Category: Dyes

10 Sep

All Natural Plant Dye Processes

CREAM  -  GOLD  -  BLUE   on Ahimsa Silk




Most plant dyes produce cream or gold, dyed cold or hot.  They can be modified to turn darker and some modified to turn green. Mordants are used to soak silk in first.  Modifiers are used after dye.  Blue is only achieved with English Woad.


Dyed samples:     Logwood purple - Eucalyptus deep gold - Woad blue - Mullein light gold - Woad blue - Hawthorn gold beiges - Iron modified - Ladies Bedstraw orange

Flora Arbuthnot's Dye Workshop

My dye experiments were inspired by first workshop attended.  We foraged locally for leaves and bark. Flora taught us about mordants to soak fabric in prior to dyeing.  See samples on Post.

Flora Arbuthnot's Bundle Dye Workshop

Bundle dyeing by steam was a quick workshop at a garden festival. Petals and seeds were spread on cloth, sprayed with vinegar, folded in tightly wrapped bundles and suspended over steaming pot.  Excellent results for backgrounds, seen on this Post background.  See samples on Post.

26 Jun

Hawthorn Berries Three Rivers Dyed Silk

Hawthorn Berries 1 - River Taw

Berries from Tarka Trail foraging trip along River Taw found by ditch and field growing through hazelnut and willow trees with briars and nettles.

Hawthorn (1) - Dye Bath Process

  • Soak berries for 2-3 days.
  • Boil then simmer for 1-2 hours.  Add water and re-simmer if evaporates.
  • Mash berries, remove pulp from dye pan.  Cool to hand hot.
  • Soak silk in dye bath pot overnight or for two days.
  • The longer soaked, the darker and stronger the colour.

Steeping in dye bath

Silk absorbs dye colour immediately, but some hours of soaking will deepen the tone.  Move silk occasionally to ensure all parts even

1st silk can be left in a bowl to dye stronger overnight, while keeping back some dye liquid to soak a 2nd piece, which will have a paler result.

Hawthorn Berries 2 - River Otter - Dye Process

Soak berries and simmer as Hawthorn (1).  Two silk samples were added to dye liquid when cooled and soaked in a wide copper pot for a day and a night. One was cream. The other was dull pale grey (failed woad dyed piece) which resulted in a browner result. (Colour mixing: grey + hawthorn = brown)

Comparisons - Rivers Taw - River Otter berries

Taw berries result is golden.  Otter berries result is dull fawn.  Unknown whether the different river soils affected the dye colour, or if the copper pot had an effect, which is likely.

Hawthorn Berries 3 - River Exe - Dye Process

Hawthorn Berries River Exe Sessions1,2,3,4 give 4 colour variations

Silk 1 - Lime green.   Silk 2 - Medium mauve.   Silk 3 - Silver.  Silk 4 - Pale peach

Fascinating variations obtained by use of mordants, or washing out methods, or how fresh or old/exhausted the dye bath becomes.

Exe Berries - Ahimsa Silk 1. Mauve turns Green

Large long piece of silk soaked a few hours in pre-mordanting Alum beforehand.

Good Mauve result.  Washed out in tap water, with added soap. Turned GREY, then gradually GREEN!  (Far left)

Was it the tap water?  Was it the soap?

Exe Berries - Ahimsa Silk 2.

Two dress top shapes. NO premordant alum.

Steeped 24hrs in remainder dye bath pink sludgy liquid.

Washed out in tap water - stayed a medium MAUVE. (presume due to no alum).

Exe Berries - Ahimsa Silk 3.

One long silk piece with a hem.

Placed in previous dye bath (1. and 2.)

Turned mauvish, but dried out SILVER! (Right)

Exe Berries - Ahimsa Silk 4.

Silk pre-mordanted with Alum and Cream of Tartar.

Cider vinegar from pre-soaked apple peels added to dye bath.

Placed liquid and fabric in copper pot.

Result overnight - pale peach.

11 Nov

Silk dyed with Comfrey leaves

Comfrey Dye Bath Preparation


Shibori stitching for resist of dye penetration.

