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….

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.