Before industrialization standardized and “chemicalized” the world of dyes, our agrarian ancestors practiced the art of dying yarn. From common plants and lichens, they produced a cornucopia of vivid and unique colors. Today I will explain how you can dye animal fiber/yarn with the common plant we call goldenrod.
Lets get started!
The first step in the dye process is mordanting your yarn. A mordant will improve lightfastness and colorfastness in your yarn, it also affects the color you get in some cases. When using goldenrod, alum mordanted yarn will be yellow, while using a copper or iron mordant will produce olive greens. In this instance we want to use alum to produce a bright yellow color.
To mordant your yarn, follow these steps…
Weigh the yarn to mordanted and write the weight down
Soak the yarn overnight in cool water
Prepare your mordant bath. To do this you will need at least 4 gallons of cold water per 1 lb of yarn in your stockpot. Take 1 1/2 tsp of cream of tarter for every 4 oz of yarn and dissolve it in boiling water in a measuring cup. Pour dissolved cream of tarter in to the mordant pot. Dissolve 1 3/4 tsp of alum per 4 oz of yarn the same way and pour this into the mordant pot. Stir very well with a long spoon. Squeeze the water out of soaked yarn and add the yarn to the mordant pot. Heat slowly to a simmer and simmer for one hour, moving the yarn around every so often to ensure equal absorption. The yarn must stay under the water, if it keeps floating to the top you can sink it with a ceramic plate. After simmering for one hour, turn off the heat and allow it to soak overnight.
The next step is preparing your dye bath.
Follow these steps to create your dye bath
First you need to harvest goldenrod flowers. Flowers that are newly opened create a brighter color than older blossoms. You can also harvest the whole plant tops (leaves and flowers) if you want a greenish yellow color, but use only flowers if bright yellow is what you desire. Flowers can be dried for later use but the dye from dried flowers will be duller than that made from fresh plant material. Goldenrod grows wild in most areas and blooms from August on. You can learn more about the plant and it culture here.
In a stainless steel stockpot, put in enough water to cover the yarn you intend to dye. (Don’t add the yarn yet!) Add your goldenrod flowers, being sure to have at least an equal weight of flowers to yarn. Simmer the flowers for one hour, this will extract the dye.
Strain off the dye liquid and return to a clean stockpot. Now add your damp yarn to the dye pot and slowly heat the dye. Keep the dye heated to just under a simmer, until the yarn reaches the desired color. Prolonged simmering will produce darker shades but it also tends to destroy the color’s brilliance.
After you achieve the desired color, rinse the yarn under cold running water until the water runs clear. Now hang your yarn up to air dry. That’s all there is too it!
Here is the finished product