Basic Plant Dyes Method

Wild Plant Foraging for Dye Plants

A guide book helps to identify the plants

A cycle foraging trip along the Tarka Trail, North Devon where I found St. Johns Wort, Ladies Bedstraw, Tansy and Hawthorn

Basic Dye Procedure

All the featured dye bath posts, show a cream or gold of a different hue, from different plants. (Background image).   In that respect it is easy to dye silk golden by soaking silk for 2-24hrs in hand hot dyestuff liquid dye bath.

  1. Pre-Mordanting:  Silk and cotton can be pre-soaked in a mixture of Alum powder (spoonful I use) dissolved in boiled water, which will enhance colour absorption.  Some dye plants don't need any pre-mordanting.
  2. Boil plant flowers/leaves/seeds/bark/shells (in large pot; simmer for an hour but watch water level.  Some release colour immediately, some need soaking over night and re-simmering the next day to give deeper colour.  Plant fibres may be soaked for an hour before heating, or overnight if very dry stuff.
  3. Stir dye bath occasionally to ensure even distribution.
  4. After seeing the water has become strongly coloured, (notice when it is not becoming darker); remove plant stuff.  At this point transfer liquid to heated large steel or china bowl for stirring silk evenly while soaking.
  5. Silk must only be placed in dye bath liquid when OFF the boil but still hand hot, below 50 deg. (Too hot may roughen silk texture, especially Ahimsa type, I have discovered). Ahimsa silk is best dyed below hand hot, or cool. (Cotton and linen will take boiling temperatures)
  6. Stir and agitate several times; more often in first absorption stage.  By additionally adding in small sample squares to the dye bath, they can be removed after 1 hr, 2hr, 3hrs, rinsed and dried to ascertain stronger colours achievable.  Keep for timing records.  When samples are no stronger in colour, maximum absorption has been reached.
  7. When tone appears strong, remove and rinse to check.  (check small samples).  Only on drying can true colour be seen, as most look quite dark, but dry very much lighter.
  8. Usually the second dyeing of an additional piece, will absorb remaining colour, visibly, or choose linen or cotton.  Soak overnight for chance of full absorption for a lighter tone, due to dye already absorbed by first piece.
  9. Iron liquid modifier can be added to the second dyeing, to increase darker tone, or towards greys and brown. The weaker the dye bath, the more grey the tone will be when adding ferrous sulphate (iron).
  10. NOTE:  Dye from plant stuffs can work just as well after soaking only in cold water.  I use boiled pond (rain) water, and just leave it, for paler shades.  There is always a result, even if only cream or yellow, to take the brightness off from the original white.
  11. Prolonged soaking for 48 hours may give a darker tone, as some plants take longer to infuse the dye.  Only experimentation proves, so its good to start with two pieces at the same time, and leave one in for extra time, to 48 hours.  If dye bath still looks a strong colour after removing silk, then reheat, remove from heat, and add additional silk for a subsequent extra dyed product

NOTE:  Colours can be adjusted/changed by adding additional purchased plant dye powders in small proportions.  Example: add a tiny part of madder to change gold to stronger orange. (I have them, but not yet used in this way, as gold results are so good a background for silk painting.)  Used dye liquid can be stored in recycled labelled coffee jars which can be added to future dye pots or used with other dyes.

Background photo of dyed silks:  Left, Hawthorne - Centre, Comfrey - Right, Ladies Bedstraw


Images copyright Amelia Jane Hoskins Please email for use permission.