Natural Silk Dyes – Woad Blue (Isatis tinctoria)

Woad plant is blue green leaves with yellow flowers, behind the tomato leaves.

Two samples of successful silk dying with small harvested amount of woad leaves. First dye session: two pale blue results.: Left: 2nd weaker soak, pale blue. Right: 1st soak, pale pastel blue.

Woad Dye Bath Process – 1st Session

Boil woad leaves – liquid is sherry coloured – Images (2, 2a, 2b) Add soda crystals until alkalinity reaches 9 – Images (3, 3a, 3b) – Whisk liquid until froth forms. Takes 10-15 mins. Liquid can also be poured from one pan to another, making bubbles. Images (4, 4a, 4b, 4c) Froth is achieved at (5)

Heat dye bath to 50 deg again. Set aside 20 mins. Add desert spoon sodium dithionite to remove oxygen. Add enough until dye bath turns limey green. Place silk in liquid carefully without creating air bubbles. Submerge. Leave for 20 mins. Image (6) (it starts to work soon if some fabric is left out in the air (see 2nd Session below).

Remove fabric and rest. Watch it turn blue in air. (mine went turquoise on ahimsa cream silk using pond water) – Images (7, 8) Rinse out when colour as dark as will go, hang out to dry. (9)

Woad Dye bath process – 2nd Session

Woad colouring occurs quickly after exposure to air, following soak in woad leaf dye bath, which has had oxygen removed by sodium dithionite.

Woad Dye Bath Preparation

Woad leaves are cut up and soaked before boiling and simmering for an hour. Remove leaves, then dye bath needs soda crystals, before whisking for 10 mins until froth forms. Woad dye bath is ready when there is a pale blue or (in this case) pale green froth. Reheat dye bath to 50 deg. then add spoon of sodium dithionite to remove oxygen. The water goes limey green.

Turquoise appears when all silk is added to air after 10 mins soak

The dye was uneven, so I re-heated the dye bath again, added the same chemical again, and replaced the fabric, but the magic had gone, the blue disappeared! The result was a pale grey blue, which looked dark in the rinse sink, but dried quite pale.

See more and others’ dye procedures on my Natural Plant Dye Pinterest Board.

To be continued…..

Natural Dyes on Silk – Comfrey Leaves

Comfrey dye bath makes an ecru cream-beige, which becomes duller and darker after dipping in iron modifier, after dyeing.

This sample experimented with shibori stitching prior to dyeing which resulted in several vey pale wavy lines of resist made by where the stitching gathered the cloth to prevent dye entering.

Result after dyeing shows Shibori stitch-resist as pale wavy lines. (Stitches are removed after full dye process.) The idea to make ‘waves’ by stitching in ‘curves’ worked, but contrasts poorly on pale colours. Large pegged sample shows dye-bath original tone at bottom right, and darker result top left, after adding iron modified. (black marks are the iron water splashed as I poured in iron solution, so take care with fabric proximity)

Preparing dye-bath with comfrey leaves

Cut up comfrey leaves and soak overnight. Also soak silk in alum mordant overnight or for some hours beforehand. Silk often dyes well without mordant when using some plants. Lighter colour at left, darker tone after longer soaking. Best to leave soaking over night to ensure good dye absorption. New pieces can be dyed in dyebath afterwards, and will be paler, but always a good starter colour for painting, or re-dyeing over.

Boil up and simmer for an hour. When just hand hot, drain comfrey out and put dye liquid in a bowl to soak the silk. (I never boil this ahimsa silk as it becomes matted in high temperatures) Agitate to distribute dye equally for first 15 mins, then leave to soak all day, redistributing in dye occasionally to ensure even dyeing.

Dyed and washed out, the ahimsa silk has an ecru beige colouring where first dyed (top left) – with additional dulled, more grey colour where half of cloth was soaked into iron modified dye bath. Out of the sunlight, the iron modified sample is quite dull and darker, to be used as one would a grey.

Sample (gallery top right) compares comfrey colour dye result with Ladies’ Bedstraw, peach. Samples (gallery bottom right) show iron modified comfrey sample in centre; between (left) Hawthorne dyed silk (left) and natural, ecru result of non-modified comfrey dyed silk in second dye bath. (right).

Note: A second dye-bath was made by reboiling liquid and leaves leaving overnight to stand. Heated next day, added fresh un-mordanted silk. Left to soak for a day and overnight 24hrs. This produced a pale but warm ecru silk.

Below: Comfrey dyed silk in centre – dull tone is result of iron modifier. Silks look duller indoors whereas they come to life in sunlight. The range of colours obtainable is fascinating.