Double rows gathered - lines, wavy lines, circles.  Can be prepared while leaves simmering


Dye Bath Process

  • Soak comfrey leaves for 24 hrs - simmer for an hour, watching water level.
  • During simmering there is time to do some shibori on the silk: double stitched rows, pulled, gathered tight, as rings, or lines. [link]
  • Remove from pan, squeezing excess dye liquid from leaves, or press through colander.
  • Soak pre-wetted silk in hand hot (never boiling hot). Stir for first 5 mins.
  • When colour did not darken anymore, after a few hours, I lifted the silk out, added some rust water (or ferrous sulphate) to dye bath as a modifier, then lowered half the silk piece in, to achieve a partly dyed piece.
  • The difference in tone when dry was much less than when wet, so its best to always allow dye to go darker than wanted, as it will always rinse out lighter.
16 Sep

Alder tree cone dye

Alder cones stored in dry box

Alder cones fall off the trees in strong winds and are found in the grass below all year.  Newer cones side by side on twigs are green and hard.  Store the brown cones in dry boxes and they last a long time.

Alder cones fall on grass
Alder cones on tree

To make dye bath soak cones, twigs and leaves together in a mixing bowl or pan.  The water will go dark brown.  Boil up then simmer for one or two hours.  Keep checking water level.

Adde silk to dye bath, but only when temperature had lowered to hand hot, or silk will roughen.  Never boil silk.  Stir frequently for even dye coverage and leave overnight to finish absorption.  In most cases, colour deepens the longer silk is left.

A secondary paler colour can be achieved in a new silk sample if added to dye bath for 24hours.  I would enhance the absorption ability by pre-mordanting in powdered allum.

Alder cones removed from dye bath after boiling
Silk after removal from dye bath of alder cones, leaves and twigs.
Silk dyed result after soaking in alder dye bath

So many natural dyestuffs produce a range of creams and beige, fawn and gold tones; all very different.  All neutral tones provide an excellent background for silk painting. The Ahimsa peace silk or Habotai silk takes up any natural dye nicely.

This piece will be used in a fashion garment and link posted here in future.

15 Sep

Walnut Husks Dyed Silk

Walnut Husks Dye Process

  • Walnuts were soaked for several days before boiling up and simmering until liquid was dark brown.
  • Remove husks and decant liquid to bowl.
  • Add wet silk pieces
  • Agitate frequently then soak overnight
  • Silk takes up the brown dye bath quickly but keep turning and agitating occasionally while soaking. (I don't boil Ahimsa silk as it would roughen surface) Soaking is adequate for obtaining a reasonable colour.

There is a lot of pigment left in the dye bath which can be stored in jars or used for additional fabrics.  Fill to brim to avoid mould forming. It could also be used to add to creams and golds to strengthen.

Silk Samples of Gold Variations

Walnut dyed silk is the darkest gold, gold-brown/bronze colour so far obtained from seeds or plant dyes. Left samples on both images).

Walnut Tree

Walnuts were found on the ground where they had had been decaying under a walnut tree on Bossington Green, Porlock, North Somerset.

21 Aug

Logwood Dyed Silk

Two Logwood dye sessions with very different results

1st Session Logwood Dye Bath - Deep aubergine result on Ahimsa Silk - Shibori technique test

1st Session result with shibori stitch resist partially successful
Test - Shibori stitching pulled tight before dyeing to leave areas white


Double rows of loose stitched threads are pulled tight as much as possible, before dyeing; creating a tightly drawn ruched area which creates a resist against dye penetration.

1st Logwood dye bath
Silk removed from dye bath

DEEP VIOLET DYED SILK achieved.  I expected lilac, so I used too much dried logwood.  Silk could have been removed from dye bath after 20 minutes of initial uptake.

Experiment with dried dyestuff quantities as percentages of weight: ratios fabric:dye stuff.
Butterfly shibori test result
Shibori area: leaf vein result


Strength of dye penetration resulted in some of the white lines being dyed, so I applied dye discharge paste (dye remover) to shapes, which gave an interesting partial fade result.  See leaves below.

Note:  Shibori stitch technique works well if fabric excluded enough from dye bath - so use thick embroidery silks or string type thread. Simple cotton thread gathered tight was not thick enough.

Applying discharge paste to leaf areas needing distinctive paler tone
Leaf areas of design discharged out with brush and fabric

The simple butterfly and leaves are not a sophisticated design; only used as a test work over dark dyed background.

Shibori resist white outlines of leaf vein and butterfly edging needed definition.  Fabric discharge paste was brushed on to leaf area, where the batik had not been successful.  

Bleaching out background dyed silk is an idea for muted toned designs. It could be useful for a background to forest or sea; but would need stronger white areas made with tie dye and shibori, for contrasting tones.

Discharge paste cannot be guaranteed to bleach completely; another colour may result, as seen above.

