Natural Dyes: Dandelions and Blueberries
I am an avid gardener. I grow much of the produce Mike and I eat year-round, and I’ve been collecting and spreading wildflower seeds and transplanting wildflowers for many years in an effort to develop pretty, wild flower beds. Progress on the latter has been painfully slow, but there is progress every year. It can hardly come as a surprise that I’m interested in natural dyes for embroidery fabrics.I started with dandelions. I admit it: I think dandelions, those villains of manicured grass lawns and tidy flower beds, are pretty. That brilliant yellow color and the lion-toothed leaves (dent-de-lion . . . dandelion . . . get it?) are lovely if you look beyond the insidious pest aspect of the plant. Then I tried blueberries.
Here’s the process I used, which comes from a number of books and websites that I’ve perused.
Make the Dye Bath
After collecting dandelion heads, I boiled them for an hour in a large stainless steel pot using about twice as much water as blossoms. I did the same with the blueberries.
Prepare Fabric for Dyeing
While the dandelions and berries simmered, I prepared the fabric by boiling it in a color fixative. This helps the color set in the fabric. Fixatives for plant dyes are different from fixatives for berry dyes.
For the plant dyes, I used 4 parts water to 1 part white vinegar.
For the berry dye, I used 1/2 cup of salt to 8 cups of cold water.
I simmered squares of cotton and linen fabric in the fixative for the hour that the dandelions and blueberries simmered. (Yes, I keep my vinegar in a gin bottle because I buy it by the gallon. I don’t like gin, but I do like that bottle.)
Add Fabric to Dye Bath
Strain the plant material from the dye bath and return the liquid to the pot.
Rinse the fabric in cool water, squeeze out excess water, and then place the wet fabric in the dye bath. Simmer again for another hour or so, and for a stronger color, let the fabric sit in the dye bath overnight. Note that the color of the fabric will be significantly lighter when it dries.
Allow Dyed Fabric to Dry
I don’t have a clothes line, so I fabricated one with deck chairs, a work light, and large paperclips, and hung my dyed, wet fabrics outside to dry. They’re hard to see in such a tiny image, but there are three blueberry-dyed bits of fabric on the line. They’re much darker here than they are now.
The end results were gray- and butter-colored fabrics, much different (duller) from the colors of the starting materials and the colors of the wet fabric. They are not, however, unlike some commercially available chemically-dyed fabrics.
On one hand, you know I prefer screaming colors, so the colors are less than thrilling to me. On the other hand, you know how much I like doing things myself, and these are kind of cool. There are times when
blandmuted colors are appropriate for a background. And besides, a dullsubtle background can be the base for screaming fibers.
While these aren’t exactly the results I hoped for, the process was fun, and I’m ready to have another go with a different approach and/or different materials. Maybe a different fixative would work better. Maybe different plant materials (beets!) would yield brighter colors.
In the meantime, I’ve got some stitching to do!
Have any of you tried natural dyes? Do you have tips or advice? What were your results?
Update: Ellen provides this link to a plant dye color list in the comments. She points out that we don’t always get what we expect from a dye, and I confess I’m curious about this and want to be surprised by some result. The list says that blueberries may yield a blue-gray color. Yep, that’s what I got!