Monday, September 24, 2012

Autumn Plant Dyeing

The change of seasons brings many changes to a home...
Colors become more rich and deep; gone are the wispy blues of Summer.

I have completed our new set of plant dyed playsilks after some time tinkering with recipes, materials, etc...

Red was created from a cup of dried hibiscus tea. I found this in bulk at our local Wegmans; costing a total of $1.23. I let the tea simmer for about a hour, then let it cool while the silks soaked in vinegar (as a mordant). Plant dyes really aren't color fast, so some sort of preparation is necessary to keep the colors bright. I have used alum and cream of tartar in the past with good results. This time I used only 2 cups of white vinegar and a cup of warm water. 

Orange was created from madder root which I heated past the recommended temperature needed to achieve a deep pink. 

Yellow is very simple-- 3 tablespoons of turmeric in a pot of simmering water. Very quick and super color fast. 

Green was the trickiest. I first dyed a silk using indigo and allowed it to dry. I then submerged the silk in the turmeric preparation for about 30 seconds. The green is very muted and transparent. I really like this result!

Blue was created by using an indigo powder which was gifted to me by my cousin when he visited Egypt. 

Purple was created by boiling a 3 cups of shredded purple cabbage in a pot of simmering water. It is a pungent smell that will linger in your house all day long, but the result is beautiful and very color fast.

Pink was created by using strained beets which were simmered for about 2 hours. This is the least color fast preparation and yields more of a muted mauve shade. Madder root has given me beautiful pink shades while dyeing with cotton and wool, but silk is another story. I'm trying again this week!

I've also been dyeing some wool batting for future projects...
The best price I have found for cleaned and carded wool is $7.50/lb. 
I ordered 2 lbs and with shipping it cost $26.22.

The wool mill is about an hour from our house and they only take phone orders.
I highly recommend their products!
West Earl Wool Mill

Thank you for all of your feedback regarding my previous post. I continue to strive to remain patient and empathetic towards W and his recent challenges. He is a little boy who feels the enormity of the things which are frustrating him. 

I met last night with my mentor teacher from Princeton Waldorf school and she'll be observing playgarden this coming Wednesday. I am eager to hear her suggestions and feedback. I can already feel her support and I am so grateful. 

Looking ahead this week to Michaelmas.....



  1. Isnt plant dying exquisite! we love it! we too are looking forward to Michealmas, love and light to you during this beautiful time of year, thanks for sharing

  2. Isnt plant dying exquisite! we love it! we too are looking forward to Michealmas, love and light to you during this beautiful time of year, thanks for sharing

  3. always lovely! Thanks for the information! Where do you learn to do all of these beautiful things? your children are so very lucky.

  4. I wish I knew you in real life! Are you thinking of ever visiting Australia? :) You're nearly famous here in our community!
    Lots of love to you.

  5. I should had done our play silks in plant dye. I purchased silks for Lil's birthday and used powdered dye. I don't like the unnatural colors. Your silks turned out beautiful though. The soft colors look so inviting.

  6. Lovely colors, thank you for sharing what you used to make them. I've made a lovely shade of red using red beets dandelions, madder root and vinegar (I'm sorry I don't remember the ratios, but it was a lovely deep rusty red) Have a blessed day.

  7. How beautiful! I've been meaning to dye some new silkies for the twins. Thanks, and I hope you'll come share on Waldorf Wednesday!

  8. Beautiful work. I hope you'll do more research on natural dyeing! I too am a Waldorf teacher in training, but I received my BFA in Fibers and run a small business selling naturally dyed yarns. If it's not too presumptuous, I'd like to give you a few tips: First, vinegar is not really a mordant! It is a modifier that can shift color by adjusting its pH, but it does not bond dye molecules to fibers. To achieve fastness, you need to use a true mordant (this is a material that produces a chemical change, and it permanently binds dye molecules to fibers). Like you said in your post, Alum is one of the most common mordants (and it is one of the safest) to use on protein fibers. Cream of tartar assists alum by creating a more acidic atmosphere that will allow some dyes to be better absorbed.

    I think that you may find that your dyes will be more vibrant and will last longer when using a true mordant instead of vinegar. Although it is true that some plant dyes are not color fast, it is not true for all of them. Madder, indigo, cochineal, onion, walnut, and many others are extremely colorfast.

    I look forward to seeing what you make in the future!


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