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 – 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.