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Dyeing fabric with plants - the results

Slow dyeing with plants

Last time I showed you some jars on my balcony. I experimented with spices from the kitchen as fabric dyes. A few days after I also collected some flowers and made more experiments. I used some garden flowers and also picked two wild plants, both yellow because they grow just outside my door. :D
For mordant I used alum. It was either put in the jas with the fabric and the dye material, as in the case of spices. Or I used fabric that had been cooked in water with alum for about an hour, then dried. I mostly used white cotton fabric, but also a piece of green linen. I also added some embroidery thread to some of the jars: in ecru, beige and soft lavender colours. Don't know the numbers, these were some threads I inherited after my aunt, and have no idea what they are. I read somewhere that you can change the original colours of the thread to something more soft, muted.

I had guests last week and we were travelling round a bit so I had no time to look at my experiments. The spices were outside for 17 days, the plants for 15 days. During this time there was some very hot weather, 25-28 degrees, lots of sun, and some not so warm, not so much sun. Swedish summer :D This is what I mean when I say slow dyeing: not putting and cooking the fabric in the dye, but leave it in it for a few days or weeks.

Here is the description of each piece. The colours in the photos are mostly true, except one or two faint ones. I write the English name of the plant (except the roses and peonies collected from my neighbour's garden), then in brackets you can find the Latin, the Swedish and the Hungarian name, too.

Lady's bedstraw, or yellow bedstraw (Galium verum, gulmåra, tejoltófű vagy tejoltó galaj)

It was put in the freezer for a few days. Then I cooked it in water, together with the stems, for an hour. (It would have been impossible to separate the flowers from the stem after being frozen. Might want to try again, and separate them before freezing.) Took out the plants and poured the liquid on some fabric (alum) in a jar. It was outside for 15 days. Nice light green color. Love it.

Garden or yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris, videört/strandlysning, közönséges lizinka)

"Tea"-method: put the flower heads in a jar, poured hot water on them, added the fabric. Almost no colour, only a very faint yellowish tint.

Roll-up method: the fabric had been cooked in alum. I wetted it, and put only the flower heads on the right side piece, and the flower together with the stems and leaves on the left side piece. Rolled them up, put them in a plastic bag. They were outside for 15 days.

I used a piece of twig for rolling up, which might have affected the colour, because the bark usually contains tannin. Should have made one with and one without, to see if it makes any difference. :/

Peonies (dark pink): A piece of fabric that had been cooked in alum. I wetted the fabric, put peony petals on it, and rolled it up. It was outside in a plastic bag for 15 days.

This is what it looks like after washing - on the right side.
The left side piece was made with peony petals that were frozen for a few days, then I poured hot water over them in a jar ("tea" method). The fabric had been washed in alum. I rolled up the fabric unevenly, hence the marble effect. I quite like it.

Roses (red): A piece of fabric that had been cooked in alum. I wetted the fabric, put rose petals on it, and rolled it up. It was outside in a plastic bag for 15 days. I was surprised to see how dark the marks are: dark brown, almost black. I want to try again for a shorter time, perhaps then I can get some rose or reddish colour.

After washing, this is how it looks: the fabric on the right side. Not pretty. :(

The left side piece was made with rose petals that were frozen for a few days, then I poured warm water over them in a jar. The fabric had been washed in alum. It became a sort of beige colour, quite nice but unexpected.


1 tsp alum, 1 tsp paprika powder, 5 dl hot water, 17 days

Almost no colour. Very faint orange on the white pieces, nothing noticable on the green linen.

In Hungary our most common dish, the pörkölt - a stew - is made with paprika. The cookbook says that you should put the paprika in hot oil because that's how the colour is activated. I also know from experience that it is very difficult to wash out stains from tablecloths after a pörkölt dinner. I though I might try this version, too.

I heated up 2 tablespoons oil, took it off the heat and added 2 teaspoons paprika. Then added 5 dl water and 1 tsp alum. Added the fabric folded and rolled up. It stood outside in a jar for 17 days. It worked, the colour is strong, but it did not penetrate the fabric, only reached the parts that were on the outside after folding. Even though I shook it a few times. Love it! But need to wash it some more, after washing it twice (once in dishwashing liquid, once in detergent) it is still a bit oily to the touch. (I am planning to do the same with tomatoes. Have you tried washing spaghetti sauce out of your clothes?)

1,5 tsp alum, 2 tsp turmeric, 7 dl water, 17 days outside in a jar

Lovely bright yellow. The threads also dyed.

1,5 tsp alum, 4 tsp turmeric, 7 dl water, a few metal caps

Love the colour, a bit stronger than the one with less turmeric, but I can see no difference from the metal caps. They were probably aluminum, apparently that does not work. Iron or copper is supposed to change the colour.
It also dyed the green linen!

1,5 tsp alum, 7 dl water, put the rolled up fabric in it, then added yellow onion skins on the top. This one I did not shake, I was curious to see how far the colour will reach. That's why most of the fabric is not dyed, but I like it. It is a beautiful light, soft yellow.

I am quite happy with my experiments. I definitely want to continue, the only problem is I only have one week left of the summer holidays. We will see how much time I can find after that.

The most difficult thing was to keep track of each jar and plastic bag. I wrote on them but the permanent marker has disappeared from quite a few of them. Luckily I wrote in my notes which jar contained which. But it was quite an organising task not to confuse them while washing and photographing. :)

If anyone would like to join me in experimenting, please do so, it would be even more fun. I will be back with more soon. Until then

happy stitching - and happy experimenting.

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