Dye Plants Foraging – Tarka Trail

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

The Dye Plants

St. John’s Wort – Tansy – Hawthorne berries

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

St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) easily produces a good gold and is also well known in 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

Shade (left pic) or sunlight (right pic) gives different looking gold to the strong gold dyed piece.

Image one: L-R St. John’s Wort first strongly dyed silk – Second paler dyed silk – Third silk with iron added as modifier.

Image two: L-R Woad dyed 2nd dye bath soak – St. John’s Wort first strongly dyed silk – Woad dyed stronger piece.

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

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