I don’t know how well they will hold up. If they still look good in a year or two, I will try to use them in something.
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Hi, I have enjoyed reading your experiments. Thank you for sharing such extensive info… I love Jenny’s book too.
I have also been experimenting with natural dying Wool and have found if the plants are not shocked by boiling water they give much prettier and stronger colours.
For Solar -place plant fibre into a clear glass jar with a lid and add water to cover. Place wool samples in and leave in full sun, every day or so stir to get even coverage. As the plant matter deteriorated I pulled it out and added fresh plant fibre. I find that too much Alum makes the plant fibre more on the yellow side. Substantive plant dyes do not need Alum on Wool unless you want to change hues. Eucalyptus leaves and bark give such a beautiful array of colours and no Alum needed.
I only pre mordant with Alum for flower petals, and to extract the dye from them I put (100% of petals to Wool ratio) in a pot and cover with water and slowly bring up to just simmer ( under 80degc) never boil the delicate flowers petals. (If not doing the slower solar method which is my preferred method with petals)..Half to one hour max, simmer only in a stainless steel pot (Aluminium pots can affect the colour), then leave to cool before straining out plant fibre and then adding in the Wool. Wool should not be shocked in hot water either.
Then I bring slowly up to a simmer again ( under 80deg c) and dye the Wool for as long as I like to get different colours. Leave in dye pot overnight to cool and get darker colours. Post mordanting with either Copper Sulphate or Iron Sulphate can give many variations.
I find washing in little pH neutral soap is ok after about week of drying out and sitting. Very little if no colour at all washes out. Cheers from Australia
Wow, thank you so much for your tips!
I loved the colors I got from that dandelion dye, but I didn’t knit or weave with it in a timely way, and when I went to get it out of its basket, it had just disintegrated! I have a lot of other woolen things in the house with no moth damage, so I was thinking that maybe it was because I used sock yarn, and the nylon part of the yarn was responsible for the damage. Have you had any experience with that?
Here in Florida we have P. carolinianus. Would I be able to get dye from that?!?
I bet you would! Honestly, I have gotten dye from almost every plant I have tried. Most of the ones I have tried do fade after a few years, but they are fun to play with. 🙂