Saturday, 16 October 2010

A recipe for natural dyeing

There shall be eternal summer in the grateful heart
Celia Thaxter

a final goodbye to summer ...

that end of summer feeling
As always thank you to my flickr friends and faves in both mosaics
for sharing their beautiful photos:
1. . 2. Save the best for last 3. Letting go 4. Almost

and welcome autumn with all it's beauty

pumpkins and gourds

I'd like to introduce you to a flower I've come to love

the montbretia or crocosmia

It looks and grows like wildfire in Cornwall

Until a couple of years ago I considered it to be a problem plant in the garden, very hard to control, very prolific. Every Autumn, I would clear my garden of it, pulling most of it up at the bulb, but each Spring it would be spread across the garden. It even grows in our granite walls, in the tiniest of stone crevices

It's now my new best friend ;o)
since discovering that it produces a lovely yellow dye

Last year I managed to get a really strong, sunshine yellow batch of fabrics
This year, not quite so vibrant but still a pretty, true yellow

I used snippets of the faded montbretia fabrics
to make some hearts stuffed with lavender
with beaded danglies

beaded danglies

snippets of montbretia fabric

For this one I used scrim dyed with onion skins
(see the last post)

shells, beads and french knots
one of my favourite combos

... and so I thought I would answer
some frequently asked questions about natural dyeing ...

The question I get asked most is whether or not I use a mordant
when I dye with plant materials

The answer is that I've never mordanted my fabrics before dyeing. However, some silk fabrics may have been pre-treated for colour-fastness before purchase which is why the silks are more vibrant sometimes

My interest in natural dyeing lies in the gathering of the natural plant material, the dyeing process, what colours can be fetched from leaves, berries and flowerheads and how strong and naturally colourfast the unmordanted fabrics stay with time. I'm experimenting and recording my results with samples ... and the results you've seen on my blog so far are all completely natural

Treating fabrics with the correct mordant prior to dyeing will make them more vibrant and colour fast. I shall be repeating all my experiments with treated fabrics at some stage, but at the moment I'm still playing with the natural process

beautiful patterns on a eucalyptus leaf

The other most frequently asked question is about the process
I tend to use same method, no matter the plant material I'm using
There is nothing fancy required

Very simple recipe for natural dyeing

dedicated* metal pan/saucepan
dedicated* spoon
some old glass jars/jam jars
a variety of different natural textured fabrics
(ie. cotton, linen, silk, scrim, old bits of crochet or cotton lace, cotton/silk threads)
your chosen plant material

* dedicated = a utensil saved especially for dyeing purposes
(not one you are going to cook tea with later!)

[I have to say this - it's health and safety!]


1. Boil a kettle of water
2. Place your berries/leaves/flowerheads in your pan
3. Pour over boiling water - just enough to cover your plant material
4. Set a timer for approx. 15 mins
5. Simmer the pan on a low heat for approx. 15 mins
6. Allow the pan to cool
7. Pour the liquid into the glass jars (straining off the plant material)
8. Put your fabrics in the jars
9. Leave for up to a week
10. Don't worry if it smells a bit or if mould forms on the top - it makes interesting marks
11. After a few days or up to a week - rinse fabrics and wash thoroughly
12. Dry fabrics and iron (if required)

More ideas ...
Place soggy leaves/flower heads between sketchbook pages and press
Use the dye for colourwashing sketchbook pages or drawing with a dip pen

Natural dyeing with eucalyptus leaves
already a darker brown - I'm feeling hopeful!

... and finally ...
a very simple autumn project for the children

printing with leaves
using paints and rubber stamp pads

kick through some leaves this weekend
and collect a few favourites to take home

Happy weekend
Carolyn ♥


Caroline said...

Fab, groovy and totally wonderful - all!

Menopausal musing said...

I missed your last post and am so glad I did, because I have just had the most lovely time reading both together! How absolutely beautiful, interesting and informative they both were....... Loved the piece about the onion skin dying and the fact that it "took" on a non natural fabric..... shall have to give it a go.....

Alexandra Mason said...

What a wonderful post! I love your photos and your hearts are gorgeous xx

Jill said...

Carolyn thank you so much for answering the mordant question for me. I must have a go at dyeing some fabric now I know I have the ingredients to hand. The montbretia blooms look wonderful - they do not thrive in my chalky soil, but I remember them en-mass in the Cornish hedgerows.
Another beautiful set of photographs, thanks again, Jill

Moonpie primitives said...

