October 7, 2014 by Rua Lupa
Autumn Blooms have come and gone for the most part here on the north side of Lake Huron, but are likely still around for others reading this in more warmer climes. One major autumn bloom recognizable to most is Goldenrod. A popular myth about goldenrod is that it causes hayfever, when really goldenrod does not cause hayfever or any other allergic response. The real culprit for the masses of airborne pollen that affect a great many people this time of year is ragweed. Because ragweed is a fairly nondescript plant that pollinates around the same time as the more visible goldenrod, goldenrod tends to get the blame. Goldenrod itself has heavy pollen so it instead is pollinated via insects. Goldenrod also helps produce some of the best honey you’ll ever taste.
This yellow flowered herb not only adds color to the landscape this time of year, but it can also add color throughout the year as a dye.
Dyeing with goldenrod is amazingly simple and you can even get two colors out of it – yellow and green. But before you collect the plant you first need to get the mordant. This is what makes the dye ‘stick’ to the fabric.
For yellow you need alum (4 tbps to 4 gallons (US)/15 Liters of water – the typical amount for one or two garments). You can find Alum in the spice section of your grocery store where it is usually sold to keep crispness in canned food.
For a sage/olive green you need iron powder (2 tbsp to 4 gallons (US)/15 Liters of water). You can make an iron solution instead of special ordering iron powder for this. To make this iron solution you take steel wool and dissolve it in pickling vinegar until there is no more solid sediment. This should turn out to be a dark blackish color when done – about 1 week. Then you pour the solution through a fabric filter into a jar to use later (this avoids any left over sediment leaving dark spots on the final fabric). For the dissolved iron solution, triple the amount of the normal measurement for powdered iron, which in this example would be 6 tbsp.
Once you have an appropriately sized pot and the mordant, you can now collect the flowers by cutting the flowering tops – the brighter the yellow the better (color results are best at peak bloom) – and put them in a carrying bag. A reusable grocery bag works well for this.
Just make sure you check the flowers before grabbing it – you may get stung. To avoid this and putting uninvited guests in your collection bag, all you have to do is shake it from lower down until they fall or fly off. I have yet to be stung this way.
The amount you need is equal wet weight of plant material to weight of fabric you plan to dye i.e. 1 pound of plant matter to 1 pound of fabric. Just add more plant material for a stronger color. Dyeing this way works for all non-synthetic fabric – both plant and animal fibers such as linen, cotton, and wool.
For the next step you prepare a pot large enough to hold the amount of plant material/fabric you need. It doesn’t have to hold 15 Liters – we used a 12 Liter Pot. Note that aluminum pots will alter the color of the dye – the alteration could be either beneficial or detrimental depending on the color you are going for. In the case of goldenrod, it would make the fabric have a tinge of green.
Put your plant matter in the pot and fill it up with enough water to cover the plant matter. Bring to a Boil.
Once boiling, bring down to simmer for 1 hour. At end of hour observe the color, if you want a stronger color add more plant material and simmer for another hour.
Once done strain the plant material from the water, clean pot, and put dye water back in pot. Then add your mordant of choice to the water, stir and simmer for 15 minutes so it fully dissolves and is distributed throughout the water.
Place the fabric you wish to dye into pot and simmer for 1 hour. Afterwards you can either let it sit in the dye bath until it cools before removing the fiber, or remove it right away and let it cool in bowl.
Rinse the cooled fabric in cold water until the water comes out clear.
If you are satisfied with the color squeeze the water out (*wringing can cause streaking in fabric*). Dry fabric in shade to avoid sun bleaching one side. Hang dry if plant based fabric, lay on screen to dry for animal protein based fabric (wool), or woven fabrics.
If you are not satisfied with the strength of the color, collect more plant material and boil then simmer in the original dye bath, filter the plant material, then dye fabric again (if using green add more iron the same way as before but halved in amount).
You can do the same process with these other plants for different colors:
Chicory (whole plant):
Alum Mordant = Mustard Yellow
Iron Mordant = Forest Green
Black Walnut (Husks):
No Mordant = Light Brown
Alum Mordant = Golden Brown
As a Saegoah I plan to learn all I can about creating local dyes and practice this skill within the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Once I am comfortable with my skill in it and in making clothes I will begin making all my own clothing in this way. Over time I plan to have most everything I use be from local sources.