Gutta lines added to second wash out after discharging leaf and seed areas
Colour added between dried gutta outlines seen through light

Gutta resist outlines were applied to contain more colour.  I used dark outlines by adding dye to neutral beige gutta paste, but neutral gutta would be best if marking out along the shibori technique lines, to retain the white.  Dark on dark is also too murky.  Hold silk frame up to light to check for integrity of blocking, to avoid leakage of liquid dye colour when applying.

Colours were chosen to match planned coordinated fabrics as patchworks.

Adding colour between gutta lines
Butterfly painted
Repainting leaf over discharged area either side of 'shibori' leaf stem
Silk sample painted to coordinate with other fabrics for patchwork
Silk burnt by foil when steamer ran dry
Fabric coordinates for dyed sample


Unfortunately, the steamer ran dry and fabric burned with burnt newspaper inside foil wrapping. Be careful to watch water level after so much work!

Nothing will be wasted.  The small unburnt strips  will be used as small patches within the colour scheme.  Silk may also be cut into butterfly or leaf shapes to applique on paler fabric.  By stitching over, the silk will be stronger in case of weakness from the dried overheating.

2nd Session  Logwood Batik

The second session produced a pleasing lilac background with motif of nigella seed pod, butterflies, banana leaves and textured background. The 'daubed' shapes are the result of using a long brush end.

Session Two: Lilac result after batik soaked in remaining dye bath overnight

Batik preparation experimentation

The dye mixture was weaker, the natural pigment much depleted, having been absorbed into first soaked fabric, so a subtle result of lilac-beige silk texture after wax removal and washing out.

Hot wax applied to silk
Hot wax design
Shibori stitching
Waxed silk in dye bath
Waxed silk rinsed
After wax removel

Applying bees wax design motifs and texture to silk, with brush end and brushes. (My first ever batik!)

  • Use water solluable pen to draw design outlines.
  • Keep heating up the wax so that it forms a good resist.  The centre area which was applied hottest, came off easily when ironed.  Feint brush marks do not give enough solid cover as a resist to the dye.

Removing Wax from silk

  • Place thick type brown parcel paper over silk and wax; iron several times, with fresh paper each time and hot iron.
  • When no more wax comes off, turn over and repeat, to be sure.
  • Wash silk in hand hot soapy water.   Any stubborn waxy stickyness can be scrubbed very lightly with a soft brush, to loosen.
  • NOTE: wax batiking in this way for fashion, is not ideal on Ahimsa silk I used, which is like cotton and absorbed wax. Canvas would be a firmer base for general artwork where it wouldn't matter if some residue of wax remains in fabric.
Batik silk ready to be painted for a dress. Fabric coordinates being decided.
Nigella seed pod center, pansies around, with butterflies and banana leaves. Embroidery used to highlight seed pod tendrills, and add stitch lines to pansies in reds.
Fabric coordinates chosen to create dress with silk painting

See final afternoon tea dress post: Butterflies and Pansies

21 Aug

Mullein Dyed Silk

My Grand Mullein 6ft. tall

Magic of Mullein

Mullein plants have been used for centuries both as medicinal and as a wick for natural torches. 

The leaves here give a good light gold on Ahimsa silk after steeping in dye bath from several leaves.  Stem of plant not yet trialed. 

Plants seed themselves in the fruit and vegetable allotment: thousands of seeds but just a few plants, biannual.

Click on any photo to view enlarged Photos Gallery

Mullien leaves soaking boiled
Dye bath after removing leaves
Silk soaking in mullien dye bath
Silk absorbed mullein dye
  • Fully cover dyestuff leaves with pond water, and stand to soak for 24-48 hours.
  • Boil up in 2 or 3 inches of rainwater for 10 mins then simmered for at least an hour until the colour reaches full strength. Dip piece of soft white tissue in to test strength from time to time. it may be necessary to add water if simmering a long time.
  • Remove dyestuff leaves.  Allow dye bath to cool until barely hand hot to be gentle for the silk.
  • Immerse silk and agitate for 5 minutes then leave to soak, stirring every 20 mins or so. Some dyes absorb immediately; some need longer overnight soaking.
  • Absorption of colour depends on whether the silk has been pre-mordanted in alum crystals; which is not always necessary.
  • Silk piece is washed out gently in warm water until water runs clear. Hang out to dry without squeezing too much.
  • Steam iron when almost dry to remove creases.