Hi Carolyn:
I just found your blog.....And I have to say I love, love, love It...I like to dye fabrics your ideas sound great...also the photos are amazing..
Have a great weekend, Nancy

Murgelchen94..... Be original is always more valuable than a copy. said...

Hi Carolyn,
a good weekend. The post is as always wonderful.
Greetings Helga

Gloria Freshley said...

Hi Carolyn, Many, many thanks for the instructions, beautiful imagery and beautiful hearts!! Love your blog! Gloria

Sweetpea said...

What an extremely helpful post...I am so glad I stopped by for a visit :>]
And WOW - what beautiful photography abounds!

Jo said...

Thank you for the recipe and FAQ advice! Beautiful photographs as always,


Cathie said...

Much food for thought. I shall now, go ponder.
such pretty fabric, such pretty dyes, such pretty leaves, such pretty thoughts.

Lynette (NZ) said...

Love the dying - the hearts - divine :-)

Julie said...

A fabulous post Carolyn. I think I recognise that little batch of yellow fabric and I saw my dangly too! Thank you for detailing your process here. xx

Jacky said...

Fantastic post (posts!!!) Carolyn...beautiful imagery and those hearts are gorgeous.

I do a bit of eco-dyeing myself and havent used a mordant either (although a friend told me the old aluminium pot that I use acts as a mordant???). Good luck with the gum leaves, I have had a lot of success with them. My favourites are the lighter, silvery coloured leaves. They give off a beautiful colour.

Loved your tips. I will be keeping my excess dye/water to use in my journal now!!!

Lovely to have you back.

Jacky xox

Sharne's Bit 'n' Bobs said...

I have never liked monbretia, I dont grow anything orange. However, after seeing it growing wild in Cornwall this year, I have to admit to veiwing at it in a different light. ESPECIALLY after receiving my gorgous heart and dyed fabric from you. Thank you for the recipe. Going to pick up some Eucalyptus leaves tomorrow.

sunnisandy said...

Carolyn, All I can say is beautiful, your work, your words. Love the "yellow" color, reminds me of autumn, my favorite time of year!

Dot said...

Am itching to do some natural dyeing now! Going to get myself a pot, some glass hards and bits and bobs and go for it :). Thanks for the inspiration.
Dot xx

Katie said...

Oh no! I don't need another project to try! I love these hearts w/ houses and the dyeing. Wonderful stuff!

Ati. said...

Thank you for the recipe. I have tried it also with black currants and it became great :)
LOVE your blog. very inspiring! And great lay-out!

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

They are always called 'Cornish flowers' in our house ;)

Anonymous said...

I used to have crocosmia in my garden but it doesn't grow well here (north facing garden in the cold and windy north east, many challenges!) and has all but disappeared now. You have some brilliant colour results with it and other plants. A wonderful post full of inspiration and instruction, thank you for sharing.

Libertybelle said...

Another great blog Carolyn! I've been wanting to do some natural dyeing for ages and now I know what to do with the monbretia that's taking over my garden.

bad penny said...

Thank you s much Carolyn. Now I will look at Montbretia in a totally new light !

Twiglet said...

A great post - Autumn is such a lovely month. In school we used to have great fun leaf printing with leaves from the horse chestnut. The children loved mixing up gorgeous Autumn colours and we printed long lengths of hessian for display and made covers for our topic books - happy days!!

A bird in the hand said...

Oh to be in Cornwall dyeing bits and pieces with you! It almost felt as if I were there. thank you for a lovely post. xoxo

Brandy Faulkner said...

Oh my! You are so talented. Fabulous post and photos! Thank you for sharing.


Nerys Kate Williams said...

Beautiful post, very interesting facts on natural dying I will be trying this out soon! so inspirational :)


ewa-christine said...

As always very lovley Carolyn, you are so very good at you art!

La Dolce Vita said...

lovely post and thanks for explaining your process! wonderful! lovely yellow hue and that motley Eucalyptus leaf is exquisite!

Lins Artyblobs said...

Great post, lovely images. Perhaps I should stop pulling up my crocosmia now?

Fabric Art said...

Great blog post Carolyn, your dyed fabric is wonderful and your hearts are very beautifully done, thanks for the instructions about dyeing.

mimilove forever said...

mmmm just gorgeous colours...and top marks on the beaded danglies matron! x;0)

sharon young said...

