Dyeing for Colour

I’m always interested in new activity ideas to offer groups and when and I came across a course for  Natural Dyeing Colour from Plants, I had to book.

On a sunny day in May I drove to a smallholding on the border of Norfolk and Cambridgeshire to be taught the art of natural plant yarn and silk dyeing.

As a person who buys a packet of Dylon when I want to revive a favourite garment, the first thing I noticed on my arrival to class was the set-up of catering stock pots, tables set with bowls and different concoctions of unknown substances that wouldn’t look out of place in a J K Rowling novel.

I was welcomed by tutors Nina and Hilary then introduced to other members of the course.  Then Nina started with information about the colour dyes plants produce and the different mordants (fixing agents) you can use giving distinctive hues.  Not knowing much about mordants myself I was intrigued to find out that you can make a natural dye fix with a mixture of white vinegar and handful of nails (as long as they’re iron.)  The other mordants include alum, copper, chrome and tin, all minerals you can easily obtain. Although some are toxic with copper being the worst to alum being the most used as it’s non-toxic.

After the introduction we were given a white silk scarf then sent off with our bowls to collect a selection of plant life.  I had brought camellia blooms from my garden, so I foraged for a few green items to go alongside.  Back at the ranch we then set about placing our damp silk scarves out on a table on top of cling film and then placed the mordant dipped flowers in a design along the scarf.  The scarves were folded and then very tightly rolled and held together with string.  They then they were steamed for several hours

While we were waiting for our little packages to be cooked, we went on to the yarn colouring stage.  We were supplied with skein of yarn which we then placed into different boiling pots of natural dyes.  There are countless plants that can produce different colours and many I have in my herb patch at home, such as lemon balm, lavender, bay, mint all giving a range of wonderful natural colours as well as making food taste wonderful too.  Power to nature!

The boiling time finished and our ‘ta, da’ moment arrived. We unrolled our silk scarves to see the art of natural dyeing by our own hands.  All results were different depending on the shape of flowers, leaves and the mordant used.  I had a light flower pink colour from the camellia flowers.  On reflection I could have got a deeper colour if I had been more generous with the mordant soak, but as I like to say, ‘learning all the time.’  The yarns came out with wonderful colours and shades of yellows, greens and browns and will at some stage be crocheted into a cushion cover.

As the art of natural plant dyeing takes a little time to process our group hand plenty of time to get to know each other, drink tea, eat homemade cake, enjoy a beautiful sunny day while learning the art of natural colour dyeing from plants.

If your group would be interested in learning the process of natural plant colour dyeing just get in touch. 

Natural plant mordants

·      Alkanet ·      Bay ·      Berberis
·      Blackberry ·      Buddlieja ·      Camelia
·      Cherry ·      Chestnut ·      Clematis
·      Comfrey ·      Coreopsis ·      Cow Parsley
·      Daisy ·      Elderberry ·      Eucalyptus
·      Ferns / Bracken ·      Forget-me-not ·      Forsythia
·      Hazel ·      Hollyhock ·      Hawthorn
·      Hydrangea ·      Hypericum ·      Ivy
·      Laurel ·      Lavender ·      Lemon balm
·      Magnolia ·      Mallow ·      Maple/Acer
·      Mint ·      Oak ·      Plum
·      Rose ·      Strawberry ·      Sumac
·      Walnut ·      Weld ·      Willow
·      Yarrow ·      Yellow Flag ·      Yew