Conclusion: Comfrey gives a very good neutral tone suitable for use with any silk painting over. Longer steep in iron (ferrous sulphate) would make it greyer, as needed. Experiment with quantities of iron added. I use either water from a rusty-nails-jar as well as purchased powder.

Images for other dye procedures with plants can be found on my Pinterest Board – Natural Plant and Earth Dyes

This piece will be silk painted over in a design, to become part of a garment in due course… updates will be posted here with link to the garment in making.

Natural Dyes on Silk – Lime Yellow with Tansy

Tansy growing prolifically along the Tarka Trail; tall clumps with rosette grouped flower heads – from my dye plant foraging trip.

Dye Bath Procedure

  • Cut up Tansy flower tops and soak overnight in water (pond or river if available)
  • Boil up in stainless steel pan, then remove plant dyestuff and allow dye bath to cool to just hand hot. (cotton can be simmered, but silk may get matted if boiled).
  • Soak silk for some hours in orange coloured water The colour of the dye bath water is no indication of the final outcome on dry silk. Remove soon if you want a pale colour; leave overnight for stronger colour.

Agitate silk in dye bath occasionally, redistributing evenly in liquid during first 15 -30 mins to ensure all areas are covered when first absorbing dye. Use an upside down lid to keep silk beneath surface.

Silk soon absorbs the dye colour in the strong Tansy dye bath. As this silk can be matted slightly by over heating, and simmering, I only introduce it to a hand hot dye bath. I left it soaking overnight to achieve best strength of colour before rinsing out several times in warm water, until water runs clear.

Wet rinsed silk – drying. Do not squeeze out too hard, or twist creases may occur which don’t completely iron out. In summer silk dries fairly quickly and can be ironed smooth while still slightly damp before any creases set in.

A few dark ‘spots’ are splashes from another dye bath with iron I was doing simultaneously. Only do ONE dye bath at a time.

This lime yellow is very vivid (see comparisons with other gold colours), so I will overpaint with silk dyes or bundle leaf prints. However, it could be useful to over-dye with madder to give a good orange, or with woad for a turquoise blue. The future life of this piece will be posted here….

See more and others’ dye procedures on my Natural Plant Dye Pinterest Board.

This lime yellow was over-dyed in November, used for another test with leaves bundle-dyeing.

Natural Dyes on Silk – St. John’s Wort – Dye Plants Foraging – Tarka Trail

St. John’s Wort yellow flowers easily available at nearside verge to path

The Tarka Trail old rail track – Barnstaple to Bideford was my 10 mile route for foraging – using Jenny Dean’s plant spotter book. Late summer finds many of the traditional dye plants along grass verges, especially in areas untouched for ages.

Click photos for Gallery view…

St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) easily produces a good gold and is also well known historical herbal use for depression

Preparing the Dye Bath

Processing for dye bath

  • Soak flower tops overnight in rain water. I use pond water.
  • Boil up and simmer for an hour
  • When cool enough not to roughen silk, soak silk, stirring occasionally.
  • Leave overnight to absorb dye colour
  • Dye a second piece of silk using up remainder of dye

Stunning gold colour achieved by soaking silk in dye bath all day, and overnight.

  • First dye bath absorbs a lot of colour.
  • Second silk piece added on top through the night.
  • 2nd day: Remove first stronger dyed silk piece and rinse out, not squeezed too much and leave to dry.
  • Drain seeds and flowers and heat remaining paler dye bath. Add second piece again for half a day.
  • Rinse out when water completely clear. Colour was blotchy, so I cut it in half.
  • Heated dye bath again, allowed to cool, before adding tablespoon of ferrous sulphate for third final cut piece of silk. (for khaki colour) Silk must not be exposed too long to iron mix as can weaken it. Colour change is immediate so 5 mins sufficient.
  • Silk dyed with no mordant = GOLD: Silk modified after dyeing with iron + KHAKI
  • Notebook: I bought the iron (ferrous sulphate) specially, but you can make your own. I generally experiment with adding water from a jar of rusty nails and screws; about half a tea cup to turn grey or khaki. Top up jar as rusty liquid is used. Even a spoonful dulls a colour adequately.

Finished Dried Silks

Image one – three varieties with St. John’s Wort dye bath. L-R (a) first strongly dyed silk (b) Second paler dyed silk (c) Third dyed silk after iron dipping as modifier produces khaki.

Image two St. John’s Wort centre golden sample. Left – Woad dyed 2nd dye bath soak. Right – Woad dyed stronger piece.

See more and others’ dye procedures on my Natural Plant Dye Pinterest Board.

Future silk painting on these dyed pieces and clothes making will be linked to here in the future.