As usual Carolyn, your lovely posts inspire me and your beautiful work puts a smile on my face. Thank you so much for your generous recipe, I will definitely have a go.
Thanks too for dropping in on my blog and leaving your lovely comment, it was much appreciated.

Mrs Button said...

what an inspiring post - I've always wondered about mordants etc and now I know. I did a day's natural dying a while ago with my friends and loved the process and the've inspired me to try it again....and the soggy leaf idea...that sounds absolutely brilliant..thank you :o)

CJ Stitching and Blooms said...

Hello Carolyn,

Your natural dying recipe is similar to mine. I have only done it a few times but I enjoy the process and it always a nice surpise what colors will really appear. I also absolutely LOVE your "Hearts" they are all lovely with all their embellishments.

I know you will LOVE reading the Anne of Green Gable books. Please let me know what you think when you finish them and thanks for visiting my blog and leaving your lovely message for me to read. Hugs Judy

Aileen Clarke Crafts said...

Lovely post Carolyn. You have inspired me to have a go at simple natural dyeing! The books I have read on this have made it all sound so complicated before. I love Montbretia as it grows wild on the Dingle peninsula and reminds me of my holidays. What a wonderful dye it makes!
Your hearts are just adorable, especially the one with the dangly shell.
We did a bit of leaf printing here last week but I had a hard job convincing my 5yo to use less paint on her brush! The leaves looked amazing afterwards as we had used gold poster paint mixed with reds, oranges and greens and it left such a lovely sheen on the veins.

ArtPropelled said...

This post is filled with treasures. I always leave your blog feeling uplifted ..... thank you Carolyn. Love all the hearts!

jo mcintosh said...

Great blog as usual - love the recipe and will be trying it out!

Julia said...

It's like opening and reading a very beautiful book, that is brimming with treasure and inspiration on each page...the detail in your work is breathtaking, your photographs are evocative and brilliant!
Thank you for writing such a wonderful blog, much love to you
Julia x x x

Julie Shackson said...

Not sure why I've only just found this post; wonderful as ever! Just spotted my beautiful heart in the photo. Love the house one's too. I've got some time off work from tomorrow and plan to use your lovely crocosmia samples somehow. Mmmh, plenty here for inspiration methinks. Thankyou!

Abigail said...

Thanks so much for this inspiring post! I'm bookmarking it so I can use it for future referance. I need to run to the thrift store this weekend to get dishes just for dyeing use!

Debrina said...

Carolyn - this is just fantastic! I love the hearts and the recipes. Goodness but you so rock, lady!!! Also, would you allow me to link this post, with the recipes, to my Barter Circle blog? I like to link up with thrifty and money saving ideas and this is perfect!!!

Jo Wholohan said...

loved reading every bit of this carolyn, thanks so much for sharing your dyeing method, cant wait to have a go xx

Flutterby Patch said...

I'm desperate to give your simple dyeing method a go, I thought it would be a lot more complicated than that. Thanks for the excellent tips.


The basic process really is this simple

Obviously, it can be taken further once you are happy with the principles. For example:

Using mordants will enhance the colours and give you a whole new range of deeper tones

You may want to try this basic recipe on a much larger scale and dye larger pieces of fabric

Try tie dye, shibori and other resists on your fabrics before dyeing

There are endless possibilities ...

Have fun!

Anneli/Bockfilz said...

Dear Carolyn,
how gifted you are!

I admire your works and experiments a lot - and those beautiful pictures you make - and your blog(s)!

You describe it so clearly and make it sound so easy - I cannot help feeling inspired and encouraged to make first tiny steps towards natural dyeing too ...

Thank you so much for sharing and describing!

Deborah said...

Lovely post, inspiring and informational. said...

Stunning! All of it! Susie xx

artymess said...

Thanks Carolyn I have always been put off by having to use mordant before dyeing so consequently never have......I will have a go now ......lovely post as always ......x

karen said...

you always, always have such beautiful images on here. it's never anything but a pleasure to stop by and drool.

sea-blue-sky & abstracts said...

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful post! Love the dandelion clocks, montbretia and sun dappled photos - and the hearts, what can I say? x

Magpie's Mumblings said...

I've always thought dandelions get a bad rap and those photos just prove my point! Thank you for sharing your method for dyeing - one of these days I will have to give it a try. I'm trying really hard to resist getting into another 'thing', but you made this sound pretty enticing!!

Eddie (Historic Crafts) said...

This is a wonderful post. Such beautiful colours and it's always lovely to see a fellow maker try out natural dyes.