[This silk will be incorporated into a Shamanic Nights garment and linked to here in due course]

14 Aug

St-Johns Wort Plant Collecting and Dye Bath

Foraging along the Tarka Trail

Yellow Flowers of St. John's Wort are found along grass verges. Many changed to orange seed buds, which helps identify them from other yellow flowers and which may be attributable to the golden colour result.

Collecting Dye Plants (St. Johns Wort in basket) along a decommissioned rail track Barnstaple to Bideford: my 10 mile foraging route using Jenny Dean's plant spotter book.   Late summer finds many of the traditional dye plants along grass verges.

St Johns Wort - Dye Bath Process

  • Soak flower tops and seed buds overnight in rain water. I use pond water.
  • Boil up and simmer for an hour. Press fibres with potato masher. Remove from vessel.
  • When cool enough not to roughen silk, add and soak silk, stirring occasionally.
  • Colour appears soon, but leave overnight to absorb dye colour fully.
  • First silk takes most dye pigment.

1st Woad Dye Session

2nd Woad Dye Session

  • Most pigment its taken up with 1st session, but there is always some left.  Remove 1st silk piece.
  • Add dyestuff again and heat and simmer dye bath for 15 mins.
  • When cooler than hand hot, add 2nd piece of silk and leave overnight, to absorb all dye pigment.
  • Second soak actually used up remainder of dye pigment leaving water clear, with paler silk result.

3rd Dye Session- Iron Modifier

Use remaining dye liquid to add iron (ferrous sulphate) for a greyer or greener result.  Colour mix is involved: cream dyes will turn pale grey, the stronger orangey St. John's Wort dye produced green-grey. Other dye baths may produce a pale grey/dull brown results.  Iron can be added by a little rusty water, made by soaking rusty nails in a jar. Small amount needed to tip the colour. Avoid using too much as iron can weaken silk fibres.

Hand Dyed Silk Samples

  • LEFT:     Rosemary - St. Johns Wort Light/St. Johns Wort strong gold - Comfrey Light - Comfrey Dark
  • RIGHT:  Top left St. Johns Wort gold, Green/St. Johns Wort iron modified contrasting with the other natural dye results.
22 May

Bundle Dyeing Seeds and Flowers Workshop

Bundle dyed silk samples were created at Flora's Bundle Dye Workshop in Forde Abbey Gardens

Bundle Dyed Silk Samples

Silk and cottons are covered in seeds, petals and powdered roots; then sprayed with vinegar, then folded up into angular folds, before tying up into stringed bundles.  Bundles are hung over the side of a large boiling pot of water.

Bright pigment result from steaming seeds (such as Hopi sunflower), petals (such as dahlia) and dried root (such as madder or logwood).

Drying out unwrapped silk bundles

Authors Samples –  I chose mostly pink and lilac dyestuffs which I tried to arrange in circular patterns, but this process is completely unpredictable.  Next time it would be interesting to make dyestuff arrangements in circular tied bundles or with elastic, similar to tie dye techniques, form snowflake type designs.

22 May

Flora’s Plant dye foraging workshop

Nettle and alder dye pots. Fabrics soaking premordanted in soya milk

Click on any photo to view enlarged Photos Gallery

Alder tree cones
How to pick a nettle (yellow dye)

Plants are simply placed in boiling water and simmered. Soaking overnight is also useful.  Bought dried stock like madder is useful for plants not easily found in UK.

Nettles soaking and boiling
Nettle dye bath simmering
Oak galls dye bath
Oak galls stored in a jar
Nettle and Alder dye baths. Fabrics soaking


Flora used a fabric pre-mordant (to soak fabric in) - soya milk.

I use alum at home for silk premordant.

Measuring out dried madder root
Madder boiling in pot
Madder on lace samples
Nettle dyed linen and lace

To achieve white or cream space designs on the dyed cloth the area has to be resisted.  One resist method is clamping, another is tying with string or rubber bands; to prevent dye penetrating to fabric.  Fabric composition affects dye penetration.  The lace on the left is obviously not natural, but an acrylic or a polyester, with a small amount of cotton which takes the dye.

Result with Oak Gall dye bath

Oak galls surprisingly made a good light brown, a pleasant coffee caramel, which would go with other colours.  Folding and clamping make a good resist for white or cream designs.  Triangles of wood can be used and clamped to form a 'resist' to the dye penetrating.  See my hand printing Ideas Pinterest Board showing many examples of Shibori

Natural Plant Dyes - Author's own dye processes for silks used in Shamanic Nights fashions

Images copyright Amelia Jane Hoskins Please email for use permission.